With more travellers seeking mindful and relaxing getaways, destinations in South-east Asia are ramping up their health-related offerings and experiences
Wellness has become a big aspect of travel for people, with expectations ranging from the simpler outdoor walks in nature to more scientific approaches to rejuvenation.
This has inspired NTOs and stakeholders in the travel and health space to come up with innovative offerings to win over travellers.
The Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) Wellness Tourism Roadmap identifies key strategies and initiatives to develop the city-state’s wellness offerings.
In its effort to become a leading urban wellness haven, STB partners with global fitness and wellness aggregator ClassPass to promote Singapore’s wellness offerings on the platform.
Wellness Festival Singapore (WFS) was launched last year and the second edition hosted this year, to promote and increase the accessibility of Singapore’s wellness repertoire. WFS is organised by STB in collaboration with Enterprise Singapore, Health Promotion Board, National Arts Council, Sentosa Development Corporation, and Sport Singapore.
Held at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) from June 17 to July 9, this year’s event was bigger than the last. There were altogether more than 180 wellness activities across Singapore, focusing on fitness, mental and emotional health, as well as lifestyle offerings. In 2022, the event offered 130 activities.
The second edition of Glow Festival also materialised in February. It debuted in 2019, drawing a crowd of 15,000 active participants to Sentosa, but was disrupted by the pandemic in the subsequent years.
The home-grown festival, supported by STB and MBS, focuses on wellness activities, with the 2023 programme comprising workshops designed and conducted by wellness experts, in-person and digital experiences, and a line-up of international celebrity fitness instructors.
Among the highlights were a multi-sensory studio space by Kingsmen, which spans the size of four tennis courts; and The Glow app, which gamified fitness challenges island-wide.
Martin Capstick, chief executive of Exceed Sports & Entertainment and founder of Glow Festival, said: “Mental, physical, and emotional well-being are at the core of Glow Festival 2023’s messaging. We want to inspire festival goers to adopt new practices to live happier and healthier lives and present them with a truly unique opportunity to unwind.”
Over in Thailand, wellness tourism takes on a unique angle. The country became the first in South-east Asia to legalise the production, import, and export of cannabis for medical purposes in 2018. The plant is said to help relieve stress, reduce fatigue, increase appetite, encourage deeper sleep, stimulate the intestines, and soothe inflamed skin.
This led to a rise in cannabis treatments available at various hospitality businesses. For example, Panpuri Wellness, a luxury spa in Bangkok, offers Holistic Cannabis Wellness Experiences while spas within Anantara hotels utilise cannabidiol oil – the second most active ingredient in cannabis – in some of its treatments. Anantara Chiang Mai Resort even serves up “healthy and nutrition-rich” cannabis-infused dishes at its Service 1921 restaurant.
In an earlier interview with TTG Asia, Chunxia Gao, group director of spa & wellness at MSpa International for the Asia region, opined: “There is growing interest in the therapeutic benefits of CBD (cannabidiol oil). With CBD safety guidelines ensuring the quality of the products, we can only foresee great success in CBD-infused products, superfood choices, and CBD spa and wellness experiences.”
On a broader scale, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) initiated the Amazing Thailand, Amazing New Chapters: Thailand Meaningful Wellness project to raise the profile of Thailand’s vast selection of health and wellness travel products and services. Within this broad project is the Discover the New You campaign, launched in July this year with the support of more than 130 leading health, wellness business operators, hotels, wellness resorts and spas, as well as hospitals and specialised clinics. A range of products, from wellness stays at resorts to health check-ups, is created for this.
TAT expects the campaign to attract more than 3,000 new tourists to Thailand and generate over 18 million baht (US$528,859) by this September.
These developments are expected to power up Thailand’s wellness tourism advantage. According to the Global Wellness Institute’s The Global Wellness Economy: Thailand report, published in September 2022, Thailand is the fourth largest wellness tourism market in Asia, after China, Japan, and India. Its wellness economy in 2020 was worth US$29 billion. Thailand also ranks 17th globally for Traditional & Complementary Medicine.
In Malaysia, more than 10 million travellers from around the world have visited the country for healthcare purposes in the last decade, contributing over 9.2 billion ringgit (US$2 billion), according to Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC).
Healthcare travellers visiting Malaysia peaked at 1.22 million in 2019, contributing 1.7 billion ringgit in earnings. As the country recovers from the impact of Covid-19, healthcare arrivals are back up to 850,000 in 2022, while revenue was 1.3 billion ringgit.
Explaining Malaysia’s allure for healthcare services, Musa bin Yusof, deputy director general, promotion, Tourism Malaysia, said: “Our facilities are world-class (and) easily accessible. We are multicultural and multilingual, so there is no language barrier, and services are value for money as we charge in Malaysian ringgit.”
He added that healthcare visitors are well supported with customs clearance via a dedicated immigration lane, airport meet-and-greet, and access to a special lounge for arranged transport to their hospital.
To advance the country’s healthcare tourism sector, MHTC launched the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Blueprint 2021-2025. It aims to sharpen the travel ecosystem and the Malaysia healthcare brand, and deepen market reach. A revenue target of 1.7 billion ringgit is set for 2025.
As part of the blueprint, Malaysia introduced its flagship Medical Tourism Hospital Programme, which is expected to play an important role in transforming the healthcare environment. Four hospitals have been appointed for this – National Heart Institute, Island Hospital, Mahkota Medical Centre, and Subang Jaya Medical Centre.
Indonesia is, too, deepening its development of health and wellness tourism. While Balinese and Javanese massage often come to mind among travellers in search of a relaxing holiday in the country, Indonesia has far more to offer.
The Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy (MoTCE) and the Ministry of Health are collaborating to expand the country’s health and wellness offerings.
Aligned with the government’s direction, the Indonesia Medical Tourism Association (AWMI) is now developing medical tourism in rural areas.
Taufik Jamaan, chairman of AWMI, said the association’s work had started in late-2022, and ongoing efforts include collaborating with food processing trainers to ensure hygienic food processing.
AWMI is also embracing digitalisation through the implementation of the Community Telehealth Pavilion (ATM Health). This solution, linked to the Ministry of Health, allows travellers to conveniently check their blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and oxygen saturation.
“For instance, before embarking on a mountain climb, individuals can assess their health condition using ATM Health,” Taufik explained.
The portable nature of ATM Health, which resembles a suitcase, gives it mobility and ease of use in tourism villages.
Taufik explained that AWMI’s role extends beyond medical tourism promotion, as it also actively develops businesses avenues, educates the public, and conducts research on herbal resources across the country. It recently welcomed the Association of Indonesian Herbal Medicine Doctors as a partner in its medical endeavours.
Looking ahead, AWMI aims to establish downstream processes to ensure that the community can benefit from research findings. By leveraging research outcomes, it plans to develop various products, such as supplements, powders, herbs, and beverages, which will strengthen Indonesia’s reputation in herbal medicine.
At present, it is collaborating with pharmaceutical companies on the verification of herbal medicine by the National Agency of Drug and Food Control and to make herbal medicine more easily accessible to tourists.