another publication by IMAGE asia

The wellness boom

The growing popularity of wellness as both a holistic concept and a destination-based vacation activity is astounding – and Phuket is right up there when it comes to meeting the wellness demands of tourists and locals alike.

Going back only 15 years or so, the nearest things Phuket had to ‘wellness destinations’ were very basic herbal saunas, offering no-frills steam and traditional massage and – if you were lucky – cold drinks consumed on plastic garden chairs.

Phuket has come a long way since then!

Whichever corner of the wellness ‘market’ you look at, Phuket can cater for it – and isn’t a tropical paradise far better placed to pursue inner and outer wellness than less captivating, and more frenetic, urban destinations?

There’s no shortage of options in Phuket today, and the range of facilities and associated products seems to expand in the blink of an eye. Facilities ranging from yoga salas, meditation resorts, detoxing programmes, fitness centres, spas – and the latest trend to improve your body from the inside out, the vegetarian-cum-juice resort.

If you’re looking for a more ‘hardcore’ form of wellness, you’ll find a bewildering array of different venues offering training in Thailand’s national sport aimed at strengthening and controlling your body: Muay Thai. One inescapable fact is that Phuket’s wellness offerings are world class – whether we’re talking martial arts, more ‘standard’ fitness training, hospital-based offerings, natural products or wellness resorts. And, in expat Phuket 2015, if you haven’t got your very own personal fitness trainer on call and a juicer in the kitchen cupboard, you haven’t arrived.

Phuket enjoys many advantages as a wellness destination, advantages that put it in the forefront of the challengers for international market share.

Formerly known primarily for its great beaches and naughty nightlife, Phuket has grown up and smart travellers are now coming for a good balance of healthy fun and relaxation and are ripe for the temptation of a wellness experience – whether that means a residential detox, a meditation course, Muay Thai lessons, dental treatment or cosmetic surgical body adjustment.

With everyone from small shop-house based ‘traditional’ spas to organic juice purveyors getting in on the act, there’s no doubt that the leader in the field in Phuket – indeed a global leader – is Thanyaphura. Thanyapura started life as an international school, quickly became the biggest and most advanced sporting facility in the region and now encompasses wellness on a mind-blowing scale. The stated aim of their health gurus is to “…help people globally maintain their youth and stay healthy, to improve their vitality and performance and to accompany them through their life while guiding them on the path of well-being, anti-aging, prevention, regeneration and healing… “ Whew! And that’s just the body. What about the mind?

The Thanyapura Mind Centre “…is at the forefront of the global movement seeking to bring the benefits of mental training into the modern mainstream,” it says on the website, adding that it “…brings the ancient contemplative practices together with rigorous modern scientific methods, including neuroscience and psychology.” 

This is all well and good, but what about all the other, smaller and diverse ‘mind and body’ businesses on Phuket? There’s no doubt that Phuket – with its tropical climate and easy-going way of life, combined with relatively well-developed infrastructure – is the perfect place both to operate a wellness business and to come for a dose of holiday wellness.

But, with a handful of notable exceptions, Phuket seems to be selling itself short. When businesses here lift their heads up and compete on the world stage, success often follows. Witness Phuket-based Lemongrass, makers of spa and beauty products. From very humble beginnings, they now have 40 retail outlets in 11 countries and have a thriving export business. Or Phuket International Hospital, who have their internationally peripatetic ambassador for surgical body enhancements filling beds wherever he goes.

Phuket needs to invest in coherent marketing and advertising strategies to draw attention to its world-class wellness capability. It needs to target potential wellness travellers at point of origin, to make visitors already with us aware of what they can take advantage of while they’re here – and to educate the island’s wealthy Thai and expatriate community on enhancing its overall wellness.

The traditional (and not-so-traditional) spas of Phuket enjoy a long-standing reputation. Phuket has been offering unique and traditional treatments, including herbs, steam and massage, as far back as 1767, when monks played a strong role. Phuket should now find ways to capitalise on that existing reputation and lure people to our island in search of more than just a beach holiday... or a shopping excursion.

  Photo gallery : The wellness boom