As modern travellers look for more from their vacations, medical wellness retreats offer relaxation, rejuvenation and purposeful personalised therapies.
Living longer doesn’t necessarily mean living better. Our modern lifestyles are demanding, and, while they afford us great opportunities, they can often come at the expense of our health.
With an increased respect for the adage ‘prevention is better than cure’, people are turning to medical wellness retreats to rebuild their health and restore wellbeing. “In the past, people travelled for adventure, for relaxation, or to escape the stresses of everyday life, but the escape was a temporary avoidance,” explains Dr Jason Culp, naturopathic physician and research and development director of Chiva-Som International Health Resort in Thailand. “Nowadays, people travel to pursue answers and instruction for how to promote and sustain their health — medical wellness retreats are empowering them to reach their wellness goals.”
Unlike wellness retreats that offer broad holistic therapies and activities such as yoga, Ayurveda, meditation or gentle detoxing, medical wellness retreats are results-oriented. They leverage cutting-edge medical science and advanced diagnostic techniques to create personalised programmes designed to help with everything from age-related ailments to fitness and weight management, sleep, fertility and more.
According to the Global Wellness Tourism Economy Report (November 2018), travellers made 830 million wellness trips in 2017. But medical tourism is not new. For generations, the elite have travelled to experience the curative properties of natural surrounds, from mineral hot springs to country retreats. So why the recent surge in interest?
Diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease — with risk factors including physical inactivity, alcohol abuse, unhealthy diets and air pollution — remain responsible for over 70 percent of all deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Many of us live in populous cities giving rise to those seeking ‘lung-cleansing’ and ‘lifestyle-resetting’ wellness trips to pristine destinations.
“Wellness travellers today are driven by wanting to optimise time and results,” says Cathy Chon, founder of CatchOn & Co. and co-chair of the Global Wellness Summit 2019. According to Nils Behrens, chief marketing officer of modern medical resort group Lanserhof, many of their guests are in executive positions. “Many have achieved success at the expense of their health, and when they realise they need to repay this ‘loan’ to their body, they come to us,” he explains.
In Asia, the sentiments are similar. “We see guests from two extremes,” says Dr Marian Alonzo, medical chief at The Farm at San Benito in the Philippines. “Some live an abusive lifestyle with late nights, excessive drinking and unhealthy food; others are health conscious and choose us as we’re aligned with their lifestyle.”
Medical wellness retreats occupy a special place on the health continuum: patients are not being treated for specific illnesses, nor are they simply nurturing general wellness — they’re seeking guidance and support to live life at its best, from the inside out.
“I believe the world is waking up to the reality that preservation of health is preferred,” says Dr Culp. “To effectively inspire a wellness lifestyle, a [medical wellness] retreat must recognise and fulfil those details that engage and motivate an individual to participate in their own wellness journey — so they don’t return to old bad habits when they go home.”
Internationally, medical wellness retreats have their own unique histories and specialisations. Clinique La Prairie in Switzerland first opened its doors in 1931, offering innovative medical services coupled with all the luxuries of traditional Swiss hospitality. Today, the centre remains a pioneer, specialising in the area of stem-cell therapies.
Villa Stéphanie in Baden-Baden, Germany, has only 15 rooms, with a medical-care consultant assigned to guests to help them navigate their appointments and follow up with their own healthcare professionals once they return home.
Lanserhof Lans, once a charming hotel, was transformed into a health resort in 1984, with a foundation of regeneration and illness prevention based on the future-focused findings of Austrian physician, FX Mayr. Now there are Lanserhof resorts across Europe that combine decades of research with frontier medical treatments.
This year, Lanserhof will partner with London’s most iconic member’s club, The Arts Club, to open the ultimate medical gym — the first of its kind to offer all members an MRI scan as part of a bespoke training programme. Lanserhof is also in the early stages of developing a property on the German island of Sylt, set to open in late 2020. “It will be built in alignment with the surrounding landscape, with building biologists monitoring the use of ecological and health-friendly building materials,” says Behrens.
While Europe deserves its legacy in the area of medical wellness retreats, Asia is rising up the ranks, due to its luxury resort culture, drive for innovation, and reputation as a popular destination for both medical tourism and holistic wellness. As Chon says: “It’s about going back to basics and an ascetic expression of luxury.” Retreats such as Chiva-Som International Health Resort in Thailand and The Farm at San Benito in the Philippines, with their picturesque settings, nutritious plant-based menus and sophisticated detoxification programmes, have ardent followings that show no signs of slowing.
After all, in a world where value can be measured in a million different ways, it still rings true that our greatest wealth is our health.
Dervla Louli is the founder of Compare Retreats, a wellness booking portal and media company for the world’s leading luxury wellness retreats. For enquiries contact