The forgotten field with USD billion potential
With natural conditions and advantages of traditional medicine, Vietnam has great potential for developing wellness tourism.
During three years studying in Japan, Vu Nam, Deputy Director of the Tourism Market Department of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) visited Yufuin village (Oita, Japan), a popular tourist site.
The village has a natural area of only 1,800 hectares, and a population of about 10,000 people, but in 2019 it welcomed more than 4.4 million visitors. Nam said that 60% of visitors returned, and 10% visited the village more than 10 times. It is estimated that Yufuin village welcomes more than 12,000 people every day, more than its entire population.
Yufuin's tourism income in 2019 reached more than 16 billion Japanese yen, equivalent to nearly US$15 million.
“This is one of the most successful tourist sites not only in Japan but also in the world in exploiting hot mineral resources to develop healthcare tourism that Vietnam can follow," Nam said.
There are about 27,000 hot mineral bath service sites (Onsen) in Japan and the Japanese Onsen hot mineral bath service has become a "billion-dollar business" with an annual revenue of about $13 billion.
Healthcare tourism is becoming a major source of revenue for many countries around the world, because it lies at the powerful intersection of two booming industries: the $2.6 trillion pure tourism industry and the health care market worth $4.2 trillion.
According to a report by Global Wellness Institute (GWI), healthcare tourism reached a value of $639 billion in 2017 and is forecasted to hit $919 billion in 2022. If maintaining the average growth rate of 7.5%/year, healthcare tourism will contribute 18% of total revenue of the world tourism industry.
On average, for every $6 spent on travel globally, $1 belongs to the wellness market. Over the past five years, Asia has led in terms of both number of trips and revenue. Some countries pay special attention to healthcare tourism and have obtained great success, typically Japan with its hot mineral spas, Indonesia with nature resorts, and India with meditation and yoga.
Dr. Nguyen Van Dinh said there are two ways to understand: Wellness tourism or medical tourism. If medical tourism is primarily about treatment, then healthcare tourism focuses on disease prevention. In fact, it is difficult to distinguish clearly and absolutely between these two types of services. Countries around the world sometimes also use the term medical tourism or wellness tourism for both.
In Vietnam, Dr. Truong Sy Vinh, Deputy Director of the Institute of Tourism Development Research (VNAT), said that with natural conditions and advantages of traditional medicine, Vietnam has great potential for developing wellness tourism.
For example, Vietnam has rich and diverse mineral water resources, valuable for medical treatment, nursing and health care. It is reported that the country has about 400 hot mineral water sources ranging from 40-80 degrees Celsius, which have both therapeutic effects and can be processed into drinking water.
Many hot mineral springs in Vietnam are being exploited by big investors, such as: My Lam - Tuyen Quang hot spring resort invested by Vinpearl (Vingroup), Quang Hanh hot spring resort in Quang Ninh province of Sungroup, Thanh Thuy mineral spring in Phu Tho invested by YoKo group, which provide the Japanese Onsen model. Some resorts provide mud bath, spa, sauna, and massage services such as: Tram Trung (Khanh Hoa), V-resort (Hoa Binh), Saigon - Binh Chau (Vung Tau) ...
Vietnam also has an extremely rich and diverse system of medicinal plants with about 3,850 species of plants and 406 species of animals used as medicine. The Ministry of Health has granted registration numbers to more than 2,000 traditional medicine products produced by more than 450 traditional medicine and pharmacy establishments.
In addition to a system of historical relics, Vietnam has many pagodas and monasteries with attractive landscapes that can be exploited to develop tourism in general and develop tourism associated with meditation and yoga in particular.
Vietnam is gradually becoming a new medical tourism destination in Asia thanks to the low cost of travel, accommodation services and medical manpower compared to the US, Europe and other countries in the region.
About 350,000 foreigners came to Vietnam for medical examination and treatment and brought in $2 billion in revenue in 2018. That is not counting the large amount of money tourists spent on health care services while traveling. In addition, tens of thousands of Vietnamese people traveled for medical treatment each year (before the Covid-19 epidemic), with an amount of approximately $2 billion.
Vietnam just set a foot
In the context of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Vu Nam said that tourism combined with health care is a future tourism trend, especially when the epidemic appears, the demand for health care is greater. This is an opportunity for Vietnam to focus on developing healthcare tourism products.
However, according to Le Hong Thai, Deputy Director of Hanoitourist, Vietnam is lacking specific criteria and guidelines for business, service and tourism establishments to welcome guests.
Vu Nam cited that at hot spring resorts, visitors mainly come to bathe and sauna, the experiences are not abundant, and there is no high-class experience for tourists.
Although a number of 5-star resorts in the Central and Southern regions have recently promoted the development of spa services, most other spas develop spontaneously, so the quality of facilities and services is still low.
Regarding tourism combined with medical treatment, in Ho Chi Minh City, most foreign tourists using this service were Cambodians and Laotians. In Hue City, the Hue Central Hospital every year (before 2020) provided medical examination and treatment for about 5,000 Lao tourists and some international visitors.
However, Dr. Tran Huu Thuy Giang, Director of Hue Department of Tourism, admitted that tourists still know little about medical tourism services. The locality also lacks professional medical and healthcare tourism service facilities.
Dr. Do Hai Yen (Faculty of Tourism Study, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, Hanoi), said that healthcare tourism is still new in Vietnam and due to the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic, businesses have not really focused on this.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong, VNAT Deputy General Director, said that healthcare tourism in Vietnam exists but only at an early stage, with few products. It is necessary to fully research the potential and develop healthcare tourism products in Vietnam.