With the concept of wellness becoming a buzzword in the world, the tourism industry has capitalized on its potential by offering travel experiences that have health and well-being as a core component. International travelers are increasingly considering wellness when planning their holiday itinerary. With trips being organized based on concepts such as physical, psychological and spiritual wellbeing, healthy food and spa treatments.
In this context, the goal of Sri Lanka's Wellness Tourism sector under the National Export Strategy (NES) is to develop the sector strategically by addressing constraints in a comprehensive manner and by defining concrete opportunities that can be realized through the specific steps that provide numerous employment opportunities to local communities. The Wellness Tourism sector development strategy is an integral part of diversifying Sri Lanka's export income basket and seeks to establish Sri Lanka as a prominent hub for Wellness Tourism for the region.
Business Lanka Magazine had recently interviewed Stella Photi, Founder of Wellness Escapes, a UK- based company that specializes in wellness holidays to help and inspire people to lead happier, healthier lives whilst enjoying some well-earned relaxation. The following is an excerpt of the interview with Ms. Photi.
Currently, Sri Lanka's Wellness Tourism sector remains to be an industry in its very early stage of development. However, the growing interest in and demand for wellness services is a favourable global trend for the development of this industry in Sri Lanka. Many countries and destinations across the world are defining themselves as wellness tourism destinations, but most do not have Sri Lanka's rich cultural and wellness lifestyle-based heritage, with the county's location and accessibility providing a key advantage for the development of wellness tourism in the country.
Wellness tourism includes health centres, spas and health retreats which are unique and different to each other and target specific markets and types of travelers. Sri Lanka has a good foundation to promote its wellness tourism with most places operating at an international level and offering a range of effective wellness treatments.
Sri Lanka has the potential and assets to succeed in the industry, but needs to create an identity, that showcases its values and distinctive difference from Ayurveda practices in India. An advantage Sri Lanka has right now is the warmth of the people. The consultants and Ayurveda practitioners in Sri Lanka are loving and caring and show a genuine interest in healing you.
Having treatments other than those indigenous to Sri Lanka being offered widely across the country, she feels is not a dilemma or a matter to be concerned about, as it does not take away from Sri Lanka's core brand; instead it complements the growing industry where clients are looking to enjoy a luxurious experience that leaves them feeling pampered and relaxed during their stay in the country.
Understanding who you are and building a brand is key priority according to Ms. Photi, who emphasized that a plan needs to be put in motion to create brand awareness.
Currently, marketing and awareness campaigns for the wellness sector are very minimal. Any promotional activity that is available is done by companies making individual efforts to build a customer base. This creates a highly-competitive environment among operators and discourages co-operation among companies, since marketing requires high investment and activity.
Branding activities also need to be coupled with IP protection, with proper tools to support individual private sector branding initiatives. As the country develops a national wellness tourism brand, it will need to look at ways to protect that brand and verify that the wording has not been used previously by the competing countries.
With travelers from the UK, Germany and other parts of the world looking at Sri Lanka with renewed interest as a must-visit travel destination for holidays that are not only confined to wellness tourism, that is an opportunity to create holidays that include wellness as a key component, targeting sophisticated high-end tourists.
She added that while it is important to maintain a certain level of authenticity when providing wellness treatments, it is also important to target treatments at travelers of all kinds, from backpackers to high-end tourists, and not confine itself attracting average spenders who don't help to steer the industry in the right direction in terms of financial benefits.
When considering the issue of certifications, she says it is important that the industry looks inwards to find a solution, and not outwards. Sri Lanka as a country that practices Ayurveda knows the ins and outs of the treatments better than any international body would, so it would be much more effective if certifications that cover aspects such as the practitioner, therapist and ingredients are put into place. The market needs to regulate itself by creating a wellness association which has accredited members that help travelers select health centres, spas and wellness resorts that offer authentic, certified treatments.
The bigger issue as she sees it is communication. Sri Lanka needs a strategy that communicates the right message that attracts the kind of travelers that the country plans to cater to. Instead of being bogged down by establishing regulations, it would be prudent to set up a wellness association that creates awareness about wellness tourism in Sri Lanka and accredited institutions that offer treatments, which will in turn help the travelers make the right choice, when selecting an institution to patronize for a particular type of treatment.
"When I started my business 12 years ago nobody knew what a wellness traveler was, it was mainly centered around spas. Over the last 5 years the term wellness and wellbeing has exploded, which was significantly driven by the industry. The industry pushed the message of wellness and the consumer started to realize that this was an interesting aspect to explore, which went side-by-side with concepts related to preventative health."
In developed economies like UK, Germany, Australia which have a rapidly-growing ageing population and high medical costs, preventative health as opposed to reactive health is, emphasized on. People are being encouraged to take care of themselves and the wellness industry has capitalized on this momentum by creating awareness about the industry and what it offers. This in turn has made the consumer have the desire to enjoy a holiday that allows them to continue their healthy lifestyle they lead or travel in search of a holiday that would help one fulfill one's goals to lead a healthy life. This has led to the creation of the wellness traveler.
Another connection that needs to be made is the intrinsic connection between wellness travel and food. "So far, the impact of food is underestimated, but as she rightly pointed out, people want to indulge in food that is both tasty and healthy. It's important to present local cuisine in an attractive manner while providing relevant information about its nutritional properties to help the wellness traveler understand the value of what one is consuming."More importantly, Ms. Photi says Sri Lanka has the opportunity to make the most of the global emphasis on clean and healthy living with the local staple coconut being positioned as a health product across the world. Touted as a healthy alternative, coconut and coconut-based products have steadily gained popularity across the food world.
Ms. Photi added that some of the wellness centers in Sri Lanka are already offering a very luxurious, yet intrinsically Sri Lankan wellness product, which was on par with some of the best in the world and concluded that Sri Lanka had all the ingredients needed for a vibrant wellness tourism destination but needed to address some of the key issues such as creating an identity for itself.