Preparing for ‘wellness tourism’

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Preparing for ‘wellness tourism’

Choi Hee-jeong
The author is a professor at CHA school of integrative medicine and advisor to the Korea Tourism Organization.

As the Covid-19 epidemic slows, the light at the end of the tunnel is in sight after two long years. Fatalities decreased significantly, and the spread has clearly slowed. Some analyze that we have an era of periodic surges of the disease like seasonal flu.

Of course, it won’t be easy to shake off the trauma from Covid-19, which took so many lives. As if reflecting these concerns, “wellness tourism” rather than simple sightseeing is attracting attention.

Wellness tourism refers to travel with core elements such as nature experiences, forest healing, meditation and spas. For instance, going to a hot spring to take a break and eating healthy food, experiencing yoga and meditation, drinking a cup of herbal tea and enjoying the great outdoors are all parts of wellness tourism.

Wellness tourism is a global trend. According to the Global Wellness Institute of the United States, the size of the wellness tourism market is currently $435.7 billion and will grow to $1.13 trillion by 2025. The market is expected to grow by 20 percent annually. Compared to average annual growth of 3.4 percent for the general tourism market between 2013 and 2015, it is a blue ocean that is expected to grow explosively.

The United States is aggressively promoting wellness tourism with anti-aging programs based on its world-class biotechnology. Tourism giants such as Greece, Turkey and Japan are also developing upgraded tourism services with the slogan of “health tourism.”

The Korean tourism industry is catching on. Since 2017, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korea Tourism Organization have been discovering and designating wellness tourism destinations. They are aggressively promoting wellness tourism. Thanks to those efforts, typical tourist destinations have been renewed, while “hot places” offering more environmentally friendly and unique experiences have been promoted.

The new Yoon Suk-yeol administration included “promotion of wellness tourism” in its 110 national administrative tasks, and related industries are likely to get a boost. Thankfully, Korea has a solid foundation to swiftly implement wellness tourism. It has world-class medical staff and infrastructure, giving the country a competitive edge to seamlessly connect the Korean Wave and IT with our tourism infrastructure. Already known to have advanced medical services, Korea is increasingly preferred as a medical tourism destination.

One idea could be a package tour which includes hybrid medical services of western and oriental medicine, K-beauty and K-culture and a Hanok stay. Using K-wellness as another flagship product, just as differentiated as K-pop, it will attract tourists from around the world.

In fact, wellness tourism is not just useful for attracting foreign tourists. It is an important infrastructure to pursue the rights of health and happiness for local people who value a work-life balance. I hope that government ministries, public agencies, local governments and private companies will form a team to promote wellness tourism. Through this, I hope the Korean economy finds a new breakthrough and people become happier.
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