More trav­el­ers make well­ness a pri­or­ity

China Daily European Weekly - - Business - By YANG HAN [email protected]­nadai­lya­

Chi­nese tourists are in­creas­ingly ex­plor­ing op­tions that com­bine health with their hol­i­day ex­pe­ri­ence

As the serene north­ern city of Chi­ang Mai, Thai­land, stirs from its slum­ber and the first wisp of sun­light shines on the fa­mous Bud­dhist tem­ple Wat Phra Singh, Lin Yi is ready to be­gin his early morn­ing run.

“The feel­ing you get when you run through the tem­ple at dawn is far be­yond what you might ex­pe­ri­ence at peak hours when all the tourist groups have ar­rived,” says Lin, head of over­seas busi­ness for Bei­jing­based Chi­nese travel in­for­ma­tion web­site Qyer. For quite a few years now, he has made run­ning a part of his travel rou­tine.

“As you run, you can see the daily lives of monks as they sweep the floors, make break­fast and pre­pare to chant. This is some­thing you can only see in the early morn­ing. And you also feel re­freshed from run­ning. A 30-minute jog will let me see a lot of in­ter­est­ing things,” he says.

Lin’s in­cli­na­tion for a taste of well­ness dur­ing travel is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon among Chi­nese glo­be­trot­ters. Since 2013, China has con­tin­ued to move up in the rank­ings for well­ness tourism spend­ing, and is now third, af­ter the United States and Ger­many.

It is also the growth leader as it has adding more than 21 mil­lion in­bound and do­mes­tic well­ness trips from 2015 to 2017, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est re­port pub­lished by the Global Well­ness In­sti­tute in Oc­to­ber.

Seek­ing a sense of well­ness is an in­evitable stage as the way of trav­el­ing changes, says Lin. He says the fo­cus of Chi­nese tourists has been changed from a “tick the box” ap­proach of tak­ing pho­tos at must­see at­trac­tions to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing lo­cal life­styles, as it is now much eas­ier for the up-and-com­ing mid­dle class to travel abroad.

To cope with the ris­ing de­mand, Qyer now of­fers a se­ries of themed tourism pack­ages fea­tur­ing hik­ing, cy­cling, ski­ing and yoga in pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions, in­clud­ing Japan, Thai­land, Canada, New Zealand and coun­tries across Europe. Since the launch of the pro­grams three years ago, in­quiries for well­ness tourism have grown 40 per­cent an­nu­ally.

But Lin says the well­ness tourism mar­ket in China is still in its in­fancy com­pared with more ma­ture mar­kets like Europe and the United States.

Glob­ally, well­ness tourism is now rec­og­nized as a sig­nif­i­cant and fast­grow­ing tourism seg­ment, ac­cord­ing to GWI, reach­ing a mar­ket size of $639.4 bil­lion (563 bil­lion eu­ros; £506.8 bil­lion) in 2017. With an an­nual growth rate of 6.5 per­cent, the sec­tor is grow­ing more than twice as fast as tourism gen­er­ally.

The mar­ket has drawn at­ten­tion from play­ers both in­side and out­side the wider tourism sec­tor.

The Ho­tel Jen Bei­jing, launched by Shangri-La Ho­tels and Re­sorts in May last year, is equipped with a 3,500-square-meter health club that of­fers group classes, car­dio ma­chines, a mixed mar­tial arts area and more.

Mean­while, in 2019, lux­ury fit­ness club Equinox will launch its first ho­tel in New York City with the in­ten­tion to ex­pand. The aim is to in­te­grate “the sci­ence of fit­ness” into the travel ex­pe­ri­ence.

“As a seg­ment of the tourism in­dus­try, well­ness tourism ben­e­fits from a global trend of ris­ing con­sumer aware­ness of, and in­ter­est in, health and well­ness,” says Ophe­lia Ye­ung, se­nior re­search fel­low at GWI. “More peo­ple are also look­ing for ex­pe­ri­en­tial travel, and well­ness is all about the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

While Europe and North Amer­ica lead, re­spec­tively, in the num­ber of well­ness trips and in spend­ing, the GWI re­port shows that it is Asia that has made the great­est gains in the past five years in both ar­eas.

Ye­ung at­tributes the rapid growth to the fast-ris­ing so­phis­ti­ca­tion of Asian trav­el­ers and their abil­ity to pay for higher-qual­ity travel, as well as the grow­ing aware­ness of im­prov­ing health while on va­ca­tion.

“Wors­en­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion and conges­tion in Asia make peo­ple look for sanc­tu­ar­ies, fresh air and na­ture dur­ing their hol­i­days,” Ye­ung says.

“For con­sumers from Western coun­tries, Asia is the place for holis­tic treat­ments,” says Brian King, as­so­ciate dean and a pro­fes­sor at Hong Kong Polytech­nic Uni­ver­sity’s School of Ho­tel and Tourism Man­age­ment.

“Asia has a long-es­tab­lished his­tory of holis­tic ther­a­pies, some as­so­ci­ated with re­li­gions such as Bud­dhism, Hin­duism and Tao­ism, no­tably Ayurvedic treat­ments, yoga and Chi­nese medicine. ... Hence it may be con­sid­ered a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage that Asian des­ti­na­tions can of­fer guests such ex­pe­ri­ences,” King says.

Ayurvedic is a tra­di­tional sys­tem of medicine that de­rives from In­dia.

In ad­di­tion, GWI’s Ye­ung says Asia has the ad­van­tage of a large and grow­ing in­trare­gional mar­ket, and will ben­e­fit from in­creas­ing short­haul va­ca­tion trips within the re­gion, es­pe­cially when more con­sumers re­gard travel not as a lux­ury but an es­sen­tial com­po­nent of their lives.

Ye­ung says it is im­por­tant to pro­mote well­ness tourism be­cause well­ness trav­el­ers tend to spend more than the av­er­age tourist. And the eco­nomic ben­e­fits they bring can po­ten­tially mit­i­gate the im­pacts of “over­tourism” suf­fered by many des­ti­na­tions,while also smooth­ing out sea­sonal spikes in visi­tors.

“Well­ness tourism brings visi­tors who are in­ter­ested in ex­pe­ri­enc­ing au­then­tic cul­ture — more than vis­it­ing pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions for photo ops and shop­ping — and tends to in­crease hu­man in­ter­ac­tion, for ex­am­ple, with ther­a­pists, teach­ers, heal­ers, guides and so on, which can cre­ate more op­por­tu­ni­ties for small busi­nesses and em­ploy­ment,” says Ye­ung.

The busi­ness value of well­ness tourism prod­ucts is also higher, as bet­ter ser­vices and a deeper un­der­stand­ing of a des­ti­na­tion are re­quired.

“The price of such prod­ucts can be twice that of a reg­u­lar travel pack­age, be­cause it is highly cus­tom­ized … but our users are will­ing to pay more for these prod­ucts and their spe­cial fea­tures,” says Lin from Qyer.

GWI’s Ye­ung says there is “some­times a ten­dency to con­flate well­ness tourism with med­i­cal tourism, es­pe­cially when des­ti­na­tions or gov­ern­ments use the term ‘health tourism’ to cover both sec­tors”.

Un­like the lat­ter, which pri­mar­ily in­volves peo­ple who are seek­ing med­i­cal treat­ments and pro­ce­dures, well­ness tourism in­volves trav­el­ers who are pri­mar­ily in­ter­ested in well­ness — “the pur­suit of main­tain­ing or en­hanc­ing one’s per­sonal well­be­ing” — on their trip, Ye­ung said.

Not­ing that there is a long his­tory of con­nec­tion be­tween health and tourism, King from PolyU says the next phase of de­vel­op­ment will in­volve mul­ti­ple col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween the two sec­tors, which can bring op­por­tu­ni­ties but at the same time will de­mand new skills and ap­proaches.

“It is not just about avoid­ing surgery or med­i­ca­tions. There is also a strong de­sire for an en­hanced qual­ity of life, per­sonal ful­fill­ment and hap­pi­ness,” says Ka­rina Ste­wart, co-founder of Ka­malaya, a re­sort on the is­land of Koh Sa­mui in south­ern Thai­land. Ka­malaya was opened in 2005, so Ste­wart is aware of the rapid de­vel­op­ment of the well­ness tourism in­dus­try over the last decade.

In May, Ka­malaya brought its award-win­ning well­ness treat­ments to Euro­pean clients through its col­lab­o­ra­tion with the UK ho­tel Lime Wood in the English coun­try­side of Hamp­shire.

So-called mini re­treats in­clude holis­tic ther­a­pies and treat­ment from both Eastern and Western per­spec­tives, along­side healthy cui­sine, per­sonal men­tor­ing, cook­ing classes, early morn­ing yoga and med­i­ta­tive walks in the for­est. Ste­wart says she al­ready has plans to con­tinue this col­lab­o­ra­tion next year and is open to ex­tend­ing it to other places in the world.

As a re­sort owner, Ste­wart says, the well­ness ex­pe­ri­ence should not just be about quick fixes but how to make it sus­tain­able — some­thing the guests can take back home af­ter their va­ca­tions. To do this, Ka­malaya aims to give guests the knowl­edge and tools nec­es­sary to make life-en­hanc­ing choices that are vi­able for the long term.

For ex­am­ple, the re­sort en­cour­ages visi­tors to write down their ex­pe­ri­ences and think about whether any of the ac­tiv­i­ties can be in­cor­po­rated into their daily rou­tines.

“Our phi­los­o­phy is that by sup­port­ing peo­ple in mak­ing small but per­ma­nent changes, they will feel in­spired to con­tinue mak­ing pos­i­tive progress af­ter they re­turn home,” Ste­wart says.

King at PolyU be­lieves tourism “has a valu­able role to play in pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy”.

“Travel ex­pe­ri­ences can take peo­ple from their daily con­cerns and pro­vide op­ti­mism, chal­lenge and re­fresh­ment. In Asia, holis­tic philoso­phies em­a­nat­ing from Con­fu­cian­ism, Bud­dhism and other tra­di­tions are a wel­come bal­anc­ing force to ma­te­ri­al­ism,” King says.

China aims to build a group of in­ter­na­tional well­ness tourism des­ti­na­tions by 2020, as re­ported by Xinhua. Yon­hap News re­ported in May that South Ko­rea plans to pro­mote its south­ern re­gion as a clus­ter for well­ness travel, with an in­vest­ment of $742,000 in the de­vel­op­ment of tourism pro­grams.

Cities and re­gional gov­ern­ments have im­por­tant roles to play in pro­mot­ing well­ness tourism, says Ye­ung from GWI, not­ing that reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties are im­por­tant for en­sur­ing that well­ness ameni­ties and ser­vices meet in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. Des­ti­na­tions should also re­flect “well­ness” in a broader sense, not only within a re­sort prop­erty but in pub­lic places and the over­all en­vi­ron­ment, Ye­ung says.

Mean­while, Lin from Qyer hopes to con­vey the idea of well­ness tourism to more users on the com­pany’s plat­form.

The idea is to en­cour­age peo­ple to catch a new vi­sion — that in­te­grat­ing phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties into va­ca­tions can un­lock a whole new kind of travel ex­pe­ri­ence.

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