Honeymooners have been flocking here for decades, we’ve landed on world’s top dive spot lists a dozen times over. We also seem to be popular with chill-outers and surfers. But, how about the Maldives as a wellness destination? That’s what we are exploring in our cover feature this time.This article first appeared in our print Issue No. 4.

The perfect setting

“Where else in the world has this natural resource and setting available? You are on an island where you simply cannot run away to the next city to distract yourself,” says Renate Hermes, co-owner of Duniye Spa.  

Yes, the current one resort on one island tourism concept really doesn’t allow guests much of a chance of escaping anywhere. Rather, by choice or by coincidence, they spend their vacations here amidst the idyllic natural splendour the Maldives is famous for. And according to Jesper Hougaard, managing director of Serna Spa, this itself is something that allows guests the time to focus on their wellbeing. 

“Wellness is about being in balance with yourself; understanding yourself. And one of the wonderful things about the Maldives is you have nothing but time to get to know yourself,” he says. 

Aishath Zulfishan, spa manager at Huvafen Fushi Resort’s Huvafen Spa & Pearl, agrees with Jesper on his sentiments about time. But she furthermore emphasizes the influence Maldives’ natural environment can have on people.  

“These islands offer such beauty and peace, and the ocean has such a positive effect on people – it’s difficult not to feel the effect of simply being here – so the spa works alongside nature,” she explains.

A brief look at stats

So, we’ve already established that we have the ideal natural setting for a wellness destination, but in order to explore the topic further, we are going to have a brief look at some numbers so that we can think about this with some perspective. 

The global wellness industry is a $3.7 trillion market according to the Global Wellness Institute, and from this, wellness tourism accounts for $563 billion. These figures are from a research conducted by the institute from 2013 to 2015 and during that period, wellness tourism revenues grew by 14 per cent and that happened to be twice as fast as overall tourism. 

And here’s the most exciting thing about this; it doesn’t look like this boom in wellness tourism is going to slow down anytime soon as the institute predicts wellness tourism to grow to become a more than $800 billion industry by 2020.

So, what does this mean?

It means wellness is a thing of hype these days. It means people are more aware of their own responsibility in taking care of their own wellbeing and that people are increasingly looking for ways to incorporate elements of wellness into their vacations.  

With all these taking place, it might be safe to assume a property would struggle somewhat these days to market itself without a wellness offering of some sort. And as Renate puts it, “as people increasingly look for beyond the traditional honeymoon, or dive, or the chill-out experience on the island, I would say, particularly for this destination, without a spa or wellness facilities, a resort would definitely miss a significant market segment.”

How are we doing?

There’s definitely no shortage of spas here in the Maldives; there’s probably one on every resort here, some quite spectacularly notable such as Huvafen Fushi’s underwater spa, Pearl, the first and only one of its kind in the world.  

But with all this growth in wellness tourism, just having a spa doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Throughout the conversations we’ve had so far with spa operators and hospitality professionals for this issue of Hotel Insider, a sentiment we’ve heard repeatedly is the need for wellness to extend beyond the traditional spa concept. This need has been described as quite necessary, if we are to keep up with this wellness tourism boom.  

With rounded approaches and well thought out concepts, we are seeing more and more resorts doing exactly this, and Soneva Fushi, with its overall holistic concept, could be considered a great example of a resort here in the Maldives that’s taking wellness way beyond the spa.  

Another is COMO Cocoa Island. And the fact the resort’s spa COMO Shambala Retreat occupies half the resort’s premise is indicative of how central a role wellness plays at COMO properties. At their retreat, treatments lasts over days, and in addition to yoga and therapies, their treatments extend to nutrition as well, so that guests receive a truly holistic experience. “There are lots of guests who come here precisely for our ‘COMO Shambhala paths’,” says general manager Benjamin Kreuz, confirming to us that wellness offerings really do positively impact bookings. Also, Kreuz mentions that 16 per cent of guests enjoy the wellness facilities on the property during their stay.

Should we focus on wellness retreats?

We have yet to see a property here that’s solely focused on wellness. However, if the Maldives is to establish itself as a wellness destination, having such properties here might be the next logical step. 

“I think there’s an opportunity there, the Maldives doesn’t have a property focussed solely on wellness as of yet. It’s a combined destination; people come here for relaxation, the beach and water-based activities. But certain properties, like ours, and places like Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, have a strong spa concept, which is well established. And I think you can see immense potential if you look at the spa awards the Maldives has received over the years. So yes, wellness retreats in the Maldives are worth exploring.” Says Benjamin.  

Renate agrees with Benjamin on this opportunity. “I believe we should have that and I also think it should be done really, really well. It’s not so much about being upmarket but more about having a clear concept that is comprehensive. For example it could focus on mental health, women’s health, women and men in transition, mindfulness for children, positive aging, personal transformative retreats, post surgery treatments, energy medicine; there’s so much that for a destination resort that covers all these, there’s a huge potential,” she says.

So, how far off are we?

“I honestly think Maldives is already a wellness destination,” says Jesper. Along with the resorts in the Maldives being blessed with a naturally ideal wellness setting, Jesper believes many other elements are in place too, including environmental conservation efforts such as the decrease in use of plastic bottles on resorts, wellness concepts extending to areas such as resort construction, F&B and staff management, as well as Maldives’ sustainable method of pole and line fishing that can be promoted as part of wellness. “All these elements are already here in the Maldives and it’s just a matter of getting it together and portraying ourselves differently than how we do today; it’s a matter of defining it, marketing it and also refining it at the individual resorts,” Jesper says.  

Perhaps it really is a matter of refining it and defining it. However way, looking back at all the interviews we did for this feature, one thing that requires another mention is really the beautiful natural environment of the Maldives, which everyone agrees, allows the Maldives to offer something truly unique when it comes to wellness.