The UAE is again the heavy-hitter, driving 35% of the region’s spa revenues, and with strong growth from 2013-2105: adding 121 spas and $160 million in spa revenues, to become one of the world’s top twenty spa markets (#19). Another important story: Saudi Arabia leapfrogging Morocco and Israel to become the #2 spa market, adding roughly $75 million in revenues. Other standout growth markets: Bahrain adding $42.1 million, Kuwait $32.3 million, Oman $21.6 million, and Qatar $18.4 million, in spa revenues across those two years.
8 MENA Wellness Travel Trends to Watch
1) Move from generic luxury to indigenous wellness experiences: The most powerful global travel trend is the hunger for all things authentic and unique to the “place,” but the 1,000+ years of sophisticated, nature-based traditional wellness and beauty systems from across MENA and the Arabian Peninsula have remained largely under-exploited. This will change and wellness properties will increasingly embrace indigenous experiences: from the global phenom of the hammam and sand-bathing/treatments to indigenous, ancient “super” foods/ingredients (including baobob, frankincense, camel’s milk, sidra fruit, teff, freekeh, dukkah, za-aatar, etc.) and ancient (often brilliant) indigenous design/architecture principles.
2) Wellness Communities & Lifestyle Real Estate: Are one of the fastest-growing global wellness markets (now worth $119 billion), but the MENA “wellness living” market is just getting started (worth $500 million). Growth lies ahead, and the focus is strongly mixed-use: part hospitality, part wellness residence concepts, like MAG of Life’s partnership with well-building pioneer DELOS, for the coming Life Creek Resort in Dubai, which includes wellness residences and a wellness hotel. Six Senses Gammarth, Tunisia, where the resort + residences celebrate Tunisia’s rich Berber, Ottoman and Arab cultural and wellness history, is another example.
3) Luxury Wellness 2.0: Over-the-top luxury will remain crucial to the MENA wellness tourism brand, but the next “luxury wellness” chapter will go deeper than spectacular one-upmanship design: with a bigger property focus on everything from professionals trained in lifestyle change, stress reduction, mental wellness and indigenous traditions/medicines to a needed focus on environmental and social consciousness. The wellness angles will get more creative and meaningful: like the Oasis Eco Resort (coming to Abu Dhabi, 2020), billed as “the world’s greenest resort”, with everything from a wildlife biology department to guests foraging for organic produce.
4) A Happiness Focus: Nations are increasingly looking beyond GDP/economic growth, to focus on happiness, measuring and addressing citizens’ total wellbeing from social connection to healthcare access. The UAE is a trailblazer, with a national happiness initiative and the world’s first Minister of Happiness. This could cast a positive “halo” for the nation’s wellness tourism, and countries in the region/worldwide will watch how happiness initiatives might impact everything from healthcare costs to social trust.
5) Evolving Medical-Wellness Destinations: The GWI typically cautions that medical and wellness tourism concepts and promotion should be kept separate. But the Middle East is a special case, with more unique and blended medical-wellness (and cosmetic surgery and wellness) concepts and opportunities ahead. One major example: Dubai Healthcare City, currently a 4 million square-foot healthcare zone with a focus on elective/aesthetic procedures, but with a Phase 2 goal of becoming the “world’s biggest wellness center”, complete with wellness hotels and residences.
6) Workplace Wellness Growth: While workplace wellness is now a $43 billion global industry, with an average 9% of workers worldwide covered by some form of wellness program, the MENA region lags: only 7% of workers (91 million) are under a workplace wellness program, representing a nascent market of $1.1 billion. The future: a growing workplace wellness focus/market in rapidly growing Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE, where obesity and chronic disease are skyrocketing. This will boost all wellness sectors: from fitness and healthy food to the healthy meetings, conventions and travel markets.
7) Hot Potential for Hot Springs: Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Iran all have extensive natural thermal/mineral springs resources without major hospitality/tourism infrastructure to support them. With a renaissance in authentic hot springs bathing worldwide, development in those nations looks to heat up.
8) Domestic Wellness Travel Growth: A host of forces, like lower oil prices, currency depreciation, and travel bans from (and “perception” issues with) the U.S., are poised to slow outbound MENA wellness travel growth. Meanwhile, economic slowdowns in key source countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia and China - and security concerns in places like Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia - are negatively impacting inbound travel. While international MENA wellness tourism is still growing, catering to the domestic and inter-regional wellness tourist and their cultural and religious sensitivities will become more paramount.