Opportunity knocks for wellness tourism in WA, as the response to a recent conference attests.
ATTENDANCE levels at a conference held last weekend in Perth suggest that Western Australia remains well positioned to capitalise on the burgeoning wellness tourism sector.
Last weekend, the Perth Convention Exhibition Centre hosted a touring party of five international authors speaking at an event called the ‘I Can Do It! Conference’, which had the tag line ‘A Weekend Retreat for Your Soul’.
Publisher Hay House Australia developed the tour.
According to Geraldine Reilly, the founder of Moondance Lodge in Yallingup, about 1,200 people attended the event, indicating the high level of local demand for wellness tourism.
Ms Reilly says demand for wellness tourism is growing locally and globally, and if the potentially lucrative sector was appropriately marketed, it could approach levels in the US, where it is a multi-billion dollar trade.
“Wellness tourism originated in the US, and the term is used as an overarching umbrella brand for a number of segments that sit under it,” Ms Reilly told Business Class.
These segments include spa holidays, lifestyle resorts, spiritual retreats, and nature-related and cultural experiences as opposed to medical tourism segments, which include ‘soft’ tourism experiences such as weight loss, and ‘hard’ tourism offerings including cosmetic and reproductive surgery.
“It’s fast growing and potentially very lucrative; in the US they say one in every six dollars is spent on wellness, and that’s forecast to grow to one in (every) four dollars,” she says.
Australian Tourism Export Council managing director Matthew Hingerty believes WA has immense potential to develop a world-leading wellness tourism offering after visiting the South West about 10 days ago.
“You have all the ingredients,” Mr Hingerty says.
“You have things we take for granted here in Australia but are not taken for granted by the rest of the world in clean air and clean water, outstanding food and wine with no risks, and these things provide the backdrop for wellness tourism.
“In many respects the world is your oyster.”
Mr Hingerty recalls a presentation by Anne Beijing from Healing Hotels of the World at ATEC’s annual conference last year.
“She indicated that wellness tourism is worth one trillion dollars worldwide,” he says.
“It’s a big market, you got to remember it was soft tourism that started the tourism industry like the Roman baths where people travelled to take the waters, and all through European and Asian history people travelled to taste the cure.
“It’s not a fly-by-night thing, it’s not new.”
Despite its history Mr Hingerty suggests that preparation and planning for wellness tourism in WA, as compared to Australia’s leading wellness centres in Victoria and New South Wales, has been lacking.
“I think the offering is there, but it’s not that well recognised or organised,” Mr Hingerty says.
“It’s risky as it’s emerging as an international business, so sometimes there is a bit too much love and not enough commercial sense.”
Ms Reilly founded Moondance in 2004 and has won multiple awards amid gaining recognition on the international wellness stage, until the global financial crisis hit and she was forced to sell up in December 2009.
She has no regrets, remaining confident about the longevity of wellness tourism in WA, and she says she is happy to offer the knowledge and insights she gained about wellness tourism “to those following on the journey of sharing Mother Nature’s gifts.”
“One of WA’s key competitive advantages is its unique natural resources,” Ms Reilly says.
“The South West is the only region in Australia and one of five worldwide to be named a biodiversity hotspot.
“It’s an extraordinary feature to be marketed delicately.”