Tourism is a wellness resource, so wellness tourism activities are because of push factors for tourism, e.g., seeking relaxation, escape from stress, among others. In a world where clients yearn for different yet fulfilling, connecting and unique experiences far from the obvious, consumer decision making determinants are surely changing. These determinants capture broad social, environmental aspects largely touching on fitness, beauty, rest, medication, nutrition etc. All players across the tourism value chain satisfy these diverse needs in a coordinated approach making tourism a wellness resource. Thus, this lucrative niche of tourism can be defined as holidays with motives for health preservation. The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) defines Wellness tourism as travel activity associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing. Distinctively, wellness tourism although somewhat confused with medical tourism does not override on the functions of the latter. The difference lies in the motivation, value, and interests.
Wellness tourism as an opportunity for growing tourism Africa.
While tourism products that ideally are not considered to fall in the ‘bush and beach’ category are deemed as an exclusive opportunity for growth in Africa, the market is still skeptical to new tourism products. Largely because of maintaining Africa’s image as a safari destination and partly, due to routine marketing. Wellness tourism activities are a great post pandemic opportunity for Africa as the world gradually reopens. An increase in demand for wellness offers can accelerate tourism to thrive. According to (GWI) estimates, the wellness tourism market globally in 2017 was worth $639 billion with Europe taking the largest share of 292million trips with $210.8 billion in expenditures against Africa’s 7million trips with $4.8 billion in expenditures. Africa’s top 3 wellness tourism destinations were South Africa, Kenya, and Mauritius respectively. This data shows a preferential shift to experiential travel. Safaris notwithstanding, the demand for well-structured and quality managed holistic wellness offers with an African touch including healthy local cuisines would shape the future of wellness tourism in Africa. Apart from backpacking, hiking, and biking, Africa’s religious centers, shrines, prayer centers are a whole different way of promoting spiritual wellness. If the initial drive is wellness, then Africa is underperforming.
African governments in supporting the development of wellness tourism
Although wellness tourism products are not primarily distinct to Africa, governments are gradually seeing the economic benefits and investing in infrastructure. Also, protection of forests, heritage sites, and religious shrines count huge on the tally. An investment into health systems cannot be overlooked either since health and wellness are somewhat interlinked. Generally, not much support is being given to this segment as compared to other forms of tourism except for safaris which to a large extent are a private sector effort. Conversations steered by governments around wellness tourism should be conclusive.
Challenges Africa faces in developing wellness tourism
As a resolve of tackling any revolving issues in tourism, goodwill comes top on the list. The lack of initiative from governments as major stakeholders to hold multi-stakeholder engagement forums on policy formulation and government support in wellness tourism is still a major puzzle. Quality management issues within this growing segment are still a challenge. With no defined checks and balances vis-a-vis the running of wellness tourism such delicate issues are bound to emerge. Also, wellness products are not clearly cut out in the African market which calls for deep deliberations. Challenges that are also synonymous to other forms of tourism include but not limited to financial constraints, little to no competition and in recent times the Covid 19 pandemic which has crippled down tourism to its knees.
How African countries can optimize wellness tourism
First, Africa can optimize on wellness tourism by owning the product. Being open to new tourism products is one thing but owning the product brings in the magic. Promoting African themed cuisine as a healthy diet while linking it to cultural experiences could go a long way. Strategic marketing drives require all stakeholders onboard to spur growth. Government support in infrastructural development, trainings, funding, as well as providing a favorable tax regime to this crucial segment is important. The responsibility lies on governments by and large. Including wellness offers in top destination itineraries could also spur interest in specialty travel leading to eventual growth and dominance. These is meant to being about a different breath of fresh air. Finally, close collaborative efforts among industry players on a wide range of issues touching on wellness tourism including policy formulation, quality management, and implementation should feature broadly.
Key to note is that wellness tourism clients just like all others require transport, food, and accommodation. All these benefit the whole tourism value chain. To optimize the returns, tourism as an industry should cast the net deeper than just providing wellness retreats and safaris. Wellness tourism has been known to capture higher spending and solve extensively the seasonality of tourism. Still, it is not a preserve of the elite and wealthy groups anymore. As a routine, clients will continue pursuing wellness and healthy lifestyles far from home. As a drive, Africa’s tourism should provide the offers so required to rival dominating markets in wellness tourism. It should be a prerogative of all stakeholders to make it happen. It is a matter of initiative for Africa.