When exploring the underlying motivations among travelers for taking a holiday, the responses are many and varied, with a desire to enjoy, educate or detach oneself, relax and rejuvenate, and try out new experiences high on the list, alongside self-development and self-discovery, in time spent, often, with a partner, family or friends. However, ask about the driving force behind these motivations and you’re more likely to receive one consistent, fundamental answer from respondents: to experience a sense of wellbeing, both physically and mentally.
The self-care era
In recent years, especially following the Covid pandemic, people have become more self-aware of their mental and physical wellbeing, and, in turn, are investing more in experiences aimed at inducing a positive frame of mind and sense of self.
Prioritizing one’s wellbeing can take many forms. For some, it could mean going on a food tour in Italy or hiking in the mountains, while for others it may be staying at a 5-star resort and pampering themselves, taking time out on a yoga retreat or simply switching off their phone and spending time alone or with loved ones.
As an umbrella term, wellness encompasses many different elements, spanning physical wellbeing, alongside emotional, mental, spiritual, social and environmental health. Wellness tourism is defined as the various products, services and practices that aim to promote and enhance overall wellbeing, health and happiness. The global wellness tourism market was valued at USD 814.6 billion in 2022 – led by the lodging segment whose revenue share stood at 23.3 percent – and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 12.4 percent from 2023 to 2030.
Destinations that are popular in this segment include Thailand and Indonesia, both of which have long attracted tourists, thanks to their picturesque landscapes, exotic environments and luxurious beachfront resorts.
Unleashing the GCC’s potential
Unfortunately, the GCC’s natural resources have been either disregarded or overlooked historically in terms of how the region could tap into the wellness tourism trend. The good news, however, is that this is slowly changing, with interest growing in the potential the region holds as a destination for offering unique wellness experiences.
With its rich cultural heritage, breathtaking landscapes, natural thermal waters, minerals, salts and other resources with therapeutic potential, the GCC is well placed to create new destinations offering wellness experiences and attract visitors in search of peace, self-discovery and rejuvenation.
Retreats such as Qasr Al Sarab in Abu Dhabi, Al Maha in Dubai, Habitas AlUla in Saudi Arabia and Six Senses Zighy Bay in Oman, to name just a few, exemplify the GCC’s ideal fit as a wellness tourism destination, offering guests a luxury experience, with a focus on tranquility and mental wellbeing, in a secluded environment, away from the hustle and bustle of nearby city life.
Tapping into medical tourism
The medical wellness tourism segment is another field with vast untapped potential. Still in its early days of development in the GCC, it is already thriving in countries such as Germany and Switzerland, which have long been welcoming visitors from around the world for wellness experiences centered exclusively on health that include thermal baths and natural springs, in addition to advanced preventive medical treatments.
By investing in the development of medical or paramedical wellness facilities, and promoting the region’s unique offerings, the GCC has the potential
to become a leading sought-after destination for medical wellness tourists. Combining cutting-edge treatments and specialized programs with luxury accommodation will undoubtedly generate significant interest among international visitors seeking health and wellness-focused experiences.
KSA leading the way
An emerging leader in the regional wellness hospitality space is Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom’s mega and giga project pipeline includes AlUla, Neom and Amaala, which are set to become the first destinations nationally to offer hotels with a comprehensive range of health and wellness services.
Located along Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, Amaala is being positioned as an ultra-luxury wellness destination. The project includes the development of exclusive resorts and wellness retreats that will offer world-class services, top-of-the-range spa treatments, personalized programs and immersive experiences providing a sense of inner wellbeing, all while promoting the beauty of the local landscape. With sustainability also to the fore, it has been announced that the project will be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy, with a zero carbon footprint and zero waste to landfill once fully operational.
One of the first hotels set to open there is the Clinique La Prairie Health Resort, an international brand famed for its focus on medical care, nutrition, movement and wellbeing. The resort will offer an in-house diagnostics lab, along with multiple facilities, raising the bar for medical wellness in the region and beyond, as Simone Gibertoni, CEO of Clinique La Prairie, explained. “At Amaala, we are creating the most important health and longevity-focused resort ever developed,” he said. “We’re delighted to be building our very first full-scale destination in such an extraordinary setting and to help bring Red Sea’s global vision of regenerative, ultra-luxury tourism to life.”
Extending the wellness segment’s reach
On a smaller scale, many hotels in Dubai have already developed their wellness facilities to meet the needs of guests. One such property – The Ritz Carlton – is currently developing a residential project in partnership with MAG of Life, the wellness real estate division of UAE-based MAG Group. Alongside yoga centers and scenic views, each residence will offer built-in wellness solutions, such as air and water purification systems, and dynamic lighting, to enhance the wellbeing of its occupants.
Historically, wellness tourism has
been associated with luxury, making it inaccessible to a large market segment. However, an opportunity exists to reverse that. With its abundance of natural resources, the region has a chance to expand the wellness offering and extend its reach to a larger market segment. This could include organizing low-cost activities around nature, connecting with local culture and developing accessible wellness experiences focused on the natural environment and regional heritage. By providing affordable options that harness the natural resources available, the wellness industry can bridge the gap between luxury-oriented offerings and the broader population, democratizing wellness and making it more accessible and inclusive.
Principal and managing director
Thomas Klein International