How can Sri Lanka develop its wellness sector?

Wellness tourism can produce a yield five times higher than the standard tourist. For Sri Lanka, destination authenticity and internal security are paramount for this sector to grow.

Sri Lanka is supportive of wellness tourism, but the sector has remained overshadowed by mainstream segments preoccupied with tapping into the wider travel demand.

Wellness tourism to Sri Lanka was historically confined to Ayurveda and tourism resorts catering to a foreign clientele. While a natural wellness tourism destination, the Sri Lanka Tourism Authority has not heavily promoted this area, except for Ayurveda resorts.

The Sri Lanka Export Development Board (EDB) identified the health/wellness tourism sector as a key focus sector in terms of foreign exchange earnings and as a main sector in the National Export Strategy. The EDB developed a plan of action for wellness tourism that linked Western medical and the indigenous Ayurveda sectors to forge an identity for Sri Lanka as a premier wellness tourism destination. There has been little progress on this plan so far.

There are 6,500 registered Ayurveda practitioners in Sri Lanka, with around twice that number practicing informally in the country’s villages. There are specialised Ayurveda resorts catering almost exclusively to visitors to Sri Lanka. The Department of Ayurveda was set up to establish an authentic legislative framework and concentrate its energies on product development and treatment methodologies.

With the help of international money, EDB paid specialist wellness consultancy Linser Hospitality Institute of Austria for a study on the potential of wellness tourism in Sri Lanka. This suggested that marketing should concentrate on Western European markets that traditionally favour Sri Lanka as a holiday destination. Linser Hospitality was tasked to study the market potential in Europe and help Sri Lanka agencies understand and implement brand positions that should be adopted to address these primary markets. The results of were published in June 2020 and offered to both the EDB and Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA).

The SLTDA has finally showed a strong interest in promoting wellness tourism and is taking this initiative forward. The plan is to promote wellness tourism in overseas markets as well as spearhead the task of capacity building and the essential brand development that will cater to overseas markets.

With global problems, SLTDA has not moved forward. But as a different form of tourism returns, it is now important that it positions the Sri Lanka wellness tourism brand very carefully in its global markets.

Local businesses agree with the idea, but fear that SLTDA will just promote wellness tourism without solving the underlying problems of unauthorised providers, air connectivity, poor infrastructure, and other hindrances.

To compete in an increasingly competitive global wellness market, Sri Lanka will need product development, entrepreneurial investors, new offerings, targeted visitor groups, excellent travel connections, efficient airport procedures, greeting programmes, smooth internal transfers, and authentic but authorised services. Local competitors include Bali, Pattaya, Koh Samui and Kerala.