Oct 20 2018
By Asma Ali Zain, Khaleej Times
Boasting an array of world-class spas, wellness centres, and health facilities, the UAE - particularly Dubai - has become a unique travel destination for today's health-conscious traveller.
Traditional practices that place greater emphasis on preventive healthcare, such as ayurveda, homeopathy, and yoga, have significantly contributed to the robust growth of this sector, catering to loyal clients who visit every year on average.
The Medical Tourism Index 2016 ranked Dubai number one in the Arab world and 16th globally, further boosting the emirate's aspirations to attract half a million tourists a year by 2020.
The industry has recorded a 10 per cent growth this year, making it a larger-than-$500-billion market and a rapidly advancing niche within the global tourism economy. This growth is marked by a profound shift in the way wellness services are being perceived and consumed. Previously seen as luxury or add-on services, they are now being woven into every aspect of daily lives, making them part of work, travel, leisure, and healthcare.
Dr Raza Siddiqui, CEO of Arabian Healthcare Group and executive director of RAK Hospital, said: "Wellness and medical tourism in the UAE is the new 'non-oil economy' for the region."
"According to a news report, the country leads the Middle Eastern wellness tourism market and accounts for 14 per cent of the Mena spa market. As per the figures, the tourism industry in the UAE is worth around $36 billion, out of which 12 to 13 per cent is contributed by wellness tourism. The trend that we see now is that wellness tourists are not just coming here for spa, but also for holistic health and rejuvenation or ayurvedic treatments," he said.
Capitalising on their increasing popularity, a greater percentage of enormous multitrillion industries, such as real estate, food and beverage, and travel, are incorporating wellness services into their businesses.
Spotting the trend is easy. Outdoor activities and relaxation sessions are all lined up across the city. Modern workplaces are creating new initiatives to help employees maintain a work-life balance. Smart applications and technologies such as artificial intelligence are being incorporated into health and fitness projects.
In-room yoga mats and other advanced fitness facilities are now staples in hotels. Real estate properties that offer recreational and wellness facilities are attracting a growing number of discerning customers.
Dr Layla Al Marzouqi, director of health tourism department at the Dubai Health Authority, said: "Dubai's attractiveness as an ideal leisure and tourism destination has been extending its scope in recent years to include health and wellness as another reason to visit the emirate."
"The growing number of visitors experiencing the world-class health and wellness facilities in Dubai attests to the services available in numerous packages the emirate has to offer, and we are keen to continue developing this sector to provide excellence and happiness, a lifestyle that is deeply embedded in Dubai's culture."
The current global wellness trends, as identified by the 2018 Global Wellness Trends Report, include "transformative wellness travel; the wellness kitchen; an increased focus on health and lifestyle of parents during the six months before they conceive a baby; extreme challenges, treatments, and experiences that aim to redefine human limits; efforts to sustain happiness; and the feminist wellness trend built around women empowerment."
Stress management is also becoming a key priority for most, so the demand for wellness services is expected to remain steady.
The UAE wellness and spa travel market, comprising both inbound and domestic travellers, represents roughly 15 per cent of the total tourism market. Authentic Middle Eastern spa, wellness experiences, and beauty traditions like 'hammam' are all gaining traction.
Dubai's wellness tourists are also increasingly pursuing various activities that add value to their travel experiences and personal well-being. Customers spend on relaxation and rejuvenation, and they would usually go for sauna therapies, yoga, massages, and spas, in addition to cosmetic procedures such as anti-aging therapies.
Travellers' quest for options to maintain health and fitness while on their holiday has been reshaping the tourism market in the UAE.
Vyara Tosheva, manager of East Crescent Wellness and Spa at the Palm Jumeirah, said: "Currently, around 10 per cent of the hotel's guests approach us, seeking our services and we are working towards increasing this to a minimum of 15 per cent next year."
"Our client base includes UAE residents, locals, and expats, with expats predominantly from Kuwait and Oman. Europeans who come seeking our treatments include mostly French nationals, followed by UK residents. Detox, energy healing, holistic weight loss, and anti-aging therapies are the most sought-after treatments."
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