From mainstream tourism strategies to quirky local solutions, wellness tourism is driving destination development and hotel investments. Wellness is both a simple and a complex concept. At its simplest it is about destinations ensuring that it can provide its guests with an integrated, seamless experience of exercise indoors and outdoors, culture, good food, relaxation and traditional spa treatments. At its most complex, it is about ensuring a seamless and integrated range of experiences that deliver recuperation, relaxation and regeneration for its guests.
According to Myers, Sweeney and Witmer, the authors of Wellness Evaluation of Lifestyle Manual: A Holistic Model of Wellness, published in 2000, wellness is increasingly recognized. As stated in the book, wellness is defined as: “[a] gateway to emotional, spiritual and psychological well-being. A way of life orientated towards optimal health and well-being in which the body, mind and spirit are integrated by the individual to live more fully within the human and natural community.”
Clearly, therefore, wellness or well-being tourism is fundamentally part of this equation and has to satisfy the mind, body and the soul.
This holistic approach to wellness tourism is now creating major opportunities for destinations, resorts, spas, hotels and other smaller businesses throughout the tourism industry. New market trends continue to highlight the importance of the authentic, the local and the real in creating a wellness experience. Consumers are actively seeking out and purchasing holiday packages that deliver this combination of experiences that embrace a full range of emotional and physical factor from locally sourced food to unique spa treatments using indigenous raw materials.
There is now a place in the global cauldron of product development for the extremely local solutions. This is especially the case in terms of wellness tourism and destination development. As the 2007 MINTEL Study of Health and Wellness Holidays reports:
“Once upon a time, most holidaymakers were happy to return home with a suntan and a bottle of the local hooch. In the future, will they be bringing back a greater sense of well-being, a major life-shift, a new look and maybe even new body parts? Healthy eating, nutrition, exercise, beauty treatments, relaxation and pampering to counter work stress are all increasingly becoming part of people’s daily lives. Many holidaymakers are now looking to incorporate these elements into their breaks.”
This trend is having a profound impact upon successful destination development, especially destination branding and market positioning. Over the past decade a number of leading tourism countries have strategically realigned their brand and position with wellness tourism. This includes Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Slovenia and Finland in Europe. In addition, a number of emerging destinations have chosen to align their brand and position with wellness and well-being. These destinations include Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and Croatia.
Switzerland and Austria are particularly interesting examples. In the past three years, the World Economic Forum has recognized these two countries as the world’s most successful tourism economies. It is no coincidence that, in both cases, their national strategies over the past ten years have focused upon wellness tourism.
In the case of Switzerland, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism’s contribution to Switzerland’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is currently 12.1 percent (CHF 64.6 bn; £36.26 bn; US$ 60.0 bn). There are some 712,000 jobs supported by the industry, representing 15.6% of all employment. Direct tourism employment accounts for 309,000 jobs. This is expected to rise to over 766,000 jobs or 16.8 percent of all employment over the next ten years.
At the heart of this revival has been the emphasis placed upon wellness and well-being tourism. Today, Switzerland is an example of the best practice in its overall strategic approach to tourism development through its creativity and innovation in delivering high quality spa and wellness products.
Wellness is regarded as part of the core appeal of Switzerland for both leisure and business tourism.
“Nature, authenticity, health and high standards are the central positioning elements of Switzerland,” said Jürg Schmid, CEO of Switzerland Tourism. “Consequently, wellness is entirely integrated into our overall brand and positioning. Our premiere, world famous wellness hotels such as the Ragaz Resort, Tschuggen Arosa, Victoria Jungfrau and the Dolder Grand amongst others help to reinforce Switzerland as a top wellness destination.”
The emphasis is very much upon combining sophisticated delivery and design with getting back to basics, local materials, local herbs and local food. The philosophy is nature at its heart and the emphasis upon Swiss culture.
The wellness initiative is underpinned by a strategic partnership between Switzerland Tourism and the Swiss Hotel Association. The Swiss Hotel Association has developed detailed specifications for the wellness sector, introducing two quality grades. This has the advantage of:
- Greater clarification of products on offer for the consumer allowing easier selection and choice.
- Greater differentiation between products and providers.
All participating wellness hotels must achieve a minimum 3-star standard and all must quality for W1: Wellness Hotel status. The two categories of wellness are:
W1: Wellness Hotels. These hotels must offer a good range of wellness facilities including swimming pool, saunas, treatment rooms and a free programme of activities indoors and outdoors.
W2: Top Wellness Hotels. These 4 to 5-star hotels fulfil additional requirements in terms of infrastructure and the variety of services provided. Wellness in these hotels celebrates style.
In 2008, there were 80 wellness hotels recognized in Switzerland under these standards of wellness with 58 participating in the marketing campaign, of which 60 percent are in the top range. Interestingly, whilst the number of overnights in Swiss hotels has increased by percent since 1997, growth in overnights in the wellness hotels has been 32 percent.
In Slovenia, the Slovenian Tourist Board has prioritized investment in spa hotels alongside the development of holidays that promote the enjoyment of the outdoors. Similar strategies are now omnipresent in Austria, Finland, and to a lesser extent, in other European countries especially those with a traditional spa product, such as Hungary and Slovakia.
In every case, there is a clear acceptance of the biophile effect. This highlights the beneficial health impact of exercising in a high quality natural environment where the stimulation of clean air, good views, peace and tranquillity significantly enhances the feeling of well-being.
Back to Basic Trends
Embracing these back to basic trends has resulted in the renaissance of many of Europe’s traditional spa resorts and destinations.
The most important factor linking all of these initiatives to capture the demand for well-being tourism is the availability of naturally occurring resources that have a proven benefit for improving a person’s health, either in terms of helping improve or cure particular ailments or in generally making someone feel good.
These natural resources can include:
- Geo-thermal waters
- Waters rich in minerals, including sea water
- Minerals, especially salt
- Special muds
- High quality air
- Dry warm climate.
Increasingly, tourists are seeking to convert their everyday lifestyle activities into their holiday experience. As a result, they are seeking destinations that provide them with a palette of opportunity to pursue their leisure activities, while at the same time having access to spas, natural treatments, relaxation and quality accommodation with good locally-produced food and drink. The motivation has increased to find destinations that can deliver a high quality holistic experience based on well-being.
In this context, the traditional spa, especially those based upon naturally occurring products, is undergoing a major renaissance across Europe.
The three main themes in this process of regeneration are:
- The major forces of change in the structure of the supply of well-being products; known as the push factor.
- The stimuli resulting from changes in demand for well-being products; known as the pull factor.
- The response by the spa and resort destinations to these forces and stimuli.
The Forces of Change – The Push Factors
- The erosion of state support for traditional treatments as part of the health care system, especially in Germany and Italy, which is directly affecting spas in Italy, Slovenia and Austria. Until recently up to 70 percent of visitors to spas in Germany, Italy and France were subsidised.
- The need to move away from the purely medical focus and an old-fashioned image of convalescence, old people and sanatorium atmosphere.
- Increasing competition from new destinations including modern hotel-based resorts investing heavily in spa facilities.
- The dramatic decline of long-stay holidays, within which a three or four week course of treatments could be organized.
New Demand Stimuli – The Pull Factors
Nine key factors can be identified that are dramatically stimulating fresh demand for a new approach to well-being tourism in Europe:
- Changing attitudes to health care and the growing recognition of the importance of prevention rather than cure associated with a general search for all round well-being benefits of a holiday, as well as in consumers’ everyday lifestyles.
The Motivations for a Health Break:
- The growing interest in alternative and complementary medicine and treatments with the commensurate reduced reliance on Western medicine and drugs. This is in part fuelled by experiences gained while travelling in the Far East and Asia. Over 50 percent of the adult UK population have tried at least one alternative therapy.
- Ageless populations seeding ways to live healthier and longer.
- Generic changes in structural demand for holiday trips with the growth of the short break, the rejection of the traditional sun-sand-sea equation of the late 20th Century and the underlying search for new soft experiences.
- The need to find an antidote to busy stressful lifestyles. A recent survey by GPs in the UK revealed that 68 percent of adults recognize that a holiday could improve stress-related illnesses and diseases of modern life, such as obesity.
- Despite the increasing reluctance of many governments to support a visit to a spa as part of health promotion, ironically, many medical insurance companies are advocating and giving incentives to spas as part of a healthy lifestyle through reduced premiums.
- The search to find a balance in life through mind, body, soul as an antidote to technological dependency and artificial living through a desire to find natural goods and local products.
- The impact of low cost airlines that are now creating easy access to airports that is close to traditional spa resorts.
- The importance of private sector investment in traditional spas stimulating fresh ideas and being more market focused.
A novel aspect of the search for authenticity in the new wellness paradigm is the emergence of functional exercise and the outdoor gym. Functional exercise is the substitution of exercise using modern aerobic and cardio equipment with doing basic tasks normally associated with country or outdoor living, such as lifting and stacking hay bales, splitting logs, erecting fencing and sawing timber. This phenomenon clearly gives considerable scope for an interesting range of novel forms of rural tourism.
Aligned to this exercise in the outdoors is the emergency of the outdoor gym. This involves the installation of a number of exercise stations in an open-air environment often involving natural features such as rock outcrops or trees. For example, Adidas has recently announced plans for a chain of outdoor gyms called ‘Adizones’ with installations created by The Great Outdoor Gym Company. Good examples of the outdoor gym concept include:
- The Copperhood Inn and Spa in New York State
- The Turtle Cove Spa at Mount Ida in Arkansas
- Red Mountain Spa in Utah
- The Terme di Saturna in Italy
The consumers’ search for the different and the unique has also resulted in some extremely quirky wellness initiatives. For example, in eastern Austria, the Marienkron Abbey in Burgenland offers a spa break with a difference where a community of Cistercian nuns operate a wellness centre. Dominican nuns at a centre near Koblenz in Germany replicate a similar idea. In both instances, guests are put through their physical and spiritual paces.
In short, wellness tourism is about getting back to basics and connecting visitors to nature, natural resources and local culture and local products. Perhaps this wellness concept and approach is best illustrated by the role of the sauna in Finnish tourism.
In a recent edition of “Meet in Finland”, the Finland Convention Bureau describes the importance of the sauna in Finnish culture. The article reports that “the sauna is a holy ritual, performed in a silence … a matter as much for the mind and spirit as for the body”.
This is a clear-cut message to a core target market in business tourism of the importance of wellness tourism to this destination. Others are clearly following in these footsteps.