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Published on September 5, 2019

WELLNESS TRAVEL IN THE GREATER MEKONG


There’s no denying that wellness is a modern lifestyle — from the organic and farm-to-table food movements to the rise of natural beauty products to travel. The Global Wellness Institute estimates that wellness tourism grew into a $639 billion market in 2017, and that number only stands to rise. It is not a fad, but rather it’s a change in society, what society now expects, and it’s fast becoming a full-blown industry.

To take advantage of this trend and momentum, smart destinations have begun prioritizing wellness in luring tourists who want to escape otherwise stressful lives or further their quest toward inner peace. And so far, it’s working: World travelers made 830 million wellness trips in 2017, 139 million more than in 2015, according to the Global Wellness Institute. If the upward trend continues — as experts predict — in 2019, the numbers could reach 1 billion.

Still, it may not be all rosy for destinations with an established wellness scene. Smaller communities known for their health-minded residents may start seeing too much of an influx of yoga, hiking, and spa-going visitors after a big marketing campaign. While that’s good for their economy, it may chip away at the residents’ quality of life, thus altering what made these destinations so wellness-focused to begin with.

The hope, however, is that if marketed in a strategic way, wellness travel can prevent overtourism, drawing people away from beyond-crowded cities and into more tranquil, less-touristy locales that could use the economic boost. In the meantime, quick-adapting destinations will push this new hook of “travelers going home in a healthier state than when they arrived,” all the while reaping the benefits of a wellness tourism growth rate that’s more than twice as fast as tourism overall.

Thailand: the region’s leading star of wellness tourism

What has the Mekong region offer to the world’s wellness travelers today and what potentials are there waiting to be realized?  This tropical mainland Southeast Asian region is endowed with natural beauties such as the pristine tropical forests and rivers, mountains and valleys, islands and beaches, especially in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.  There are huge opportunities to develop wellness tourism in these destinations. Thailand has identified the opportunities early and is ahead of her neighbors especially in wellness retreats, health and medical tourism that ranks among the world’s best cashing in billions of dollars a year in tourism earning for the country. Thailand has always been a strong market for medical tourism in Asia. The relatively low cost of treatment, high standard of care, and idyllic environments to rest and recover in – there’s a lot to like about Thailand when it comes to travelling for medical needs. In a growing trend, people are now looking towards this country as a place for wellness and wellbeing retreats. According to Thailand Business News, the Wellness Tourism market is becoming a “star” in the local tourism sector with an annual growth rate of 7%.

The wellness industry in Thailand is big business with big and small players.  It is also ideal for sustainable community tourism among the rural communities in the provinces that should be encouraged and developed.  

A good example is Museflower Retreat in Chiang Rai province, an all-inclusive cozy vegetarian retreat that offers healing, learning and natural living practices for wellness and nature lovers and travelers.  Many spiritual and wellness travelers coming to Thailand just to practice meditation in some of the many meditation centers and Buddhist monasteries across the country.  If a destination isn’t traditionally known for wellness, with the right marketing, most can still highlight the well-being offerings they do have.

Many hotels and resorts in popular island and beach destinations have identified this niche market and have developed special innovative programs to cater for the wellness needs of their guests during their stay.

Resorts: Like the Kamalaya Koh Samui or the Chiva-Som in Hua Hin, you can stay at a luxury resort that offers a range of health services like yoga and meditation, and wellbeing sessions with meditation experts, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, and more.

Hotels: While hotels have always offered extra services, such as massages and beauty therapy, to visitors, places like the Eforea Spa at the Hilton Pattaya or The Barai Spa at Hyatt Regency Hua Hin, have designed comprehensive packages to compete with resorts.

Fitness Retreats: As the home of Muay Thai, Thailand is littered with boxing and fitness camps around the country. With the rise in interest in Thai martial arts, as well as the health benefits such fitness regimes can provide, camps such as PhuketFit and Absolute Sanctuary Fitness have expanded their traditional fitness service to include full dieting and detox packages aimed at improving your health.

Nutrition Retreats: Focusing more on food, nutrition retreats offer healthy food and diet advice during your stay. Expect fully tailored meal plans peppered with health and wellbeing sessions (yoga, pilates, and mental health classes) at places like Olive Retreat or the Paleo Wellness Retreat.

Cruises: Some cruise operators offer specifically tailored wellness programs to those looking to sail around the Land of Smiles, whilst still engaging in activities to boost their overall health and wellbeing. Star Clippers Yoga & Wellness Cruising offers a tranquil mix of sailing, mindful stretching, and engaging with nature to those seeking a non-traditional tourism experience.

Some hospital and medical facilities may also offer wellness programs to visitors, particularly those travelling for medical tourism. These packages can sometimes use a hotel or resort as a wellness partner, allowing hospitals to transfer a recovering patient to a moreluxurious place to rest and recover than a hospital ward.

Photo by Museflower Retreat & Spa Chiang Rai

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