Industry Update
Opinion Article 3 June 2008

The Health Tourist – Searching for the Fountain of Youth

By Ian Yeoman, Associate Professor at Victoria University School of Management

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An affluent and ageing society allows consumers to refine their approach to health because they now have the choice of striving for perfect health, as opposed to merely living disease-free. The elderly are the most frequent users of health-related goods and services. Consumers have begun to realise their capacity for longevity and to demand a fit and active lifestyle in their golden years. This means that consumers are searching for ways through which to slow down the ageing process or even discover the fountain of youth. It is not surprising, therefore, to note the rise of medical tourism holidays in South Africa or the greater use of alternative approaches to health, such as yoga, Chinese herbal medicines and spas.


The beginnings of Health Tourism

Travel to enhance one’s health is not new; Durie writes about ‘taking the waters’ in the 1800s in the hydro towns of Scotland or German spas such as Baden-Baden. In the late nineteenth century, the emerging urban middle class sought the healthy benefits of fresh sea water or mountain air as an antidote to the overcrowding and pollution caused by industrialisation. Many flocked to spas in pristine mountain locations or by the sea, particularly in Europe and the United Kingdom. In the early twentieth century, ‘health farms’ or ‘fat farms’ emerged, with an emphasis on fitness and a healthy diet. According to a report by Mintel on Health and Wellness the modern era of health tourism is considered to have begun in 1939 when Deborah and Edmond Szekely opened a US $17.50-a-week, bring-your-tent spa and healthy-living retreat, which became the renowned Rancho La Puerta fitness resort in Mexico. In the same vein, Mel and Enid Zuckerman opened the Canyon Ranch, Tucson, Arizona, in 1979. Today, both locations still provide pampering, fitness activities and medically supervised wellness programmes to their high-paying clientele. They have established important models which have been copied and modified around the world. Today, health and travel have become global phenomena, to the extent that a trend has emerged, giving new meaning to the idea of going on holiday and returning ‘a new person’. Whether this is a nip and tuck in a Beverley Hills’ clinic or accruing a new set of teeth in Costa Rica for US $6000, health and beauty as the main reason for travel is a burgeoning market because travellers search for the fountain of youth.

Trends that will shape the future

With the rising cost of healthcare in the Western world, the trend of medical tourism in India and other emerging destinations is likely to continue because price is a core demand driver. India, with its exotic climate, combined with the merging of the concepts of medical, health and beauty into one concept called ‘wellness’, will lead to the prosperity of resort-style destinations offering a range of services, from breast enhancement to safari excursions, from hip replacement to holistic experiences. Furthermore, hospitals will resemble resort hotels, with golf courses and a pampering service. In the foreseeable future, branded spas will be set up in hospitals and resorts for seniors will emerge.

Many other destinations also follow these trends, mainly driven by the world’s ageing population seeking the fountain of youth. Middle-class consumers will travel anywhere in the world to seek out the best services and the most competitive prices. As better health in later life reinforces the consumers’ focus on appearance and physical condition, cosmetic surgery and beauty treatments will become more important. Concepts such as Healthcare City in Dubai will appear in destinations with a lower cost of living, especially in India and Eastern Europe. These concepts will combine the best of Dubai’s Healthcare City and McCarthy Retirement homes. At the same time, healthcare insurance providers will focus on preventive measures to improve people’s health, such as checking on body mass indexes, lifestyles and alcohol consumption levels and the results will shape the cost of premiums.

By 2030, new markets will emerge, based on specific consumer segments; for example, spas are expanding and in the near future every destination in the world, a rural or an urban location, will have some sort of health proposition, similar to the Bliss spa in New York, operated by the luxury conglomerate, Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, or the brand extension of chocolate as seen in the Hershey’s spa and chocolate treatments in the United States.

Beauty bars will open up in leisure centres and hotels will offer these products as part of the room-service menus. Watch out for the mobile beauty bar, part of a home-delivery service brought to you by Tesco or Wal-Mart. Hotels will extend the range of health-style services, such as ‘the waiter as nutritionist’ who can advise on the right balance of food, water and the calorie count of meals. Indian and Chinese medicine spas will appear in resorts all over the world, combining herbal medicine and yoga with spa treatments. Even Chinese restaurants will offer a herbal fusion of ingredients at a premium price. Indian spa centres will offer a range of cultural health products, such as dance, meditation, yoga, readings and drumming workshops as well as selling organic products from India and Asia. Wellness products will focus on men, teenagers, children and the family pet! The metrosexual man will seek feminine-like treatments, such as manicures and facials. Metrosexual-man centres will combine physical, emotional and medical products, whether climbing mountains, camping out, massage services or cosmetic surgery. Rising obesity in children will lead to fitness camps and lifestyle gurus for teenagers, and spa days for groups of female children aged 7+ will become mainstream. Parent-and-baby packages will become more popular, both for fathers and mothers, as offered at Evian Spa in France. These packages will focus on the concept of good parenting and healthy lifestyles. The rising number of singletons in society means that money will be spent on pets rather than on children. Spa centres will also offer grooming and massage services for pets and their owners. Every major health and spa centre will have a resident behavioural therapist available for both owners and pets in order that they can understand each other. Cats and dogs will even be hired out to consumers as therapeutic products. Relaxation music for pets will also be available.

Tour operators will offer Chinese medicine tours and spa tours to the Far East, combining expert lectures with visits to the local herbal doctor for the latest treatments. Exclusive retreats, associated with religious orders, will be set up in Bhutan and Nepal. Operators will combine and promote a number of themes; for example, wine tours in South Africa will be based on the assertions that drinking red wine in moderation is good for one’s health. Even Amsterdam will promote itself as a health destination, based on the availability of cannabis, specifically focusing on people suffering from acute pain or a debilitating disease. At the same time, rural destinations, such as the Highlands of Scotland, which are accessible but still remote, will emerge as premium destinations because of their tranquillity, authenticity and the closeness to good, public-sector healthcare. Sport will become an important wellbeing and life-improvement tool of the future, whether participating in fat-busting camps or hill-walking in the Scottish Highlands. It can be expected that consumers will employ lifestyle gurus to help them achieve a balanced lifestyle of enjoyment and well-being.

In the future, the state will regulate the health of its people as a way of improving the quality of life and reducing the burden on front-line medical services that deal with diseases such as obesity and liver damage. Governments will use supply-side regulations to improve consumers’ well-being, for example by imposing taxes on unhealthy living choices such as the over-consumption of fast food; banning fizzy drinks in schools; or limiting the provision of calorie allowances for all consumers. As price becomes more important to the consumer, revenue management and Internet models, as used by the airline industry and online providers such as or will become mainstream. As health and beauty becomes more of a commodity rather than an experience, the consumer will use only price as a distinguishing factor. Such Internet pricing models will be used to search for last-minute deals or to make advance bookings. Buying a spa treatment on in Bulgaria, along with the flight, will become the norm-all part of the trend of dynamic packaging and pricing.

Final thought.......

If your business wants to get into the health trend, follow the latest trend in food tourism which is no-food hotels, in which stressed our Tokyo executives detox in an environment of tranquility, herbal mineral waters and yoga, all for $500 a night.

Ian Yeoman’s new book, tomorrows tourist discusses what the future tourist will look like in 2030, where they will go on holiday and what they will do.

Ian Yeoman is the world’s only professional crystal ball gazer or futurologist specializing in travel and tourism. Ian learned his trade as the scenario planner for VisitScotland, where he established the process of futures thinking within the organisation using a variety of techniques including economic modelling, trends analysis and scenario construction. In May 2008, Ian was appointed an Assoc. Professor of Tourism Management at Victoria University. He is a popular speaker at conferences and was described by the UK Sunday Times as the country's leading contemporary futurologist.

Ian has a PhD in Management Science from Napier University, Edinburgh and a BSc (Hons) in Catering Systems from Sheffield Hallam University. Previously, Ian was Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Hospitality Management at Napier University and University College, Birmingham. He has extensive experience within the hospitality industry, for which he was a hotel manager with Trusthouse Forte.

Ian has received a number of awards in recognition of his research including his appointment as a Honorary Professor of Tourism Management at Stirling University and the Mike Simpson Award from the Operational Research Society.

Further details about Ian and futurology in the travel industry can be at

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Ian Yeoman

Ian Yeoman is the world's only professional crystal ball gazer or futurologist specializing in travel and tourism. Ian learned his trade as the scenario planner for VisitScotland, where he established the process of futures thinking within the organisation using a variety of techniques including economic modelling, trends analysis and scenario construction.

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    Ian Yeoman
    Victoria University Management School | Victoria University
    Phone: 00 64 (0) 4 463 5717
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