Antonio Santos del Valle 

Approach to wellness and health tourism

Antonio Santos del Valle

Approach to wellness and health tourism

(A beginner's view)

Wellness and health tourism is a growing trend that goes beyond conventional medical tourism, focusing on health care, prevention and maintenance, and wellness is based on the balance between mind, body and spirit. 

Wellness and health tourism is a booming industry that offers a wide range of opportunities and experiences to improve quality of life. However, like any form of tourism, it also poses challenges that need to be addressed responsibly.

Wellness and health tourism destinations offer a variety of services and activities aimed at improving the quality of life and overall well-being of visitors. 

The concept of wellness and health tourism has ancient roots, although its modern form is relatively recent. 

Below are some of the key stages in the evolution of wellness and health tourism:

Historical Roots

In the last decades of the 20th century, with the rise of modern medicine and technology, medical tourism became an industry in its own right. Hospitals and clinics in some countries began to offer medical treatments to foreign tourists, often at much lower prices than in their home countries.

The yoga and meditation boom in the late 20th and early 21st century gained global popularity, leading to a boom in specialised yoga and meditation retreats.

This trend, coupled with increased awareness of the importance of mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing, together with the stresses of modern life, has driven the demand for holidays focused on health and wellbeing.

As a consequence of the above, and mainly due to demand from tourists and travellers, wellness destinations have diversified to include everything from low-cost options to highly personalised luxury experiences.

Furthermore, the integration of technology into wellness programmes, from health tracking apps to virtual reality, is changing the way wellness tourism is experienced, coupled with an increasing focus on sustainability, with destinations seeking to minimise their ecological footprint and promote sustainable practices, and above all, an increased awareness of the importance of mental, physical and spiritual health. This has led to more and more destinations offering programmes that focus on stress reduction, mindfulness and emotional resilience.

Difference between medical tourism and health and wellness tourism

Medical tourism and wellness and health tourism are three tourism segments that, although related, have significant differences in terms of objectives, services offered, and traveller profile. 

Medical tourism is primarily aimed at and focused on the treatment of specific medical conditions and generally requires a medical diagnosis. Procedures may include surgeries, treatments for chronic diseases, specialised therapies, etc., with hospitals, specialised clinics and medical professionals as participating institutions.

The costs of medical procedures and treatments are usually high, usually invasive, and often, from a tourism point of view, require the processing of documents and permits related to medical insurance, visas and detailed medical documentation.

In this regard, medical tourists often travel to countries where the cost of medical care is significantly lower or where specialised treatments are available that are not available in their home country, and the length of stay is generally dictated by medical treatment needs and recovery periods.

Due to being under the lens of national administrations, this activity is more regulated due to the critical nature of medical procedures, with certifications and accreditations required for both institutions and medical professionals.

Health tourism focuses on the improvement of general wellbeing and quality of life, if possible preventive health or improvement of current health through non-invasive treatments. It does not require an in-depth medical diagnosis, although health professionals are required and treatments can include weight loss, treatments to control an over-consumption disorder such as alcoholism, eating disorders and even substance abuse.

Wellness tourism focuses on the balance of mind, body and spirit, as it sees the human being as a whole, if something in the body does not work well, its thoughts are treated, as well as its spirituality, managing to minimise the physical effects, it does not require a medical diagnosis and is divided into two main areas: holistic and recreational.

Therefore, the main institutions involved are spas, wellness or retreat centres and, in many cases, resorts and hotels offering complete wellness programmes.

Costs can range from relatively inexpensive options to luxury experiences, and are generally paid for privately. Health insurance rarely covers these activities.

Similarly, with regard to location, the options are very varied, ranging from exotic destinations to local centres. It is not necessarily linked to lower costs in other countries, and the length of stay is generally more flexible, ranging from one day to several weeks, depending on the programme and the traveller's objectives.

Another important section is regulation, as it is less regulated compared to medical tourism, however, treatments and therapies require certified personnel.

In short, while medical tourism is oriented towards the treatment of specific diseases and medical conditions, wellness and health tourism focuses on the improvement of general wellbeing and quality of life. Both have their own specificities in terms of objectives, costs, institutions involved and regulation.

Some of the main characteristics of this type of tourism:

The benefits of this type of tourism can be categorised as follows:

There are also challenges, ranging from accessibility to this type of tourism to cost, as many wellness destinations are high-end and may be inaccessible to certain economic groups.

There are some ethical issues to take into consideration, mainly related to some medical and wellness treatments that can be controversial and it is important that tourists do their own research and consult with medical professionals.

However, the trends can be summarised as follows:

o Tailor-made programmes: More and more travellers are looking for personalised wellness experiences tailored to their individual needs, whether it is detoxification, stress relief, weight loss or spirituality.

o Genetic and biometric assessments: Some high-end wellness retreats offer personalised programmes based on genetic and biometric assessments.

o Virtual and augmented reality: VR and AR are being integrated for meditation and relaxation therapies.

o Wellness apps and wearables: Travellers are using technology to track their physical activity, sleep patterns and nutrition during their wellness holidays.

o Mindfulness and meditation: Interest is growing in programmes focused on mental wellbeing, such as mindfulness workshops, digital detox and cognitive health.

o Work retreats: Combining work and holidays to help digital nomads maintain a balanced lifestyle.

o Local culture and traditions: Incorporating local wellness practices, whether Ayurveda in India or traditional herbal medicine in Southeast Asia.

o Nature-based therapies: Forest bathing, ocean therapies and mountain retreats are becoming increasingly popular.

o Eco-friendly practices: Travellers are more conscious of their carbon footprint and choose destinations with a focus on sustainability.

o Community involvement: Programmes that allow travellers to give back to the local community, such as sustainable agriculture or community wellness programmes, are on the rise.

o Affordable wellness tourism: Affordable wellness holiday options are increasingly available to appeal to a wider range of consumers.

o Flexible packages: Many wellness centres are offering more flexible packages to appeal to different types of travellers, from weekend packages to long-term stays.

o Family wellness: Programmes focused on the wellness of the whole family, including wellness activities for children.

o Senior wellness tourism: With an ageing global population, there is an increasing focus on wellness programmes tailored to seniors.

These trends reflect a changing landscape of consumers who are more aware, tech-savvy and demanding in terms of the quality and variety of services offered. 

The future of wellness and health tourism is likely to continue to evolve rapidly as new technologies and wellness philosophies emerge.

Wellness and health tourism in Latin America

Wellness and health tourism in Latin America is booming and presents a variety of opportunities and challenges unique to the region. 

In a first approach we consider that the opportunities are centred on the natural and cultural diversity of the countries. The wealth of natural landscapes, from jungles, beaches to mountains and deserts, offers a perfect setting for wellness activities such as yoga, meditation, hiking and outdoor therapies.

The region also has a rich history of traditional medicine, from Ayurveda in the indigenous community to various types of holistic and spiritual therapies.

In this regard, and in particular since the early years of this century when a prominent work in this type of tourism started, many companies in Latin American countries offer high quality services at a significantly lower cost compared to other global wellness and health destinations, which makes it attractive to tourists.

This, coupled with a growing middle class in the region interested in personal wellness, has meant that there is an expanding local market in addition to the international market.

However, there have been significant challenges, not least of which is that the tourism and transport infrastructure is still under development, which can be an obstacle to the growth of the sector.

Similarly, the lack of uniform standards and regulations may affect the quality and safety of the wellness and health services offered, as well as the significant gap in professional education and training in wellness therapies and health techniques, especially in rural or less developed areas, are two factors influencing the development of Wellness and Health Tourism.

In this sense, the lack of uniform standards and regulations, and the challenges caused by the lack of education and professional training is a challenge not only in Latin America, as it affects all regions of the world.

Special attention should be paid to the digital divide, as the lack of access to digital technologies and online platforms can limit the ability of local providers to reach a wider audience.

All in all, Latin America offers enormous potential for the growth of wellness and health tourism, supported by its rich cultural and natural diversity. However, addressing the challenges of infrastructure, quality and accessibility will be crucial for the sustainable development of the sector in the region.

With thanks to:

Veronica Camacho


Iberoamerican Association of Wellness and Health Tourism

Lucia Romero de Ávila 

Wellness and Health Tourism

Professor and entrepreneur

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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