Last year, it came as no surprise that the Global Wellness Institute announced that wellness is one of the fastest growing economies (up 10.6 per cent between 2013 and 2015 to $3.72 trillion). Nor did the fact that within the overall figures, one of the key booming markets is wellness tourism: holistically-minded destination retreats that go way beyond the physical are on the up, and are encompassing elements such as detox and diet; stress and sleep recovery; and other programmes aimed at helping participants achieve an emotional balance in their lives.
But the demand for this type of 360-degree wellbeing hasn’t always been there. “When we opened Kamalaya 12 years ago, we ventured into completely new territory”, says Karina Stewart, co-founder of the renowned, award-winning Koh Samui sanctuary. “It’s only in the last few years that we’ve witnessed an evolution in the wellness sector, and the shift of spas from a luxurious, pampering holiday to a holistic wellness experience; they are taking on a more active approach to health and wellbeing.”
At Kamalaya, the ‘wellness experience’ translates to an exhaustive menu of over 70 therapies and treatments, containing everything imaginable from traditional Chinese medicine to naturopathy, to homeopathy. While detox has always been a signature offering, Stewart has noticed that their focus on “prevention and providing optimum health physically, emotionally and mentally” has seen a boom of guest sign-ups for stress, burnout and sleep enhancement programmes.
Two years ago, Kamalaya also launched an “Embracing Change” programme featuring sessions with a life enhancement mentor. “Each of Kamalaya’s mentors was immersed in a monastic lifestyle in India or Thailand for over a decade. Their teachings are inspired by ancient Asian philosophies, delivered with a practical approach to modern day questions, stressors and concerns.”
This notion of ‘East meets West’ is also evident at Song Saa in Cambodia, where the spa menu is split into sections such as stillness, healing and blessings to “remind us the importance of being still, taking time to heal and the value of blessings.” Melt Hunter, co-founder of Song Saa, believes that “by engaging all the senses, the body and mind are more able to succumb to relaxation, rather than with just a physical treatment.”
At Amanpuri in Phuket, a full immersion programme was launched last summer, honing in on areas such as weight loss, digestive cleansing and mental awareness. “There has definitely been a demand from our guests for a bigger focus on wellness and fitness whilst on holiday”, says Alison Stone, Regional Wellness Director. “They are delighted that we now offer something more focused to support their health.” The three-to-fourteen-day programmes are personalised, and include specialist sessions (ranging from Craniosacral therapy to Reiki, to life-coaching), plus meditation, group pilates or yoga classes, and nutritious meals – all are aimed at bringing you back to balance.
Meanwhile, at SHA Wellness Clinic in Spain medical services (everything from genetic testing to osteopathy) are balanced out with therapies such as shiatsu, reflexology and lymphatic drainage. These days, more and more of us are aware that while having a massage may get rid of knotty shoulders or soothe aching muscles, it’s just one small part of wellness.
As Stewart concludes, “it’s no longer enough to escape the demands of life; many people are looking for something deeper, something more meaningful. Everyone is becoming much more aware of the need to invest in ourselves and a healthier lifestyle.”
London-based freelance journalist Emma Love specialises in writing about interiors, design and travel for titles such as Elle Decoration and Condé Nast Traveller, where she is a contributing editor. She also writes for publications such as the Financial Times and the Guardian.