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Sri Lanka’s Wellness Tourism Industry: Inspired by History and Tradition

Sri Lanka’s Wellness Tourism Industry: Inspired by History and Tradition

2018-08-21

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 cities are defining themselves as wellness tourism destinations but few could match Sri Lanka’s rich cultural and wellness lifestyle-based heritage.

There are several formidable competitors such as India, Malaysia and Thailand, as well as the Republic of Korea and Dubai setting the benchmark for medical tourism. The key competitive factors oscillate between prices, access, amenities and reputation of both the hospital and the specialist. These are considered generic qualities and success largely depends on how much the destination and its investors are ready to invest into medical infrastructure and human resources.

Sri Lankan Western hospitals are also receiving medical tourists from Maldives, Seychelles, South Asian and African region mainly for cost effective medical treatments. The sector is well established with internationally recognized medical professionals practising in UK and USA. Targeting medical travellers, our private hospitals have obtained international accreditations such as JCI and ACHSI. Also, the industry is armed with modern infrastructure facilities and high-tech health equipment to cater to this need.

In the present context, Sri Lanka caters to two main segments: medical tourists from countries where they cannot find quality medical service in their own country such as Maldives, Seychelles, and African countries where the western medical sector has a vital role; medical tourists from countries in higher ranks in the development index, who are seeking for preventive treatments to develop their personal wellbeing, where the Sri Lankan indigenous/Ayurveda sector could cater to.

The roots of Sri Lanka’s indigenous medical system go even deeper than 5000 years. The present indigenous medical sector blends with “Deshiya Chikitsa” inherited in Sri Lanka, Ayurveda and Siddha practices from India and Unani system from Greece which spread from the Arabian region. The Wellness Tourism also interconnects with other spiritual practices such as Yoga and meditation as it defines the balance between body, mind and soul.

The standard wellness tourism product is provided in resort or hotel environments. It builds on body and facial therapies and wet areas such as steam rooms and saunas and tends to focus on pampering and relaxation.

This wellness product has become global and can be found in most countries. Sri Lanka needs to find and define its own wellness directions that puts the country in a competitive position and can be attractive in the Asian region and beyond.

The first and most obvious of these advantages is Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage, which has many of the characteristics that are in high demand in the developed world’s tourism markets. Among these characteristics, four could allow the country to stand out as a wellness tourism destination:

  • The philosophy supporting Sri Lankan culture: The balance of mind, spirit and body is a core principle held by the Sri Lankan population and is an integral part of the country’s culture and life philosophy. This is particularly reflected in traditional health systems and medicines, which do not dissociate the physical from mind-related treatments.
  • The long history of Sri Lankan traditional medicine supports its legitimacy: Such approaches have been practised for many thousands of years in Sri Lanka, with Ayurveda at the core of the medical approach. The fact that those techniques were built and tested over a long time reinforces their appeal for clients seeking alternative medicines as preferred approaches to health.
  • Sri Lanka’s traditional health system is specific to the country: Ayurveda is a major component of Sri Lanka’s approach to health as well as to well-being, but the country follows a different doctrine than neighbouring countries. In Sri Lanka, Ayurveda has been merged with local traditional knowledge, especially with regard to ingredients and their transformative properties. This gives Sri Lankan traditions their uniqueness. Ayurveda in Sri Lanka is not only a health system but also an integral part of the country’s lifestyle. This gives a special foundation to any development based on or inspired by Ayurveda.
  • Mindfulness culture associated with Buddhism: Over 70% of the population of Sri Lanka is Buddhist and Sri Lanka hosts the holiest Buddhist temple of the world, the Temple of Tooth in Kandy, where Buddha's Tooth Relic is kept.

These natural and cultural endowments could be harnessed to build both a wellness tourism and an associated medical tourism industry that is authentic and anchored in traditions. This could have a positive effect on the tourism sector and could have a positive spillover to other industries. Tourism is a good means to build a national brand, as it conveys a country’s image through tourists’ experiences. A strong link to the ideas of health and tradition could also boost parts of the food sector, as well as skincare products coming from Sri Lanka.

Wellness tourism has several definitions. The one that should be applied for Sri Lanka is: ‘Tourism which aims to improve and balance all of the main domains of human life including physical, mental, emotional, occupational, intellectual and spiritual.’

Two subsets of wellness tourism are especially relevant to Sri Lanka:

  • Holistic tourism is based around alternative and complementary health and healing treatments and therapies aimed to balance body, mind and spirit.
  • Spiritual tourism focuses on the search for higher meaning and transcendence and the connection to oneself and the universe.

This can involve visits to spiritual sites, landscapes or retreats, as well as activities like yoga and meditation.

All in all, Sri Lanka is strategically positioned to become a thriving wellness and medical tourism hub over the next few years.