In Peak Condition: Medical Tourism Is Alive and Well

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There's nothing like getting high.

The clean mountain air, tranquil atmosphere and pristine mountain views offer visitors to the Rocky Mountains a chance to recharge and rejuvenate. So, says the Vail Valley Partnership, a regional community development organization dedicated to attracting health and wellness seekers and, at the same time, pumping vitality into the local economy.

Well-to-do travelers intent on keeping their physical, emotional and spiritual being in peak condition are transforming Eagle County, Colorado, into an attractive medical tourism destination for visitors who demand the best treatments that only money can buy.

Fitness-Minded

Lose weight. Rehabilitate a knee. Or even undergo treatment for cancer.

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Healthcare professionals dedicated to the integrated state of wellness are at the beckon call of medical tourism seekers to the Vail-Beaver Creek region who want to stay in a peaceful mountain setting where fitness-minded activities like skiing and hiking can be coupled with traditional Western and alternative medicines from acupuncture and yoga to herbal treatments and massage.

As spas and resorts all over the world try to get a handle on wellness tourism a trend set by health-conscious consumers looking to enhance their well-being through travel experiences — the Vail Valley Partnership believes it has a pretty good grip on a philosophy that entails treating the whole person, not just an injury or disease.

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Vail officials say the concept is a natural fit, and long overdue because wellness tourism doesn't involve creating any new services, just repackaging existing assets into a single experience.

We believe this is the future of wellness, Frank Johnson, general manager of the Vail Mountain Lodge, told Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine. Our hope is that this approach will be a real differentiator. I think we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Booming Business

The Lodge has been doing a substantial business for years with guests who visit Vail Valley for year-round recreational activities, but are now flocking to the facility's new Vitality Center as well. The center boasts the combination of an in-depth, comprehensive spa experience with medically based advice and conditioning under the care of experts in nutrition, physical therapy, age management and energy based healing.

Based in the lodge's 18,000-square-foot training complex, the Vitality Center offers individual diagnostics, guided intensive regimens, group retreat programs, and workshops for both local and out-of-town clients.

Renée-Marie Stephano, president of the Medical Tourism Association, said research suggests that wellness vacations can affect meaningful change, increase work productivity and, most importantly, improve health.

Big Spenders

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Wellness tourism encourages and empowers consumers to take an active role in their health.

Integrative approaches that empower and encourage patients to take an active role in their health are making their way into mainstream thinking, and hospitality and travel entrepreneurs are taking notice, said Stephano. Wellness vacations are one of the fastest forms of international or domestic tourism, and the trend is not expected to change anytime soon.

Wellness tourism is a near half-trillion dollar market and is expected to grow almost 10 percent per year in the next five years, according to SRI International.

Stephano said wellness enterprises must avoid costly common mistakes, such as standardizing products and services, and instead build on or develop techniques that make them competitive and unique. She invited developers, managers, policy makers and others vested in wellness tourism to the 7th World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress, Sept. 20-24, 2014, in Washington, D.C., where they can take part in a series of sessions devoted specifically to the emerging segment of health travel.

SRI International reports that wellness travelers represent only 6 percent of all tourism trips, yet account for roughly 14 percent of global tourism expenditures, creating 12 million jobs around the world. According to its Global Wellness and Tourism Economy report, the tourism segment is projected to grow on average 9.9 percent annually in the next five years, nearly twice the rate of
global tourism overall, reaching $678.5 billion by 2017, or 16 percent of total tourism revenues.


Choice Vacation

Wellness travelers tend to be wealthier, have achieved a higher level of education and spend more per trip on average, according to wellnesstourismmagazine.com.

Camille Hoheb, founder of Wellness Tourism Worldwide, said travel agents, suppliers and destinations need more information in order to expand the industry.

Health opens the door to a whole new word as does travel, she said. Wellness travel represents an amazing opportunity for both the travel industry and the clients it serves.

Hoheb said industry professionals need a better understanding of wellness products and services, travel motivations, consumer demographics and health issues.

A wellness vacation is by choice, she said. Stress reduction is a prompt. There should be no forcing of one's hand to take a wellness vacation.