Sri Lanka’s wellness tourism industry received a new impetus when the Sri Lanka Export Development Board (EDB) recognised wellness tourism as a thrust sector under the National Export Strategy (NES) 2018-22, as the island has natural and traditional endowments that can be used to develop a sustainable wellness tourism industry. Ever since then, the EDB has undertaken ground-breaking initiatives to make Wellness Tourism one of the top income earners of the country.
Laying the foundation
The industry includes a broad range of services such as the Ayurveda/Indigenous Medical sector, Western Medical Sector, and other wellness services as Yoga, Meditation, Spiritual, etc. A Wellness Tourism Advisory Committee was formed in 2018 by the EDB to provide necessary recommendations to the Government through the EDB to address the industry concerns and direct the development and promotional activities of the sector. The Wellness Tourism Advisory Committee is comprised of leading private sector stakeholders and the relevant Government Institutions including the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medicine, Institute of Indigenous Medicine – the University of Colombo, Dept. of Ayurveda, SLTPB, and the SLTDA.
In late 2018, the EDB invited Stella Photi, Managing Director of Wellbeing Escapes – UK, to the country with the aim of obtaining her expertise to develop the industry. She evaluated the industry’s existing capabilities and the readiness of individuals to cater/attract the wellness travellers from the UK/European region and agreed to provide her assistance in linking the Wellness Tourism industry with Wellness Travel companies in the UK.
Formulating a comprehensive strategy with international assistance
The EDB obtained the services of Dr. Franz Linser, Managing Director, Linser Hospitality, to undertake a rapid assessment on the potential of the Wellness Tourism industry in Sri Lanka, with financial and technical assistance from Australia’s Market Development Facility. Further, the engagement with Dr. Linser was extended to formulate a Product Development, Marketing and Branding Strategy for the wellness industry which was funded by the Delegation of the EU to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The rapid assessment on the potential of Sri Lanka’s Wellness Tourism industry outlined the main cornerstones that Sri Lanka needs to develop at a public sector and private business level in order to be perceived as a top-notch wellness destination with a focus on the German-speaking market.
Product development, brand development and marketing strategy
The report on product development described the most important global trends relevant to the wellness tourism industry, outlining overall global long-term trends that shape society and deriving emerging developments that give rise to new niche products. The study then analysed different potential wellness segments to consider for the Sri Lankan wellness industry, including Ayurveda and medical approaches, as well as things like immersion in nature and experiencing local culture.
For the creation of the Sri Lankan wellness tourism brand (brand development and brand design), Linser Hospitality collaborated with renowned marketing agency FACTOR GmbH, based in Germany. The brand name was developed as ‘Sri Lanka –Body and Mind’.
The key proposed element of the marketing strategy is creating a website - a content hub that displays all the essential content and information on “Wellness & Health Tourism in Sri Lanka” in addition to providing the opportunity for booking. The website is to be supplemented with active presence in Facebook and Instagram in addition to using influencers such as bloggers, journalists, and celebrities.
Sri Lanka’s first ever participation at Arab Health Exhibition and Congress, held in Dubai-UAE, was organized by the EDB in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka Consulate in Dubai, and the SLTPB in January 2019.The participant companies were able to establish business contacts with travel agents and other relevant parties. In another landmark move, the EDB arranged the Sri Lankan Wellness Tourism industry’s inaugural participation at the World Travel Market in the UK during November 2019 in partnership with the Sri Lankan High Commission in the UK.
Developing regulatory standards to the Sri Lankan Indigenous/Ayurveda sector
To position Sri Lanka Ayurveda (including Hela Wedakama) as an international brand, it is necessary to make it clear to the discerning clients that the facilities and treatment are of a high standard. As a leading destination in such a valuable service, Sri Lanka needs to have a strict compliance regime through compulsory registration with the Department of Ayurveda and to be on par with International Health Guidelines. Since 2018, the EDB in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Department of Ayurveda have been taking steps to develop National Standards/Regulations for Ayurveda Private Healthcare Institutions to regulate the industry.
As per this process, the Department of Ayurveda has now developed the ‘Rules and Regulations on Traditional Medicine (Medical Tourism) Institutions’, and it is now in the process of submitting them for the approval of legal draftsman. The regulations and its enforcement are expected to improve the quality of the service provided by Ayurveda Resorts and Wellness Centres in Sri Lanka.
Forming the Sri Lanka Wellness Tourism Association (SLWTA)
Fulfilling a long-felt need, the EDB spearheaded the formation of the SLWTA. The association is made up of more than 50 reputed companies from the Indigenous, Ayurveda practitioners, Western Medicine profession, and others engaged in Wellness Tourism activities such as Ayurveda spas, yoga, spiritual, meditation and joined hands to form the SLWTA. The association is expected to represent their interests with the government as well as the larger stakeholder base notably foreign partners and clients.
Plans for 2021
In association with the relevant government organisations and industry associations, the EDB expects to host a Wellness Tourism Summit in 2021 with the participation of national and international wellness service providers to promote Sri Lanka as a high-quality destination for wellness services internationally. Furthermore, the EDB intends to implement the product development and brand development initiatives proposed by Dr. Franz Linser for the Sri Lanka Wellness Tourism sector in collaboration with the line agencies and funding partners to promote Sri Lanka’s wellness tourism under the brand name ‘Sri Lanka – Body and Mind’.