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Travelling for health has been and probably will be one of the most important reasons to travel both internationally and domestically. There are many brackets of travelling for health products, from surgical motivations to spiritual interests. The Tourism Observatory for Health, Wellness and Spa (TOHWS an initiative of Xellum Ltd.) is the first and so far the only specialist think tank that looks at all aspects of the spectrum. This holistic approach is especially important because definitions, terms used, available assets and traditions differ greatly country-by-country or culture-by-culture.

Last year was a very busy year for TOHWS since we launched the path-making Global Wellness and Spa Tourism Monitor (GWSTM) 2012-2013 project in October. The GWSTM is an annual survey of service providers working in the wellness and spa spheres. The objective of the monitor is to analyze trends in demand and product development globally and to understand the importance of tourism for wellness and spa providers.

The GWSTM enjoys professional support from leading international organizations and associations such as the Pacific Asia Travel Association, European Tourism Council, Asia-Pacific Spa and Wellness Coalition and national organizations, such as the Hungarian Bath Association, Brazilian Spas and Clinics Association or German Wellness Association, as well as private companies, such as Leading Spas of the World, Starwood Hotels or Danubius Hotels. We thank all 53 of them for their trust and support.

The data collection GWSTM will close in January 2013, but we can already share some preliminary findings that show how the industry will develop in the near future. The monitor already has data from over 40 countries and from over 15 different wellness and spa service providers (from resort spas, through mineral spring baths and lifestyle-oriented centers to holistic retreats). Already, this figure highlights the importance of such global initiatives as GWSTM since we can indicate the existing differences not only geographically, but also by type of service providers.

It is wonderful to see how signature treatments and rituals are becoming more and more important for wellness and spa service providers, especially those based on local assets and traditions (beyond globally acclaimed brands). For example, the symbol of peace, progress and unity – the national flower of Singapore, the Vanda Miss Joaquim – was the inspiration for a Signature Essence.

Maybe not so surprisingly the industry makes a clear distinction between what local customers and domestic and international visitors may prefer. For example, they believe that family spas and wellness facilities will play a dominant role in the near future for domestic travelers. The industry also believes that eco-spas and wellness facilities, destination spas, spas based on natural (healing) resources will be important for international travelers (beyond the standard wellness hotels).

The GWSTM will introduce data on service providers and services according to local customers, and domestic and international travelers, since the differences seem to be rather significant. Just to give one example, the further customers travel to a wellness and spa facility the more dedicated and health conscious they are and more likely they will become so because of the treatments.

Our previous forecast from 2010 had already predicted, and now we can confirm, that therapies based on natural resources with proven benefits (e.g. thermal water, mud) and Body-Mind-Spirit/holistic programs/workshops (e.g. yoga) will be in demand by international visitors, while lifestyle-oriented programs/workshops (e.g. stress management, nutrition) will also play an important role for domestic travelers.

The forecast for 2013 is showing the same trend that service providers experienced in 2012 over 2011, i.e. minor growth in almost every indicator but with stagnation in terms of average length of stay. Certainly there are important regional differences in terms of demand forecasts.

Service providers mostly package wellness and spa services together with events and festivals, and a significant percentage focus on conference and business travelers, whose shifts are clear indications of moving away from the single women-focused traditional strategy. It is also interesting to see how important and widespread wet areas in every wellness and spa facility have become in the last couple of years.

The Monitor’s information covers segmentation, targeting, product development, human resources and cooperation trends. We can see that travelers who pay attention to their health, either as primary motivation (e.g. lifestyle-based services) or an additional service they consume during travel (e.g. visiting a hotel spa) have become more and more important as a customer segment in almost every type of wellness and spa category. The GWSTM 2012-2013 final results will be available from the new website of TOHWS from the end of February 2013, and the detailed findings will be presented for the first time at the European Spa Convention in London (February 24, 2013).

We are also delighted to lead on another global initiative. We are working on the second and revised edition of our book on travelling for health. The first edition back in 2008, entitled Health and Wellness Tourism (published by Butterworth-Heinemann), was the first-ever professional title that applied a holistic and global approach, and looked at what was happening all over the world in health and wellness travel. The second edition, Health, Tourism and Hospitality: Spas, Wellness and Medical Travel, has a wide range of contributors and case studies from over 20 countries (such as the US, Iceland, Hungary, Israel, Kyrgizystan, Iran, Qatar, India and China). We discuss local, regional and global developments and trends (including from Russia, various parts of Africa and South-America and other regions and countries), such as culturally defined wellness and medical rituals, natural healing assets applied in wellness and medical treatments, or evidence-based spa, wellness and medical practices and procedures. The book is due to be published in Q4, 2013.

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