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Medical Tourism and Wellness Tourism: a new perspective for health tourism and spas in Europe

Medical Tourism and Wellness Tourism: a new perspective for health tourism and spas in Europe
Author: Anna M. Lezak
2 Commentries
The demand of wellbeing and wellness services has increased while large number of people is stressed of living in work-obsessed, time-pressured, materialistic and over-individualistic societies. The health and wellness tourism industry, broadly defined, includes products and services made accessible to people travelling from their place of residence for health reasons. Changing attitudes to health care and the growing recognition of the importance of prevention rather than cure associated with a general search for all round well-being benefits of a holiday, as well as in consumers' everyday lifestyles give the great opportunity to European spas and leisure centres.
Analysis carried out by SRI International for the 2011 Global Spa Summit (an annual event for spa professionals) showed that wellness tourism already represents a the US$106-billion global spa industry made up of interrelated sectors that also include medical and wellness tourism, generating . The number of active wellness consumers in the world's 30 industrialized nations is currently about 289 million and growing. The demand for health tourism products and services are driven by driven by greater health awareness and changing attitudes to health care and the raising recognition of the importance of prevention rather than cure associated with a general search for all round well-being benefits of a holiday, as well as in consumers' everyday lifestyles (Mintel, 2011). As a result, travellers are seeking destinations that provide them with a range of opportunity to pursue their leisure activities, while at the same time having access to spas, natural treatments, relaxation and quality accommodation with good locally-produced food and drink. Many consumers visit destination and wellness/medical spas (especially in Europe) specifically for the purposes of weight loss, health improvement or recovery from illness, injury or surgery.
In a highly competitive environment and fast-growing economy, tourism providers are teeming to develop new alternatives to grab the opportunity due to economy growth as long as the circumstance dictates. Thus, it is not surprising to see in variety of refreshing services added into the operation from time to time. Fascination with fitness and alternative therapies give the great opportunity to Spas and leisure centres to promoting and enhancing health and nutrition counselling.
Recently, new products using a health label entailing both physical and psychological treatments have been developed by the tourism and hospitality sectors, especially by luxury brand hotels. Those innovations in services are inclined to promote individuals' state of well being. In Europe, some accommodation providers have utilized "wellness" (for example wellness centre, wellness hotel and wellness resort) as a prefix for a new frontier of trade so as to position themselves as revival retreats from the aspect of body, mind and spirit. In order to achieve success in the health, wellness and wellbeing tourism sector and to strengthen competitiveness for the future.
According to Global Spa Submit (2010) Eighty-nine percent of industry respondents see wellness as an important future driver for the spa industry. At the same time, eighty-two percent of industry respondents indicated that they have taken steps to respond to the wellness movement over the last five years, and among this group, 91% also reported that these changes have yielded growth in revenues. The statistics also showed that nine out of 10 industry respondents plan to make wellness-related investments in the next 5-10 years. Almost all of them believe their business will see growth from these investments, and 70% expect their wellness-related investments to lead to more than 10% revenue growth. The tradition of spa and leisure centres as a place for healing, renewal, relaxation,‖ positions the wellness industry as one of the most logical sectors to take advantage of (and help lead) the spa movement. Many in the spa industry see wellness as an opportunity for spa to reshape the image, to regroup after the global recession, and to move away from the perception of spa a provider of luxurious and beauty services for the wealthy. This thought bears special attraction in today's economy, when many travellers have less disposable income to spend on luxury or non-essential products and services.

According to Spa Summit (2011), growth of medical tourism will have positive economic and development impacts on particular countries. Wellness and medical tourism creates jobs and produce tax revenue. A big wellness and medical sector is an economic asset that stimulates business activity, attracts tourism revenue, retains a high quality work force and stabilizes property values.

Sustainability has become the word of the 21st century. The issues of sustainability include ecological, social, economic and cultural dimensions and therefore impacts on all human activity. The wellness and medical tourism begin to embrace personal wellness, which cannot be separated from the wellness of the planet, spas take on a responsibility to demonstrate how environmentally friendly technologies can be used to deliver the experience of well-being in a sustainable manner. Visitors and guests now expect hotels, resorts and spas to have policies and practices that promote sustainable purchasing, use local products, minimise carbon emissions and provide support for local community projects
Global Spa summit (2011) Research report: Global Spa Summit 2011. Wellness Tourism and Medical Tourism: Where Do Spas Fit? [online] [Accessed 30 April 2012]. Available at: < http://www.leadingspasofcanada.com/files/file/Business%20Tools/spas_wellness_medical_tourism_report_final.pdf>

Mintel (2011) Spa Tourism. [online]. London: Mintel
[Accessed 28 April 2012]. Available at: < http://academic.mintel.com/sinatra/oxygen_academic/display/id=545413/display/id=597020?select_section=597021 >
Medical Tourism and Wellness Tourism: An increasing Sector
Author: Annekatrin Thiele
This discussion paper comprises many interesting points relating to the health sector in more detail the medical and wellness tourism. As revealed by the author this sector benefits from increasing growth of interest in health and well-being. The health sector contains several different parts which includes the named ones as well as for example cures, fitness or prevention services. The author strengthens her arguments with the help of numbers which show for example that more than 289 million people are active wellness consumers.

The discussion paper uses several sources like the SRI International analysis in order to make it clear that the wellness tourism is getting a very profitable way for companies like hotels to take competitive advantages. Furthermore, the Global Spa Submit reveals that using wellness products will lead to profit increases. But here it should also be discussed what are the consequences if for example every hotel starts to offer wellness services and products. It has to be questioned if the wellness aspect is than still a competitive advantage.

Another interesting point that was described are health labels which are created in order to brand services and be outstanding. Here it has to be questioned who defines the criteria for these labels and who will be in charge controlling them. Moreover, it is an interesting point to discuss if it useful that every hotel or spa creates its own label system. This could lead to confusion on the part of consumers because there are too many of them. Additionally, this could lead to the situation that the qualities fade into the background.

I totally agree with the statement that wellness tourism can be used to improve a destinations image as well as increase profits. But it would be very interesting to read more about the negative sides or better to say the obligations entailed. In more detail what has to be done to be a `realĀ“ wellness hotel and what can be done to get a liable label.
Health tourism - a growth market based on ancient treatments and practices
Author: Anja Lehmann
The present discussion paper exactly illustrates current tendencies within the health tourism market. By using very recent literature, Lezak presents the increasing health awareness as a driving factor contributing to the increasing interest in health prevention as well as a potential growth within the wellness and medical tourism sector. I totally agree with the fact that consumer's attitudes towards a healthy lifestyle have changed.

For the purpose of my dissertation I did secondary as well as primary research covering this topic and questionnaires have proved the significance of health prevention as people rather prefer staying healthy and actively supporting a healthful state of body mind and spirit through health preventing tourism than being forced to recover from diseases through a cure or rehabilitation.

Arguably, there is a lack of common understanding and definitions within the broad literature relating to health tourism and its subcategories. Lezak correctly mentions the likely positive marketing effect of using the term 'wellness' as a prefix for products and services being offered by providers. However, the survey mentioned within this discussion paper has also revealed, that even professionals working within this market are merely able to define their own business of 'wellness', as 25 % could not give an answer to the related question. (Global Spa Summit, 2011) This is a very critical point as many tourism providers and other industry sectors have taken advantage of insufficient definitions and regulations by adding 'wellness' only as a sales-promoting epithet. Clearly, there is a need of precise and common regulations and criteria, which have to be fulfilled in order to achieve quality standards meeting tourist's expectations rather than dissatisfying them.

In sum, I agree with the trends being pointed at and underpinned with useful figures. Health promotion and prevention through tourism has gained increasing significance in Europe, which definitely has positive economic impacts on the tourism industry in these countries, but on the other hand, it is also necessary to mention, that bathing practices have already been popular in times of ancient Greek and Roman and people are mostly unaware of the fact, that they indulge themselves with treatments being invented thousands of years ago.

Useful references:

Bertsch and Ostermann (2011) The effect of wellness brand awareness on expected and
perceived service quality. Tourismos: An international multidisciplinary journal of Tourism.
Vol. 6 (2) pp. 103-110.

Foster, L., Keller C., McKee, B. and Ostry, A. (2011) The British Columbia Atlas of Wellness.
2nd edition. Victoria BC: Western Geographical Press.

Mak, K., Wong, K. and Chang, R. (2009) Health or Self-indulgence? The Motivations and
Characteristics of Spa-goers. International Journal of Tourism Research.Vol. 11 (2) pp. 185-