Global Market Redefines Wellness Tourism

By Bernard Burt

For a large segment of the adult market, spas are no longer seen as luxuries. Staying well means integrating spa experiences with a personal health regimen.

The US$2.5-trillion tourism industry includes some US$106-billion considered "Wellness Tourism," and US$ 50-billion as "Medical Tourism," according to industry observers. At the backbone of this demand is the resurgent "baby boomer" market - those born between 1946 and 1965.

Globally, wellness tourism is estimated to account for $60 billion-plus in core revenues plus another $194 billion in spa-related hospitality, clocking an average yearly growth rate of 20% for the past two decades.

Setting a priority on Wellness Tourism, the King of Morocco, H.H. Mohammed VI, has stated the country’s goal by 2020 to receive 20 millions tourists per year, and to earmark Wellness Moroccan Style as the way to get there. Favored by international jetsetters, the country has seen a proliferation of spas in luxury hotels as well as riads (small luxury hotels usually found in historic indigenous villas and palaces).

There are more than 550 spas today in the kingdom, with as many on the drawing board for the next three years, according to Raoul Andrews-Sudre, President of Aspen Resorts International, who has several projects under development for clients in Morocco.

“Hammam culture is of course predominant in most of these spas” says Raoul, “but sophisticated Asian-inspired spas are springing up all over.” The most exotic are found in Marrakech - local day spas! Other cities in the kingdom are following suit; Casablanca alone had a 450% increase in the number of spas from 5 years ago!

In the Philippines, demand for “cosmetic intervention” is profitable for St. Lukes Medical City Hospital. Staying at the Makati Shangri-La Manila Resort and using their Chi spa for pre-and post hospital stays can be combined with surgery at St. Lukes. And two hours from Manila, The Farm at San Benito blends rustic retreat with wellness programs.

When the Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Arizona opened in 1979, emphasis was on fitness rather than spa. Now the wellness complex includes medical services with full-time doctors on staff for consultation and annual checkups. And a separate campus for the week-long, structured Life Enhancement Program where you join a like-minded group for exercise, lectures, and meals. An outpost on Florida’s Miami Beach offered $99 treatments during a citywide spa promotion last summer. Named the region’s foremost center for integrative medicine, Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa in Miami Beach has a team of highly trained experts handpicked by Medical Director Karen Koffler, MD. Now at sea aboard Oceania Cruises, Canyon Ranch SpaClub© brings a taste of wellness to new markets with a fleet of five adventure-oriented ships.

ESPA’s new flagship opened in London at the Corinthia Hotel last summer. Near Trafalgar Square and tourist attractions, supremely elegant, the 297-room hotel wooed upscale travelers with ads boasting London's largest spa and wellness facility, ESPA Life: “You too can be involved in the making of a brand new London legend." (Not mentioned: the Corinthia is partly owned by Libyan government entities controlled by Gadaffi and his family.) Across town at Harrods department store, the Urban Retreat day spa adjoins a vast cosmetics department where treatment rooms are sponsored by skincare brands. The addition of Renew Medica with esthetic medicine specialists gives shoppers the best of both worlds.

Asian spagoers are demanding something new. At the 2011 Global Spa Summit, Simon Shepherson of International Leisure Consultants, Hong Kong, reported the requirement to “bring something new” to the market is driving development in India and China. “Whether that is in terms of a branded spa operator, new international products, or the latest trend,” said Shepherson, the marketplace is getting increasingly exposed to international developments and there is a desire to provide the best options for the consumers, who want a better “experience” in the spa and wellness sector, having been exposed to practices overseas that have been lacking in the country.

In China, it continues to be “conspicuous consumption” and that means, for the developers, the need to provide “bigger and better” in all aspects of the spa experience, and the requirement for VIP spa rooms of over 100sqm, as well as extensive wet areas. Consumers want to show that they can afford the luxuries of the spa experience, so the emphasis is still towards “pampering” and the relaxation that the spa provides. Thus the first Willow Stream Spa by Fairmont opened recently at the historic Peace Hotel in Shanghai. The new Mandarin Oriental resort on Hainan Island has a resident shaman plus Traditional Chinese Medicine pharmacy as well as a range of Western-style beauty treatments. Amanresorts added a spa to the centuries-old Summer Palace in Beijing, now a five-star hotel.

Germany’s wellness hotels and spas complement traditional kurs with programs to enhance wellbeing. An outstanding example is Toskana Therme in Bad Orb, an old health resort near Frankfurt which was revitalized by a new bathhouse and wellness center in 2010. Visitor numbers this past June grew to 11,432 per month, according to Marion Schneider, CEO and co-founder of the Toskana group. Their total investment in Bad Orb was 15 million euro for the Hotel an der Therme renovation, and 25 million euro for the Toskana Therme pools, sauna complex, and “Wellness Park” facility. Identical treatments are offered at Bad Orb, Bad Sulza, and Bad Schandau, open daily to the public: classic and wellness massages (in all forms, but mainly shoulder/neck and wellness massages), followed by the classic facials and whole body massage. While most visitors come to enjoy the cascading pools of salty thermal water, there is a meditation dome where you float in images, sounds, and color, the Liquid Sound Temple. The juxtaposition of a glass-walled bathhouse and wellness center next to a 200-year-old wooden saltwater pavilion enhances the new image of Bad Orb.

Germany has more than 1,000 wellness and beauty hotels, 350 quality-certified health resorts and spas, plus specialist clinics.

Wellness and activity programs help to stave off illness, while health resorts and spas harness the natural means at their disposal, or use state-of-the-art therapies to treat chronic conditions. The offerings reach from centuries old spa towns and royal resorts to five star spa hotels, always embedded in specific regions with their unique landscape and traditions. www.germany.travel
Entirely devoted to well-being and relaxation, the Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Paris offers a holistic experience to promote mind-body harmony.

At 9,688 square feet, this is one of the city's largest hotel spas. Interior designer, Sybille de Margerie has imagined the entrance as a vast pearly sphere that instantly sets a relaxing mood.

The white and carmine glass mosaic floor is studded with butterflies in silver leaf. The outside makes its home inside with a haute couture wall that unfolds over two levels, composed from Origami-fashion stylised flowers. The sensory journey continues with the unique, refined experience of the 151-foot indoor pool. This part of the Spa is embellished in powdery, pearly whites and pinks.

Moving shadows cast a poetic, foliage-inspired world on the walls in a dreamlike work that has been specially created for the Spa. All around, colored glass alcoves are an invitation to curl up and relax. Treatments are in seven suites ( three for couples) decorated in shades of amaranth, taupe and silver. Developed in consultation with specialists in traditional Chinese medicine and master aromatherapists, Mandarin Oriental's Signature Therapies spring from Oriental philosophy, and combine the relaxing effects of massage with the benefits of bespoke custom-blended essential oils. Mandarin Oriental’s signature product line has been developed specifically for the Group by the award-winning UK based company, Aromatherapy Associates. Each aromatherapy-based product has been created according to the oriental principles of five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water.


The terminology used in marketing wellness vacations has caused confusion. Lack of criteria was cited in a 1988 study published by the Swiss Institute for Leisure & Tourism at the University of Berne. Accordingly, a wellness cooperation program by Swiss Tourism (50 hotels) and the Association of Swiss Cure Institutions (70 members) plus independent hotels of 3- to 5-star quality led to a catalogue of wellness facilities and services that is available from Swiss government offices. Based on my experiences in Switzerland, these are some of the best spas in the world. At the grand Victoria-Jungfrau Hotel in Interlaken, a new spa wing includes spectacular suites, treatments by ESPA, Kanebo Sensai Spa, and Clarins salon, plus a café serving low-calorie meals with a view of the Alps. Developed by hotelier Emanuel Berger, the Fit program at Victoria-Jungfrau includes personal training and meals planned by a nutritionist, all derived from the town’s medical community.

Traditional Swiss hydrotherapy cures at Bad Ragaz now come with a “Beauty Oasis” offering anti-aging skin treatments with Carita products from France. The spa experience Quellenhof-style includes performance diagnostic tests, fitness checkup, massage, and soaks in elegant mineral-water pools. All with the efficiency and grace of Swiss hospitality.

In Geneva, the Forever Laser Institut founder Dr. Luigi Polla created skin care products marketed internationally by Alchimie Forever. This full-service medical day spa specializes in non-surgical alternatives for face and body rejuvenation. Now reservations can be made through SpaFinder for treatments, steps from several top hotels.

The ultimate Swiss spa is not at a resort. Yet the name resonates with spagoers: La Prairie. At the original Clinique La Prairie Medical & Revitalization Center on the shore of Lake Geneva, guests have access to spa services as well as medical and dental specialists. The dining room looks like a 5-star hotel.

The glass-walled spa features an indoor swimming pool, hydrotherapy, and whirlpools. Unlike destination spas, Clinique La Prairie’s spa is under medical supervision. After a check-up, your program targets optimal health with a personal trainer and chic sweatsuit to match. When the medical director demonstrated new laser technology on my face, results were amazing. Skincare products used at Clinique La Prairie are a different brand called Swiss Perfection; trademarked products branded La Prairie are made and distributed by a German lab.


As demand for wellness-oriented spas grows, SpaFinder issued a “White Paper” at the Global Spa Summit last May to examine where spas fit in the health, wellness, and medical tourism conversation that so many country’s governments are having at the moment.

Providing criteria for spa managers as well as consumers, the GSS launched the first Evidence Based Medicine Database for Spa and Wellness Modalities - The Spa Evidence portal - currently available at
and via www.spafinder.com
an amazing compilation of research which received rave reviews at the Summit. The technology was developed by SelfOptima, Inc, a California based company
Both projects, says SpaFinder Inc. president and Summit board member Susie Ellis, “have the possibility of catapulting the spa and wellness industry light years ahead.”

Eight companies stepped forward to underwrite this groundbreaking portal: Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, Murad, Red Door Spas, ResortSuite, SpaFinder, Inc., SpaSoft, Westin Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, and Yelo Spa. Online research is facilitated by a search mechanism that links to major databases like the Natural Standard, Cochrane, and PubMed, plus studies in progress at the National Institutes of Health.

The 11 listed spa and wellness treatments range from Ayurveda to yoga.


With a huge generation of baby boomers turning 60, women and men are seeking treatments that enhance youthful appearances, aging well rather than anti-aging promises. Growing demand among women 40 to 54 years old: liquid face-lift rather than cosmetic surgery; more men are getting facials. Jane Baskin, an anti-aging advocate, thinks that if you don’t like what you see in the mirror, you should feel free to change it.

I’m a big advocate of what I call Life 2.0,” says Baskin, a former social worker and author of “Jane of the Jungle

“What I’m referring to is the third stage of life, or the second stage of middle age. Because of the extended life span and the ability to prolong youth with medicine, diet, exercise and plastic surgery, old age is postponed. So what do you do when your kids are grown and you don’t want to work a straight job any more? Waiting to die used to be a brief wait, but now it can take thirty years or more. Life 2.0 is that time between cresting middle age and getting old. It should be as vital a time as youth. And if you feel young, you should look young, too.”

The intersection of wellness tourism, medical spas, and the tourism industry has exciting potential.

As governments, insurance companies, medical establishments, and consumers wrangle with the skyrocketing costs of healthcare, the new focus of wellness tourism is squarely on prevention and helping people make lifestyle changes.

The opportunities are immense; governments all over the world look at this arena as a way to attract visitors as well as lowering health care costs.