This article aims to analyze current practices, future trends, and issues in hotel spa health and wellness services, briefly discussing possible development solutions for the next decade from the perspective of supply and demand.
This article also expands the current perspective by examining the effect of the pandemic on the global applications of spa, health, and wellness services in the hospitality and tourism industry. Better service is always possible with a sound analysis of the sector and a deeper understanding of customer requests.
The demand for spa, health and wellness services goes back centuries, becoming a valuable part of daily life in some cultures. Egyptian and Babylonian architecture shows evidence of hot springs and baths as early as 3000 BC. Later, ancient Greeks, Native Americans, Alaskans, and Pacific Islanders viewed spa and traditional wellness as balancing activities for health, while Middle Eastern and East Asian cultures used these traditional practices to treat diseases, applying natural treatments and therapies such as Turkish baths, caves, stones, mud baths, hot springs (Japan), tai chi (China), massage, and many other traditional methods.
Yet, with the development of pharmaceutical and medical sciences, health and wellness practices such as healthy eating, Ayurveda, traditional Indian and Chinese medicine, music therapy, homeopathy, osteopathy, hydrotherapy, naturopathy, and many more began to lose their importance, especially in Western cultures. Although traditional spa and wellness practices are preserved in many cultures by passing them down from generation to generation, spa culture, with its therapeutic and preventative values, has been particularly transformed into a beauty, massage, and body care industry leveraged by hotels and spa centers all over the world.
However, spa and wellness services have begun to be in demand again for their therapeutic advantages, thus begging the following questions: Why have people started to focus on health and wellness services again? Are advanced medical treatments and applications not enough for mental and physical wellness and well-being?
Great confusion and uncertainty accompanied COVID-19, resulting in mass deaths, strict quarantine measures, changes in work and schooling systems, job losses, insufficiency of health care services, and socioeconomic instabilities in many countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 510,270,667 confirmed cases and 6,233,526 confirmed deaths worldwide in April 2022. Despite its devastating effects, the pandemic has created several opportunities for the spa and wellness sector, along with the wellness tourism and food industry, generating opportunities for service industry and clients looking for new trends and services.
Recent academic studies have revealed the significant negative effects of COVID-19 on mental and physical health. Therefore, the tourism, spa, and wellness industry should examine whether proposed health and wellness concepts are effective in alleviating the psychological and physical effects of COVID-19.
For example, hot springs and thermal centers, which constitute an important part of spa tourism, have a unique healing effect. However, because the supply and demand system has changed in recent years, the marketing and functionality of thermal centers, especially in their use of mineral waters, should be reviewed by the hotel and spa sector for potential clients, including seniors, people with chronic illnesses, those who avoid 3S vocations, religious groups, solo travelers, and the middle-aged working class. The pandemic has created great opportunities for spa and wellness centers to reposition their wellness activities, services, and products by examining the current functions and improvement potential.
An examination of global spa and wellness centers and hotels reveals great differences between the US and other regions regarding service and product diversity arise. While spa and wellness resorts/centers in the US offer spa packages, soothing treatments, all-inclusive accommodations, classes, lectures, fitness facilities, and meals catering to wide-ranging budgets, more interesting and traditional service concepts are available globally. Nowadays, many hotels in different regions are participating in new spa and wellness trends, improving the service range with traditional and local spa applications.
While some hotels add color therapy to their spa programs to lower blood pressure and boost the immune system, others offer wellness-themed hotel rooms, custom app-based well-being challenges, saltwater bath therapies, local and ethnic foods and beverages, infrared saunas, trendy fitness equipment, medical spas and baths using underground volcanic waters, cosmetic surgery trips, thalassotherapy centers, holistic centers for life-work balance, meditation retreats, and pilgrimages for spiritual well-being. Since local resources and traditional methods are quite rich, the spa and wellness services in many regions, including China, India, East and South Asia, Turkey, and northern Europe, have made significant advancements in this industry.
For example, China has emerged as a strong player in the global health and wellness economy. According to the 2019 Global Wellness Summit, “Traditional Chinese medicine has reached 183 countries and regions worldwide, expecting an estimated $50 billion global market. ” Moreover, the country has risen from eleventh to third in health and wellness tourism, bringing $31.7 billion in revenue and providing 70.2 million wellness accommodations.
The diversity of global spa and wellness services has revealed the concepts of spa and wellness tourism and wellness destination as unique tourism segments. According to the 2018 Global Wellness Economy Monitor report, there was a 57% increase in wellness trips between 2015 and 2017 in emerging markets such as Asia-Pacific, Latin America-Caribbean, Middle East-North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
On the other hand, Asia has been the number one growth sector in spa, health, and wellness tourism in the last five years, with annual profits reaching 258 million with a 33% increase in travel. In terms of outbound tourists, Europeans currently lead the way in travelers from North America with the highest number of tourists (291.8 million in 2017) and the highest spending ($241.7 billion in 2017). The numbers reported in 2017 are slightly different for inbound tourists; the United States is in the top spot with 176.5 million trips and $226.0 billion spent, followed by Germany (66.1 million trips, 65.7 billion spent) and China (70.2 million trips, 31.7 billion spent).
2021 Global Wellness Economy Monitor also published the global wellness economy data stating that “New Global Wellness Institute research–the most in-depth in its history–reveals that the wellness market grew to a record $4.9 trillion in 2019 and then fell to $4.4 trillion in the pandemic year of 2020. But with a consumer “values shift” underway, the future of the wellness market is incredibly bright, predicted to grow 10% annually through 2025.” These figures show that spa, health, and wellness tourism has become increasingly popular not only in established tourism destinations but also in emerging markets around the world.
The current perspective should be developed by examining existing and new global trends in the spa and wellness market. Some developing countries are starting to move beyond traditional spas by leveraging their natural resources and traditional healing practices. They use very simple marketing budgets, including new packages on partner websites, brochures, familiarity trips, and promotional campaigns while updating the regional media and substantial tourism board partners about their services. Their unique selling propositions offer well-being and relaxation for spa and wellness clients.
For example, the Dead Sea, with its extremely high salt content, bordered by the West Bank, Jordan, and Israel offers healing for people suffering from various illnesses, ranging from psoriasis to cystic fibrosis. The Baden-Baden region of Germany offers hydrotherapy and aromatherapy. India offers yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda practices. Southeast Asia focuses on spiritual tourism as well as medical tourism. Japan offers hot springs and traditional spiritual practices. Sri Lanka promotes Ayurvedic strengths, beautiful natural settings, and spiritual heritage. China offers traditional Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, qigong, meditation, and martial arts. South and East Asian countries like South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines offer more traditional healing techniques such as traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, Tibetan medicine, and other integrative approaches.
The Latin American and Caribbean regions, along with Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, rank high in the thermal/mineral springs category and for beauty enhancement treatments. Destinations like Costa Rica and Belize are famous for their jungle/eco-spas. The Middle East-North Africa region promotes hammam culture, along with the benefits of thalassotherapy, balneotherapy, and hydrotherapy. Sub-Saharan Africa offers thermal/mineral springs, mindfulness safaris, yoga in the wilderness, body treatments in the bush, and traditional wellness treatments such as drumming meditation, calabash massage and izinyawo foot baths.
Turkey, Greece, and East European countries promote their geothermal facilities such as hot springs, mineral waters, Turkish, Greek, and Roman baths, balneotherapy, mud baths, caves, and phytotherapy in their spa and wellness services. Many such services are provided by luxury hotels and resorts, which are increasing the volume of customers going to wellness destinations. Some hotels and resorts also offer professionally designed therapy and activity programs led by health and fitness professionals (e.g., Canyon Ranch in Arizona, One&Only Desaru Coast in Malaysia, The Retreat at Blue Lagoon in Iceland, and Marina Bay Sands in Singapore) drawing on different concepts from all over the world.
Travel restrictions are being slowly lifted by governments, so many people will need spiritually and physically restorative journeys to overcome the challenges of the pandemic. Quality spa programs, intense fitness training camps, massage, meditation, yoga, and relaxing retreats filled with creative spa services and healthy food and drinks are essential for many hotel clients who need to restore their physical and mental health and well-being. Therefore, it is better if hoteliers implement innovative wellness services alongside traditional services during this critical period.