Part II: Focus on Africa and the Latin America and Caribbean region

Gregg Rockett, Lecturer in Management and Tourism Studies, The George Washington University – School of Business.

David Nitkiewicz, Graduate Student, The George Washington University – School of Business, Masters in Tourism Administration Program.

Melina Economos, Graduate Student, The George Washington University – School of Business, Masters in Tourism Administration Program.

Contributing to the research were students of The George Washington University – School of Business: Manahil Alkhatrawi, Emily Baxter, Hiroshi Kandori, Aswathi Krishnan and Yusuke Tsuda.  The authors acknowledge contributions from Mia Kyricos, an industry thought leader on health and wellness tourism.


Part one of this article provided background on the global market for health and wellness tourism and included a focus on the health and wellness eco-system in the Asia Pacific region.  This second article expands the focus to include Africa and the Latin American and Caribbean Region.  In terms of health and wellness tourism, both regions are decidedly less developed than Asia Pacific, which has four times as many trips and three-and-a-half times the expenditures of the two regions taken together[1].  But a 2018 report by the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) identified both Africa and the Latin America / Caribbean region as having prospects for growth higher than the global average over the period 2017-2022 (pre-pandemic estimates).

A Focus on Africa

Africa is full of complex inner relationships, with major shifts in religion, language, culture, politics and socioeconomic trends from country to country.  However, the emerging wellness tourism market may well become a driver of greater economic and social cohesion. The 2018 GWI report on global health and wellness bifurcates Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa and consolidates the latter into Middle East-North Africa (MENA), so some of the statistics identified to this article will also encompass travel in the Middle East. In terms of the contribution to the global market for health and wellness tourism, the consolidated region of MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa had only 2.0% of total wellness travel in 2017 (and 2.4% of expenditures), but together was projected to grow between 11 and 12 percent over the period 2017 to 2022 (pre-pandemic estimates). The 2018 GWI report also expected that wellness tourism in this region would grow 50 percent faster than the rest of the tourism industry over that five-year period.

Africa combines rich nature and meditative beauty, with authentic, regionally diverse wellness trends, creating a uniquely African wellness experience. In this regard, the countries that are most actively promoting health and wellness tourism in the region at a national level include South Africa, Morocco and Egypt.  These countries have a varied offering that appeals to psychographic ‘tribes’, such as the adventure-seeker and the spirit-seeker[2], from ‘mindfulness on safari’ in South Africa, to black sand baths in Egypt.

The Importance of Health and Wellness Tourism in Africa

The research contained in the 2018 GWI report indicates that the combined regions of MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa are not presently a meaningful contributor to the global market for health and wellness tourism, with on a 2.0% share of the travel and a 2.4% share of the expenditures.  However, the region has the second-best growth prospects globally (after China) with 11 – 12 percent growth in expenditures projected from 2017 to 2022 (pre-pandemic estimates).

In terms of number of trips, Morocco leads all countries in the MENA region with 2.8 million trips, roughly half of which represent international arrivals.  Average expenditure, however, is at the low end of the average for Middle Eastern countries.  South Africa dominates the health and wellness travel market in Sub-Sahara Africa with 2.5 times the number of trips relative to the other countries that comprise the top ten in the region.  At two-thirds of trips, domestic travel dominates the number of health and wellness trips in South Africa, but for the other nine countries in the top ten, inbound international visits represent 75% of the health and wellness travel.

A number of countries within Sub-Saharan Africa have some of the highest average spend per inbound trip outside of those in Asia, with exotic destinations such as the Seychelles leading the region with an average spend of $2,679 per international visitor, followed by Madagascar, Kenya, Mauritius and Tanzania.

The economic analysis report, “Shifting Market Frontiers: Africa Rising,” establishes 20 emerging trends, many of which point to the prospect for a boom in health and wellness tourism within Africa, including: healthy living, ethical living, a move towards “connected” customers, and a focus on middle tiered retreats and experiences. In combination with a shift to health consciousness, Africa is also projected to have exceptional growth in the middle-class market, with the highest disposable income globally at 9% CAGR by 2030[3].

Countries Actively Promoting Health and Wellness Tourism

Africa has been notoriously difficult for North American tourists to visit, but as direct flights increase, so does new demand potential in African tourism. This new ease of access is changing the traveler demographics; a trip to Africa is no longer just a luxury or once-in-a-lifetime experience[4]. Africa combines rich nature and meditative beauty with authentic, regionally diverse wellness trends, creating a uniquely African wellness experience. Currently South Africa, Morocco and Egypt are prominent at the national level in their promotion of health and wellness tourism to their respective countries.

According to the 2018 GWI report, South Africa is actively looking to diversify a saturated safari segment with wellness aspects comprising ‘mindfulness safaris,’ ‘yoga in the wilderness,’ and ‘body treatments in the bush’.  These wellness excursions combine the traditional safari with activities such as exercise, yoga, meditation, and spa treatments. South Africa is the only Sub-Saharan country with a well-developed spa industry, which primarily caters to domestic visitors. Cities of specific wellness interest include Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth.

As it relates to health and wellness tourism promotion among the countries of North Africa, Morocco is leading the way in digital accessibility, setting a high bar in terms of best practice with a media-rich website that is easy to navigate.  Morocco also has a national strategy as it relates to promotion of the segment and has targeted the health and wellness travel segment for national investment promotion, with a focus on sand baths, mineral baths and traditional Hammams, this latter asset features prominently in the national campaign.  The Hammam can be directly translated to “bath house”, which is a popular middle eastern style of steam bath using local products such as Ghassoul (mineral clay), black soap, rose water, green clay and other herbs.

Wellness tourism in Egypt tends to be folded into medical tourism, although the government has earmarked efforts to promote investments in wellness resorts, with an emphasis on therapeutic tourism that features spas, mineral waters and hot springs.

The sand baths and hot springs in the Siwa Oasis are located in the Western Desert and are one of the most important therapeutic wellness assets in Egypt. Siwa Oasis promotes itself as “the Oasis of beauty, poetry and the paradise of artists”, where visitors experience unpolluted natural weather, sulfur hot springs and hot sands.  Located near the Red Sea are the black sands of the Safaga, which promote the use of three radioactive minerals – Uranium, Thorium and Potassium – in the treatment of certain ailments.

Prospects for Various Psychographic ‘Tribes’ in the Region

Understanding demand segmentation through psychographics can give a more colorful view of consumers’ drives, from traveling to purchase motivation. For example, the adventure-seeker is open to new and unique experiences that may be far from their typical comfort zone, such as being buried in a hot sand bath. The Moroccan website, for example, describes many options for the thrill-seekers, but honestly could fit multiple psychographics. From food exploration, to leisure beach trips, to adventure safaris, Morocco definitely stands out as a diverse, inspirational location that broadly appeals to many ‘tribes’.

Spirit seekers are looking to connect mind, body and spirit through authentic communion and a deeper connection; to nature, to themselves and to a higher power. The many types of soul-fulfilling experiences offered in South Africa, Morocco and Egypt will appeal to this particular psychographic.

A Focus on the Latin America and Caribbean Region

According to the GWI, the Latin America / Caribbean region is the fourth largest region in terms of overall estimated expenditures on wellness tourism and was projected to grow by 9.5% over the period 2017 to 2022 (pre-pandemic estimates), which exceeds the 7.5% growth projected globally over the same period.

This sector of the tourism market is important to the Latin America / Caribbean region and Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica have each appealed to visitors seeking the benefits of a vacation focused on health and wellness. The region collectively provides opportunities for rediscovering nature and natural resources, disconnecting through spiritual rituals and meditation and activities to raise consciousness of the need for environmental sustainability.[5]

A common distinction among the destinations for health and wellness tourism in the region is a focus on the adventure-seekers[6] who wish to explore the myriad offering of eco-friendly environments in the region, particularly technology-enabled millennials looking for authentic experiences.

The Importance of Health and Wellness Tourism in the Latin America and Caribbean Region

The Latin American / Caribbean region is an emerging contributor to the global market health and wellness tourism.  According to the GWI, the region ranked fourth globally in total wellness expenditures in 2017 at $34.8 billion, which represented a little more than a 5% share of the global market. The region’s 59.1 million trips in 2017 was a slightly greater 7% share of wellness trips taken globally.

The 2018 GWI report identifies Mexico as by far the largest in the region in terms of number of wellness trips (18.7 million) as well as expenditures (12.8 billion), but this is dominated by domestic trips at an average spend that is among the lowest in the region. Mexico is also the largest market for inbound international wellness tourists by an overwhelming margin, with nearly twice the number of inbound wellness tourists of the other nine countries that round out the top ten in the region.  After Mexico, inbound wellness tourism is most robust to Chile, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.  Spending per wellness trip by international travelers is greatest in Costa Rica, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. The expenditures by international tourists on a wellness trip in these countries outstrip regular international tourist spending by 40-60% on average.

According to the GWI report, only Mexico and Brazil feature among the top twenty countries in terms of number of wellness trips.  However, Mexico and Chile feature among the top ten growth markets over the period 2015 and 2017, with growth rates of 10% and 29% respectively.  The Latin American / Caribbean region as a whole was projected by GWI to experience 9.5% growth in wellness tourism over the period 2017 to 2022 (pre-pandemic estimates) versus a 7.5% growth rate globally.

Countries actively promoting health and wellness tourism

The abundance of natural and cultural attractions, indigenous heritage, and ecologically diverse environments has facilitated increased focus by tourism promotion authorities to encourage wellness tourism to the region.  Standouts in the marketing of health and wellness tourism to the region include Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

Costa Rica has branded itself as a country of wellness, with special attention to the wellbeing of the people and the protection of its natural environment and cultural heritage. It has recently expanded the national promotional slogan on its website to “Wellness Pura Vida” and is working on a long-term strategy to develop seven areas of the country around their unique wellness tourism assets.  The focus on wellness is in raising the awareness of the unique biodiversity of the country and the prospects for interacting with the environment through trekking, forest baths: and earthing (barefoot walks on the earth/sand). In Costa Rica, visitors can harness the water resources and let positive energy flow throughout their bodies through hydrotherapy and hot springs or experience innovative relaxation techniques such as body wraps, in which volcanic mud, coffee, tropical fruits and chocolate are used to moisturize your skin.

Among the more prominent health and wellness destinations in Costa Rica are Nicoya and Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula in the northwest, where yoga classes and activities such as forest hiking, surfing, and horseback riding are offered[7].  In Guanacaste around the Miravalles volcano is Rio Perdio, which offers hiking in the protected forest, a geothermally heated river as a natural pool and volcanic mud bodypainting, as well as yoga and meditation classes.

The Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism has been active in the health and wellness tourism sector led by their promotion of an environment suitable for mindfulness, meditation, and yoga. The country’s picturesque waterfalls and mountains provide a breathtaking backdrop to the tranquility of a beachside yoga retreat. Yoga and meditation retreats offered in the seaside accommodations combined with activities that explore the biodiversity of the country are featured on a popular website,  Extensive spa treatments are a feature of beach resorts in Punta Cana and waterfront yoga classes a highlight of resorts in Puerto Plata.  Also in Puerto Plata is Natura Cabana, a resort that offers scientific health improvement programs such as Integrative Nutrition Consultation and outdoor exercise programs in a gym made of natural materials.

The Jamaican government promotes health and wellness tourism with a goal of transforming Jamaica into a regional health hub and by extension, developing the country’s health tourism market. Jamaica’s Vision 2030 has identified health and wellness tourism as essential to the diversification of the country’s tourism product. The Jamaica Promotions Corporations (JAMPRO) reported that wellness tourism also has synergies with other niche segments that are found in Jamaica such as sports tourism like the Reggae Marathon, ecotourism like the Black River Safari, and cultural tourism and culinary tourism such as the Jerk Festival.

Jamaica is home to a variety of natural spas that visitors have been experiencing for centuries. In the towns of Bath, Kingston and Milk River, travelers can experience mineral baths with a variety of therapeutic properties.  The outdoor bush bath is a traditional healing method in Jamaican culture that utilizes a variety of fresh herbs, roots, leaves and fruits, steeped in a running bath. On Negril, visitors can experience the Watsu treatment which combines the use of water with the principles of shiatsu to create a nurturing form of bodywork.

Appeal of the Region for Adventurists

A common thread among the aforementioned travel destinations is a focus on the natural assets in the promotion of health and wellness tourism prospects in each country. For the adventure-seeker the prospects are endless, from hiking or zip-lining in natural rainforests, to ecotours in richly biodiverse environs, the region has much promise for this psychographic tribe.

As it relates to the regional travel market, the Expedia Group identified millennials as taking more trips per year than any other generational demographic category in Latin America, characterizing them as embracing the “you only live once”, or YOLO, mentality while looking for places where they can explore outdoors and be active.[8]

According to a recent Skift Research piece[9], the millennial mindset while on travel prioritizes technology enablement and authenticity of the experience.  This traveler embodies the adventure-seeker psychographic which makes this tribe an ideal fit for the Latin America / Caribbean region.

[1] Global Wellness Institute. (2018). Health and Wellness Tourism Economy.
[2] M. Kyricos in personal communication
[3] Euromonitor International. (2018). Shifting Market Frontiers Megatrend: Africa Rising.
[4] Nagy, C. (2019, January 2). Courting a New Generation of Safari Goers. Skift
[5] Stone, Dawna. (2021, January 12). Top 5 Wellness Trends for 2021. Wellness Journal by Vacayou.
[6] M. Kyricos in personal communication
[7] Mayo, S. (2018, July 6). 7 Top Costa Rica Wellness Resorts & Retreats. Costa Rica Experts.
[8] Expedia Group Media Solutions. (2019). Latin America Multi-generational Travel and Tourism Trends.
[9] Oates, G. (2014, Jan). The Rise of the Millennial Traveler. Skift Research