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Wellness Tourism : Taking A Step Forward

Wellness tourism has the potential of being the top most driver of the growth of the Indian tourism industry. In a consistently growing economy where people are facing a fast changing life, wellness tourism becomes even more important as it rejuvenates the body, mind and soul by detoxification provided by various healthcare therapies. India is perceived as one of the true spiritual homes of the modern wellness movement globally with its ancient practices of ayurveda, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, naturopathy, panchakarma and holistic health are among the experiences sought by wellness travellers in India.

Globally, wellness tourism is growing with 6.5 per cent annually, more than twice as fast as tourism overall (3.2 per cent), and it was worth US$639 billion market in 2017. This segment is forecasted to grow even faster through 2022 (7.5 per cent yearly), to reach US$919 billion, according to Global Wellness Tourism Economy report by Global Wellness Institute.

Looking at these lucrative figures, destinations are today creating wellness products to draw more travellers. India is known as a pioneer in the wellness segment in the world. Also, it is a known fact that India is the land of the much acclaimed ‘ayurveda’. In the recent years, India has started showcasing yoga as a form of wellness, which has been trending globally. Despite this first mover’s advantage, India is yet to realise the potential of this segment when it comes to tourism. With a vast array of products which has been present through ages, India can be termed as a goldmine of wellness tourism, which needs to be explored by the global market.

The concept of wellness tourism refers to travelling for activities planned for health and well-being as top priority. Typical wellness trips include healthy food, spa treatments, exercise, and opportunities for spiritual and creative development.

The Ministry of Tourism, Government of India in the last few years has charted various plans to further boost this segment. Moreover, luxury hotel chains and standalone boutique players have invested significantly in developing experiential wellness products to further attract travellers. With these efforts, India can soon become a high value wellness tourism hub.

Current Scenario

In 2017, India ranked 7th in the top 20 wellness tourism markets, and 10th among the top 20 spa markets in the world, while ranking 3rd in both the top 10 wellness tourism markets and top 10 spa markets in Asia Pacific. According to reports, Indians made 56 million wellness-related trips, both domestic and international, in 2017 (a growth of 45 per cent over 2015), which included expenditures worth $16.3 billion. Also, India ranked 2nd in terms of leading growth markets for wellness tourism, depicting an average annual growth rate of 20.3 per cent from 2015 to 2017, adding a little over 17 million wellness trips in the same period.

Earlier, known to be a very niche concept, today with a drastic change in people’s lifestyle, wellness tourism is set to become the mainstream.

“Wellness industry continued to emerge from niche lifestyle concept into a mainstream commodity with high growth prospects. Wellness industry estimated to be worth over US$3.72 trillion, representing more than five per cent of all global economic output. As per recent estimates of Ernst and Young, Indian wellness industry is estimated to grow at a CAGR of nearly 12 per cent for the next five years and is expected to reach Rs.1.5 trillion by 2020, rising disposable incomes, change lifestyle etc. or some important facts driving the growth of wellness services,” Sunirmol Ghosh, Director- IndoAsia Hotels, said.

The Indian wellness tourism industry thrives majorly on the key segments like ayurveda, yoga, meditation and rejuvenation amongst others. As per industry speculations, Indian wellness tourism is set to reach US$ 9 billion by 2020.

If we go by studies, it is said that India will touch great heights in the wellness tourism industry in the coming years, said Abhilash K Ramesh, Executive Director, Kairali Ayurvedic Group. “Year 2017 can be seen as a benchmark year for the Industry where Indian wellness tourism set tremendous standards for itself with overall volume of the Industry boomed at a CAGR of 20 per cent index. It is evident from the previous year result that the earlier made prediction will prove to be right and medical and wellness tourism is likely going to touch US$ 9 billion mark by 2020. For Kairali, the year brought major increase in revenue witnessing major growth in the profit centres of the company,” Ramesh added.

Today, India is majorly driven by the domestic tourists for the wellness segment. Rise in disposable income and consumers desire to enhance their mental, as well as physical wellbeing, has favoured the demand for these services. Furthermore, increasing hectic lifestyles characterised by work-related stress has been augmenting the market growth across the globe.

Speaking about the key factors, Rijesh Purakkal, Spa Head, Alila Fort Bishangarh stated, “The wellness industry is rapidly growing in India and has a tremendous scope. In this new era of health consciousness, individuals want to know more and willing to spend on living a full life, wellbeing as a service will emerge as a major industry. People are looking for destinations where more authentic wellness experiences can be found.”

Source markets

Due to the lack of focussed and directed publicity of wellness tourism, the major source market for India still remains the domestic market. In the last five years, the Government has taken keen interest in promoting this segment. The Tourism Ministry has offered 50:50 financial assistance to parties to up to Rs 10 lakh for participating in fairs and events approved by the tourism ministry in overseas markets under the Marketing Development Assistance (MDA) scheme. The ministry has also offered financial assistance of up to Rs 25 lakh for stakeholders participating in tourism promotion shows. It additionally also offers financial support for training courses on skill providing.

Speaking about the major source market for wellness tourism, Nikhil Kapur, Founder and Managing Director at Atmatnan Wellness Centre said, “The domestic market is our largest client base. It has always been considered that Westerners travel for health but things have changed. Indians are mindful about where they spend their holidays and look at holidays as opportunities to rejuvenate, heal and come back stronger to their regular lives. We have many guests who come to us more than two times in a year and this includes guests from Tier II & III cities. Health Holidays are becoming mainstreams for Indians. Some of the other markets which have mature wellness travellers include Americas, UK, Germany and now CIS and China is added to this list. At a property level, our share of overseas business is going up and in three years from now will be 40 per cent of the top line.”

The Indian wellness tourism players are now looking to develop novel source markets. Similar to the Indian outbound growth story, today many Asian countries are witnessing similar trends. This can create more wellness source markets from within Asia-Pacific region.

The traditional source markets are still stable and growing which are mainly German speaking markets Russia along with CIS and North America. What we are seeing changing is the growth from South East Asia and China and expect them to surpass some traditional markets by 2025,” Ramesh added.

In terms of the traveller’s profile, millennial travellers are the one who have always broken the norms and explored newer experiences. “The Millennials constitute the major travelling population in the world. Millennials have incredible spending power, and they seek for cultural vibrancy and authentic experiences. They like to indulge themselves in many holistic programs with spa gateway, detoxing cleansing with food, and fostering emotional, life-changing wellness journey. They like to share their experiences of wellness moments on social media,” Purakkal said.

Popular experiences

It’s a no brainer that being the birthplace of Ayurveda, it has to be the major driver for wellness tourism. But interesting to be noted, today travellers are opting wellness tourism for various serious health complications.

Speaking about the popular therapies, Hemanth Bagga, CEO, Fazlani Natures Nest stated, “We have found that ayurveda treatments like shirodhara, pizhichil and navarakizhi have been very popular among the weekend guests while the naturopathy therapies like deep tissue massage, acupressure and hydrotherapy have been very successful. However, we are witnessing a growing trend of patients seeking solutions and treatments for spondylitis, obesity, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and ulcers.”

Today one of the major challenges globally has been the rapid increase in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, obesity, infertility, etc. Indian wellness players are catering to these issues successfully and are curating customised treatments. “Our guests come to us for many reasons such as detox, weight management, medicinal reversal (diabetes, hypertension), illness-management, rehabilitation, emotional healing, fitness, ayurvedic panchakarma. Our expertise lies in our multi-dimensional approach where we integrate various sciences and modalities to give the maximum result to our guests. So besides treatments, the components of nutrition, mental health, improve sleep quality and a positive environment is a must for a successful wellness destination. Pranic healing (energy healing), Chi Nei Tsang (tao school of healing), and amongst ayurvedic treatments - udwartanam (using medicated powder, improves blood circulation and mobilisation of fat) and navrakizhi (with medicated rice from Kerala, fantastic for rejuvenation) are some of the popular therapies,” Kapur added.

Echoing similar opinion, Ramesh said, “Ayurveda has always been focused on preventive care as well as treatments, and with the last five years data what we have noticed is that the most sought or prescribed programme was the panchakarma programme by our in house doctors. Second to that were the customised solutions as each person is an individual and all the treatment plans are based on the patient’s body type. The maximum ailments we treatment were for obesity, infertility, psoriasis and eczema and bone disorders such as arthritis etc. and in the preventive aspect is has been rejuvenation and destress programme.”

Role of ‘AYUSH’ Ministry

The year 2014 has been a milestone year for the wellness industry as the Government of India set up the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH). This has been a major step in not only increasing the awareness about the various practices, but also to bring regulation in these sectors.

Lauding the work done by the Ministry of AYUSH, Ramesh stated, “The Ministry of Ayush has definitely been a great support for the industry and will continue to do so, with a more pragmatic and targeted approach towards marketing and promoting AYUSH industry, we will definitely see a growth and we estimate a growth of at least 15 per cent to 25 per cent.”

Immediately after the introduction of the Ministry, the next major step was the introduction of ‘World Yoga Day’, which has again helped in promoting the ancient form of wellbeing.

“The government is promoting AYUSH and with the initiative taken on International Yoga Day that turned into global event recognised by United Nations, which helped creating awareness at the international platform about yoga and wellness in India. Yoga has been promoted as a therapy for physical and mental ailments, and this is what the customers look for during their vacations,” Purakkal added.

With such commendable steps by the Ministry, the industry now expects further introduction of incentives and relaxations.

Kapur stated, “I am hoping that they announce certain incentives or schemes which make it for feasible and attractive for entrepreneurs to develop wellness centres in India. However, in the meanwhile, AYUSH has been creating a lot of awareness about benefits of a good lifestyle and has been promoting Indian sciences like Ayurveda, Yoga etc”

Another major challenge is there is no proper focused promotion for the wellness tourism in the international markets. This segment has been usually promoted as an add-on to the normal vacations.

Ghosh added, “We as a nation have failed to leverage on our advantage of being the home of Ayurveda and Yoga. There are very few destinations in India that has been sold purely as a wellness destination and most others have been marketed as tourist destinations with wellness thrown in. The need of the hour is to market some destinations as pure wellness centres which could cater to tourists who seek rejuvenation and not a regular vacation.”

Challenges

Initially, one of the major challenges in this sector was to maintain the quality and authenticity of service providers. The Government has taken a very crucial leap of introducing quality management with the help of Quality Council of India to extend the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Wellness Centres (NABH) certification for spa and wellness centres. Despite this initiative, the government needs to look at various other challenges to further boost this segment.

“Safety and security which is a challenge, tourism is a fragile dedicated industry and wellness tourist will only come to visit our destinations for peace, calm, meditation, yoga, health, well being therefore the first foremost issue will be safety and security of the tourist because of presents of the fear because which we cannot promote,” Ghosh opined.

Lack of infrastructure remains another challenge which affects this segment. Kapur also feels that improving the brand image of India will help them promote the segment tremendously. “Our travel partners in Europe frequently tell us that their lady clients don't want to travel to India because it’s highly unsafe. Wellness destinations don't belong in the big cities but in tranquil and calm natural surroundings. But who is working towards improving the commute to these destinations. Unfortunately, the ground situation is quite pathetic.”

Another noteworthy challenge which the industry is facing is the lack of talent. Today, the supply of qualified personnel is depleting. “The supply of doctors and qualified personnel in the field of ayurveda and naturopathy has been dropping over the years. Moreover, there are segment of medical practitioners that are currently adamant to only converse in the local medium. Presently there is a lot of awareness to build up the language base to include international languages as well,” Bagga said. 

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