Predicted by the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) to grow to more than an US$800 billion industry by 2020, wellness tourism is one of the fastest growing markets in global travel, as increasing numbers of us expect life-enhancing experiences as part of our annual getaways. And while destinations in Europe and North America currently dominate, over 50% of the projected growth is expected to come from Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, with countries such as Costa Rica and Belize already making headlines, and headway.
Costa Rica has for some time been working to position itself as a premier innovator when it comes to its tourism offering, and this year has been focusing its efforts on what it has dubbed ‘Wellness Pura Vida’. Announcing the initiative, which is seeing the country’s tourism board work closely with hoteliers and local communities to develop their wellness offering, Tourism Minister Mauricio Ventura explained that it has been designed to “materialize the feeling of wellbeing the country causes in its visitors.” And while supporting the adoption of the latest wellness techniques, the initiative is also committed to ensure they each have a Costa Rican twist and will extend across all associated areas, including sports, organic food and local community outreach.
Costa Rica has long been a pioneer of environmental awareness, topping the annual Happy Planet Index three times as the most environmentally advanced place on earth, and in the 1990s the country passed a series of “green culture” laws, which included protection for forests, waters, biodiversity and natural beauty as tourist attractions. So unsurprisingly, its wellness tourism initiatives have also been designed with minimal environmental impact firmly in mind.
Another Central American country that has also committed time and effort to developing its sustainable tourism offering is Belize, and it will soon be home to a new luxury eco-conscious resort that also has a clear health and wellness focus. Located on Blackadore Caye, a small island off the northeastern coast of the country, not far from the world’s second largest barrier reef, the project was conceived by Leonardo DiCaprio, who originally acquired the land. His company, Restorative Islands, is building a luxury resort that is not only driven by the actor and activist’s strong environmental and social beliefs, but what has been termed ‘Personal Restoration’.
Spending time at the resort, the company’s website claims, will enable visitors to put the rest of their lives into perspective, and remind them what it means to be alive and human. As well as the obvious opportunities to relax on the beach and around the water, guests will be offered a wealth of personal health and custom fitness programs, meditation, spa treatments and stress reduction techniques, with optional counselling and coaching sessions also part of the experience.
As regards cuisine, world-class fare will be prepared using local organic ingredients, and purification systems will ensure the highest quality water. State-of-the-art LED circadian lighting is being installed to help guests enjoy healthy sleep cycles, and air filtration systems will deliver purified air.
In its landmark study back in 2013, the GWI noted that interest in personal wellbeing and in travel were already at all-time highs, and with our lives since becoming ever more complex and interconnected, the potential for these industries to intersect further is undoubtedly assured. "A profound shift in the way people consume wellness is underway,” said Katherine Johnston, a senior research fellow at the GWI. “Once a luxury or add-on, it's now being infused into every aspect of daily life, from how people work to how they travel.”