China: A Rising Wellness Travel Destination

Upsurge in Inbound Wellness Tourism

For inbound travel, China is expected to outrank France as the world’s most popular travel destination by 2030.[1] The increase in the number of international visitors to China should be considered in light of the country’s unstoppable domestic tourism. In 2017, domestic travel accounted for over $720 billion and 5 billion trips.

With tourism becoming a new driving force in China’s economy, much investment has been made to develop the country’s infrastructure, from speed trains to airports, and to introduce tourism-friendly policies and initiatives. Not only do these improvements inspire more Chinese travelers to consider local vacations, but they also create new business opportunities targeting domestic travelers on short getaways.

Alila, Aman, Banyan Tree and Six Senses are pioneers in the wellness market in China, with each new property setting a higher benchmark for the wellness hospitality industry. The recently opened Amanyangyun (Yang Yun means “nourishing cloud”) features one of the largest and most comprehensive spa and wellness centers in Shanghai, incorporating cutting-edge technology and innovative science with centuries-old holistic healing philosophies. Positioned as a sanctuary for holistic wellbeing and restoration, the 2,840-square-meter facility covers every aspect of wellness, from beauty, nutrition and movement to emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

West of Shanghai in Suzhou (a UNESCO world heritage site), Sangha Retreat by Octave is a nourishing health and wellness destination, providing an immersive experience in nature, healing and harmony. The 46-acre lakeside retreat is the vision of Frederick Tsao, a fourth-generation leader of a Singapore-based family business, himself a graduate of the University of Michigan. Sangha takes a global view toward transformative, holistic wellbeing, blending Western science with traditional Chinese philosophy. It begins with a comprehensive medical assessment by an international team of doctors who create a customized program of nutritionally balanced meals, healing treatments, exercise and activities, plus follow-up support for lasting lifestyle changes.

These examples illustrate the options currently available for the increasingly discerning wellness traveler in China. As the concept of wellness evolves and is now recognized as a way of living rather than a trend, it continues to shape the way people travel.

Worth noting is the growing influence of traditional Chinese medicine in tourism, which is expected to steer an increasing number of foreigners to the clinics in China, starting with the visa-free Hainan Island as an emerging global wellness tourism hotspot, which has been visited by over 800,000 tourists from Russia and Central Asia since 2010. In addition to over 4,000 traditional Chinese medicine hospitals, 43,000 clinics and 425,000 practitioners across the country, the government has plans to build another 15 “model zones” similar to the one in Hainan by 2020.

Nationalism and Cultural Resurgence

Despite the rapid economic growth, China’s extreme work culture and fledgling corporate wellness sector have resulted in increased stress levels and anxiety while more embark on a spiritual quest to question their purpose in life. More Chinese now take a keen interest in reckoning with their authentic roots, prompting a growing demand for traditional arts, cultural practices and philosophy in a bid to relieve stress and achieve emotional wellness.

International hospitality brands are among the first to respond to this growing trend. Just an hour from Shanghai at Ahn Luh Zhujiajiao, guests are invited to practice the ancient art of calligraphy, a form of meditation in the Buddhist culture, in a lobby that has been repurposed from a beautifully restored, 600-year-old courthouse dating back to the Ming Dynasty. In Amanyangyun, the imposing reading pavilion Nanshufang is a dedicated space to learn, contemplate and practice traditional crafts, such as music and painting, or watch Kunqu opera.

Local brands are also taking advantage of this trend. Tsingpu Retreats (meaning “back to the root” in Sanskrit) operates small-scale luxury boutique lodges in some of China’s most charming, culture-rich and largely unknown locations. Each resort’s design reflects a strong sense of place while the authentic guest experiences emphasize local cultural activities, from lacquerware making and traditional fan-making to bonsai gardening, zither playing and meditation. Beyond the current portfolio of seven resorts, the group plans to expand to over 90 locations within the next five years.

Temple getaways have been attracting an increasing number of pilgrims, who seek a short stay to cleanse their mind, body and soul through eating vegetarian food, practicing Zen meditation and engaging in a philosophical exchange with spiritual gurus, be it Buddhism, Confucianism or Taoism.

Teahouses are also targeted for a modern makeover. A concept since the Tang Dynasty, teahouses are viewed as places to contemplate, exchange ideas, and promote civility. Zen-like meditative teahouses are dotted throughout the urban landscape to exemplify scholarly living in the 21st-century style. Li Garden in Shanghai is discreetly nestled behind two office buildings to offer an otherworldly place of tranquility.

Bookstores also now function as microcultural spaces to bring people together in an atmosphere of learning. Design-savvy outlets such as Fangsuo Communes and Zhongshuge are part-bookstore, library, café, lifestyle retail hub and creative meeting point, drawing culture vultures in droves.

Forecasting the Future

  • China is investing heavily in tourism as a driving force for its economy, with so much infrastructure development from high-speed trains to super-modern airports. This will continue to galvanize the inbound tourism boom and, increasingly, a wellness travel upsurge.
  • With Chinese people increasingly taking a keen interest in their own authentic roots, more destinations will focus on China’s traditional arts, cultural practices and wellness philosophies—from the ancient, meditative art of calligraphy to introducing guests to their poetic spiritual cuisine.
  • Energy medicine is a fast-rising global trend, and more people will want to experience Traditional Chinese Medicine, focused on healing the “energy body,” with China’s 425,000 practitioners and at new “TCM zones” such as Hainan Island.

1) Euromonitor International, November 2018

This is an excerpt from the “China: A Rising Wellness Travel Destination” trend in the 2019 Global Wellness Trends Report.

This is an excerpt from the TRENDIUM, a bi-weekly communication exploring the wellness trends identified in the Global Wellness Trends Reports.

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