Capitalising on Sri Lanka’s opportunities for wellness tourism
By Anjali Caldera
Sri Lanka’s wellness tourism industry is not on the level of places like Thailand or Kerala, which see high demand from wellness travellers in the world. Our promotions are zero, and the staff is not trained properly, though we have sufficient resources; but the positive factor is that we can start from the beginning, stated an industry expert.
Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Chairman, Kirmali Fernando, speaking at a webinar titled ‘Wellness: the new paradigm for Sri Lanka Tourism’, noted there is a lot to be done by the Government to promote wellness tourism in Sri Lanka.
“It has become one of our top priorities. At present, we even see a clear opportunity for this sector with the COVID-19 outbreak. Thus, we need assistance from the Health Ministry, Export Development Board (EDB) and private sector stakeholders, to get the youngsters involved in this and spread awareness among them,” she said.
She added that presently, there is a four-year programme that provides a Diploma in Ayurveda, where industry stakeholders could follow to obtain the required knowledge in the field.
Sri Lanka has the potential
According to Well Intelligence Co-Founder and Chief Executive, Anni Hood, the value of wellness tourism in the world is over US$ 640 billion and this is expected to go to trillion by 2022.
At present, people are looking for something different from the usual holiday, much more than being entertained. People go for a change in their lifestyle now more than ever with the outbreak of COVID-19 and also being overworked, overstressed, overweight, etc. Sri Lanka has a huge opportunity for wellness tourism with the inborn compassion of its people, its knowledge on traditional medical practices, culture, and religious diversity resources, etc., stated Wellbeing Escapes, UK Founder/MD, Stella Photi.
Sri Lanka has its competitors, but they are not as strong in the mentioned areas. This will be a pull factor for Sri Lanka’s wellness tourism.
She further insisted that private ayurvedic resorts that have already been established in the country, such as Siddalepa, Barbarian, Jetwing, Tree of life, Santani, etc., are an asset to the sector.
There are also the right people to develop the wellness sector in Sri Lanka. “We have good therapists, natural resources, and professional yoga instructors; but as a service industry, we are not catering to the high-end markets. This area needs to be structured professionally. The real factor is how to connect with travellers, breaking the language barrier, connecting with secret treatments, getting the relevant people, getting monks to meditate with groups, etc.,” stated Ayurva Traveler Founder/MD, Nilusha Kodituwakku.
“Inquiries we got five years ago were for things like spa pampering and luxurious stays, with a bit of yoga or meditation. But the requirement has drastically changed during the past few years. Today’s travellers look for more meaningful travel, and their purpose of travel has shifted to deep connections. Sri Lanka has these higher energy points.
Linser Hospitality MD, Dr. Franz Linser revealed that a detailed assessment had been carried out of Sri Lanka’s wellness tourism, saying, “We’ve been working with EDB, and we got the right funding partners from Australia and support from the European Union delegate for Sri Lanka and Maldives. Another idea of the whole study is to get the professional view from outside.”
Possible source markets will be Central and Northern Europe, including Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, which comprise around 150 million people, all of whom can afford a wellness vacation and are ready to travel.
Linsa further indicated that they find certain products that Sri Lanka wellness stakeholders can offer their customers and also to conduct a marketing strategy.
Promoting ‘hela wedakama’
Sri Lankan traditional medicine has been handed down through generations from the time of ancient kings and is still practiced as an identical segment in Sri Lanka.
There is sufficient evidence in our ancient ruins, especially during the Anuradhapura kingdom era; Mihinthale Hospital was identified as the first hospital in the world, while in Polonnaruwa, we have ruins of small dispensaries and medicinal equipment.
Ayurvedic medicine came to Sri Lanka from the North Indian area with the arrival of King Vijaya.
At present, we are practicing a combination of hela wedakama and Ayurveda. It is possible to use the theories in hela wedakama, while analysing the disorder using Ayurveda.
For tourism we can use both theories.
“We have the plans to develop hela wedakama by seeking expert views on this and getting industry stakeholders to join us. The private sector is good at delivering, but we haven’t given them regulations yet. We need to do a proper branding and Sri Lanka tourism is ready to do what is to be done,” stated Fernando.
As per Jetwing Symphony PLC Chairman Hiran Cooray, hela wedakama is also being studied now, with Western Europe, Germany and Japan being the most important existing markets, but we also need to cater to Eastern countries as well.
Cooray also highlighted the possibility of arranging ayurvedic tours in Sri Lanka, which they have been practicing for some time with their own hotels across the island, starting with a few nights in Negombo, continuing to Sigiriya, and ending in Galle.
Capitalising on opportunities from COVID-19
With COVID-19, people are more concerned on immunity-enhancing, healing retreats and spiritual getaways that relieve anxiety and depression. Thus, wellness has become prioritised.
The younger audience is looking for some sort of mindfulness meditation. There is a linkage here, where Sri Lanka can position itself well. Thus, Sri Lanka will be a good destination for travellers who seek these sorts of comforts for the next few months.
The travel agencies and tour operators in the country have a vital role to play here. travellers trust tour operators at present. Thus, as per San Wellness Sanctuary Founder, Sam Kankanamge, they should give a clear message on the safety protocols in the country.
With the growing trend for Ayurveda, mindfulness and meditation, of course wellness tourism is a billion-dollar industry for Sri Lanka. What is important is to market this to the right people.
Are we ready?
To reopen the ayurvedic centres for domestic tourists, they have to get the approval from local PHIs. To cater to international tourists, it will be necessary to get certification from the Ministry of Health. Hospitals have opened up. Medical tourism is important. Tourists may come for both traditional and modern treatments. Medical tourists from the Seychelles have already arrived in the country during recent times.
University of Colombo Institute of Indigenous Medicine Senior Lecturer, Dr. Namal Jayawardene revealed that a committee has been formed consisting of personnel from Ayurveda Health Ministry, Indigenous Medicine sector, University of Colombo and University of Kelaniya, which is planning to prepare protocols for prevention and cure.
Meanwhile, Cooray insisted that as long as there are restrictions for travelers, there won’t be many visitors to Sri Lanka. Once regulations are lifted, wellness-seeking tourists will come in large numbers, especially in the winter months in Europe. Then promoting longer stays, immunity-boosting methods and the local climate is perfect for that.
The world is not aware about the wellness side of Sri Lanka. It has been marketed as a leisure destination. Thus, there should be a proper marketing strategy that uses wellness agents to promote Sri Lanka.
As per the panelists, the demand is less now, but the opportunity will arise in winter, as there is tendency that leisure travellers will shift to wellness travelers.
How could wellness tourism be beneficial to Sri Lanka?
As most wellness travellers are high-spenders, there will be a massive currency flow to the country, causing considerable economic development.
Additionally, investment in infrastructure would be beneficial for tourists as well as for local communities.
With the expansion of wellness practices and the selection of ideal locations to promote wellness, a range of job opportunities will be opened to locals in rural areas, as they will do a better service with their cultural practices with proper training.
Further, when concerned about the interests of wellness travellers, it would definitely lead to responsible tourism, as they value the nature, heritage and culture of Sri Lanka and would protect the country from an over-tourism scenario.