Global Spa Summit Research Finds Potentially Explosive, $106 Billion Wellness Tourism Market Held Back by Conceptual Confusion and Weak Promotional Models

Share Article

First Comprehensive Report on Medical Tourism and Wellness Tourism Tackles Key Challenges and Opportunities For These Distinct Markets

Medical tourists and wellness tourists spend 3 to 5 times more than the average tourist, and the financial opportunities within both these sectors are vast. This research will help public and private players establish smarter overall strategies...

The Global Spa Summit (GSS) today released key findings from its research initiative “Wellness Tourism and Medical Tourism: Where Do Spas Fit?” - the most comprehensive investigation of the wellness tourism and medical tourism industries to date. The 100-plus-page report contains: an overview of existing definitions, industry data, and organizational and promotional models underway worldwide; twelve national case studies; results from a survey of 200+ industry stakeholders; and recommendations for governments and businesses going forward.

The full report:

Key Findings:

  •     Governments should develop and promote medical tourism and wellness tourism separately.
  •     Wellness tourism represents by far the best “fit” for the spa industry, and already generates twice the global revenues of the more-established medical tourism market ($106 bil. vs. $50 bil. USD).*
  •     Persistent terminology confusion, combined with weak or generic promotion, is significantly holding back these emerging travel categories.

“This report should be read by every tourism board, spa and medical facility worldwide,” noted Susie Ellis, GSS Board Member. “Medical tourists and wellness tourists spend 3 to 5 times more than the average tourist, and the financial opportunities within both these sectors are vast. This research will help public and private players establish smarter overall strategies, organizational structures and marketing campaigns to more powerfully position themselves within these lucrative markets.”

Key Roadblock: Conceptual Confusion
Wellness tourism’s and medical tourism’s growth are being stymied by inconsistent, confusing terminology and conceptual intermingling. The survey of 200+ executives reveals a dramatic lack of consensus around definitions/concepts, even among industry players.

  •     25% of executive respondents left the request for open-ended definitions of “medical,” “wellness” and “health” tourism blank, or answered “don’t know.”
  •     66% couldn’t provide a “health tourism” definition, or responded, “don’t know,” revealing confusion around this term is especially acute.
  •     89% report medical tourism and wellness tourism are used/defined inconsistently around the world.
  •     95% argued inconsistent definitions are causing consumer confusion, and that a common language needs be established.


  •     Clear, consistent definitions need to be established globally. Usage of “health tourism” should be avoided, because the term “health” is associated both with the medical arena and complementary medicine/spas.
  •     Suggested “core” definitions: a “medical tourist” travels “because they’re generally ill, or seeking cosmetic/dental surgical procedures/enhancements,” while a “wellness tourist” travels because they’re “seeking integrated wellness/preventative approaches to improve their health/quality of life.”
  •      Governments and private entities should not intermingle these tourisms at the language, organizational or marketing level.

Key Roadblock: Weak or Generic Promotion
Combining case study data (a global cross-section of national approaches: Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand), with the survey results, reveals that governmental promotion of these tourisms is often non-existent, inconsistent or “unbranded.”

  •     Only 29% of respondents (globally) report their tourism organizations are actively promoting medical tourism, 35% for wellness tourism. (Only 17% report both domestic and international tourists are being targeted.)
  •     North America lags Europe and Asia: Only 11% of U.S. and Canadian respondents report medical tourism is being promoted, 19% for wellness tourism.
  •     57% of European executives report wellness tourism is being promoted, 41% for medical tourism.
  •     57% of Asian executives report their country promotes medical tourism, 50% that they promote wellness tourism.
  •     Arguably no country studied has developed a strong, unique national brand image for either medical or wellness tourism, even perceived market leaders.


  •     Medical tourism marketers need to capitalize on/promote their true medical specialties.
  •     Wellness tourism marketers need to communicate their wealth of indigenous, natural-asset-based wellness/healing traditions, as branding will become increasingly important as markets become more competitive.
  •     Domestic, intra-regional and international medical and wellness tourists all need to be uniquely targeted.

Released at the GSS in Bali, Indonesia in May 2011, the report was a collaborative effort of Katherine Johnson, research scientist, SRI International; Dr. Laszlo Puczko, head of the Tourism Division, Xellum Ltd. (Hungary); Melanie Smith, PhD, lecturer/researcher, Corvinus University (Budapest); and Susie Ellis, Global Spa Summit Board Member.

For more information, contact: Beth McGroarty, 213-300-0107 or beth(at)rbicom(dot)com

About the Summit: The Global Spa Summit (GSS) is an annual event that attracts top-level executives and leaders from around the world with an interest in the spa and wellness industries. Delegates from diverse sectors including hospitality, tourism, finance, medicine, real estate, manufacturing, technology, consulting, products and other related industries attend this intimate, high-level gathering focused on advancing the spa and wellness sectors. The Summit has been responsible for some of the most important recent spa industry research, including the landmark Global Spa Economy Report and Spas and the Global Wellness Market: Synergies and Opportunities (both conducted by SRI International). The GSS was honored as the "Spa Event of the Year" for both 2009 and 2010 by AsiaSpa magazine.

*SRI International, “Spas and the Global Wellness Market,” 2010

# # #

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Beth McGroarty
RBI Creative
Email >
Visit website