What is Health Tourism

Health tourism ranges from travel experiences that offer relaxation and promote a general sense of well-being (e.g. health farms and spa resorts) to travel that is for specific medical reasons (e.g. to obtain cosmetic surgery). It tends to appeal to the upper end of the market, with many luxury hotels and resorts tapping into this lucrative market. Clients are generally affluent, female and middle aged. Most are private clients, although the corporate market is expanding in many areas.

Health resorts became popular during the 1970s and 80s. They were often called ‘health farms’, because they were located in the countryside (where clients could not be tempted by nearby shops selling forbidden food). Typically they offered a strict fitness program and dietary regime (usually vegetarian and no alcohol) so that clients would feel fitter, cleaner and thinner after a week or so of the treatment. Nowadays, they are more often called ‘health resorts’, which reflects the emphasis on having a healthy holiday in an attractive setting. Many facilities and services are offered at health resorts – from horse riding and meditation, to massage and bushwalking.

The newest phenomenon is the development of ‘Spa Tourism’, where the emphasis is on relaxation and beauty treatments. Spa resorts in fact have a long history – travellers have been attracted to mineral springs, which are often believed to have many healing properties, since the Roman era. ‘Taking the waters’ became a popular pastime amongst the middle and upper classes in the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain and Europe. The latest revival in spa treatments began in the 1980s and continues to be a major sector of the health tourism industry.

Other spa experiences include Cruise Spas (cruise ships set up with spa facilities), Club Spas (day spas with an emphasis on fitness), Golf Spas and Ski Spas.

These days, a visit to a spa could involve any of the following:

• A massage
• A facial
• A bath, water or mud treatment
• A pedicure
• A body wrap
• A haircut

A very small but growing segment of the health tourism sector is dental tourism.  Encouraged by the high quality but much lower prices of dentists in Asia especially the Philippines and Thailand, many clients opt to travel away for a week, obtain dental care and enjoy the week in an exotic location, all for the cost of going to the dentist at home. Obviously this type of health tourism does carry with it some dangers.

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