Health Tourism: Spas, Wellness & Medical Travel

What is health tourism? How does it differ from medical tourism? How do things like spa retreats and other similar programs fit into these areas?

Let’s take a look at how this all fits together.

What is Health Tourism?

Health tourism is the broad term applied to traveling for the purpose of getting some form of health benefit—usually in the form of a health treatment or some type of wellness or medical procedure. For example, health tourism could include travel for a spa retreat, a wellness program, a yoga retreat, an adventure vacation (such as hiking or kayaking), or perhaps travel to a natural wellness location, such as thermal springs. It could also include traveling for more specific health-related purposes, such as to get a specific treatment or medical care.

Medical tourism is itself a component of health tourism, and many people even use the terms interchangeably as they relate to traveling for medical treatments. That said, health tourism is the term most broadly used when the travel is for a general health-enhancement purpose, while medical tourism is more likely to be used when the travel is for a specific, medically-indicated procedure or procedure that is performed by healthcare professionals.

As you can see, all of these ideas are inter-related. Indeed, the industries that support medical tourism also support travel for other health treatments. Hotels that are set up close to treatment centers are a perfect example of infrastructure that enables the overall health tourism industry to grow. While not all health-related tourism requires a medical facility, some of the same recovery centers and hotel and hospitality networks can be utilized if close enough to the facilities where treatment is sought.

In some areas, the health tourism industry paved the way for medical tourism to flourish. Spa retreats and other therapeutic services have been available for decades, allowing the infrastructure to be set up and enhanced. The fact that is has long been acceptable to travel for spa and wellness services has also helped create a cultural shift in which it’s becoming more common to travel for medical services as well.

Additionally, spa treatments and other wellness activities can be an important component of health travel. The premise of such activities is to keep the body, spirit, and mind in optimal health—which can help prevent or delay health complications in the future. Much like many of the medical tourism treatments we’ve reviewed on this site, seeking health and wellness treatments can often be achieved at a lower expense abroad—even after factoring in the cost of international travel.

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