Wellness tourism is on an upward trend globally and today, is said to be a multi-trillion dollar industry.
According to Global Wellness Institute (GWI), a non-profit organisation based in the United States that seeks to promote wellness through education, the global wellness economy was worth US$4.2tril (RM17.2tril) in 2017, with wellness tourism standing at US$639bil (RM2.6tril). The report noted that as many as 830 trips were made for the purpose of wellness.
Malaysia is listed in the Top 10 wellness tourism markets in Asia Pacific with expenditures standing at US$5bil (RM20.5bil), and 8.3 million trips.
Tourism Malaysia reports that there is a rapid growth of wellness tourism globally because of a rising middle class with increased spending power, a growing consumer desire to adopt a healthy lifestyle, and an increasing interest in experiential travel.
But what exactly is wellness tourism?
Defined as travelling for the purpose of promoting health and well-being through physical, psychological or spiritual activities, wellness tourism is often associated with medical tourism. However, wellness is geared more towards improving and maintaining health and quality of life, and focuses on “prevention is better than cure”, while medical tourism is all about receiving treatment for a condition or illness.
There are two types of wellness tourism: Primary wellness tourism, where travellers travel solely for wellness purposes, and secondary wellness tourism, where travellers participate in wellness-related activities as part of their business of leisure trips.
The bulk of wellness travel is done by secondary wellness travellers.
Wellness travellers are said to look for services that help relieve stress and promote relaxation like yoga or meditation classes and massages. Some also require specific services like diet and weight management, while others prefer more physical activities like sports and fitness workshops. There are also travellers who seek treatments or procedures in conventional, alternative, herbal, complementary or homeopathic medicine.
Many hotels and resorts these days have at least one or two programmes that cater to secondary wellness travellers. These programmes include healthy menu options, spa and rejuvenation programmes, as well as fitness facilities and classes.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang says that Malaysia has great potential for wellness travel.
“Our country has much to offer in terms of wellness tourism given our natural assets such as tropical forests, beautiful beaches and mountains, and we should capitalise on it. The potential for the wellness and fitness industry is immense, and with the backing of Tourism Malaysia and the tour operators’ promotional activities, there can be even more awareness on the different types of wellness packages that our nation can offer travellers,” Tan says.
Although there are not many full-service wellness resorts in Malaysia, there is an increasing number of local tour operators that work with hotels to bring wellness activities to travellers. There are also many wellness-based services that are being offered via online booking platforms like Airbnb, Agoda and LokaLocal. Some of these services include guided walks, hiking excursions, traditional cooking classes and therapeutic art workshops.
And when it comes to one’s health and well-being, most of the time, money is no object.
“Health is wealth and there is a growing trend for wellness vacations and packages, especially to Malaysia.
“Wellness travellers to Malaysia might have different needs and objectives. Some seek experiences to maintain a routine of fitness, healthy eating, and related activities. Others go deeper into wellness holidays to rejuvenate themselves both physically and emotionally.
“Besides the usual physical and healthy dietary controls, there is a focus on mental health, which includes meditation, yoga, and religious activities,” he continues.
Hopefully, more retreats and tour packages that focus on wellness will be introduced in Malaysia soon, as the demand for it is rapidly rising.
“Bringing in high-impact spiritual retreats and fitness activities will do well for this segment. Such packages can range from a simple spa treatment and therapy, to outdoor activities such as walking and hiking, to healthy eating.
“There are also more comprehensive wellness packages that include time for self reflection, health checks, and volunteerism experiences,” Tan concludes.