Overtourism is creating a wellness issue for the world. But wellness tourism could prove to be part of the solution.
That’s the conclusion of the latest report from the Global Wellness Institute, which highlights efforts being made from Croatia to Japan to steer visitors away from popular, highly congested destinations to lesser-traveled "wellness zones" that include both centuries-old and newly developed resorts focused on healthy and outdoor activities.
Such strategies, the report notes, can reduce the pollution, noise and other negative effects on wellness from overtourism while distributing the benefits of economic development across a country.
For example, in Italy, South Tyrol and Emilia-Romagna are actively promoting their wellness features, which the report says may help draw visitors away from the crowds of Venice, Florence and Cinque Terre.
In Dubrovnik, Croatia, leaders hope to lure crowds away from its popular walled old city with creation of a wellness and spa tourism zone in Varazdinske Toplice, which has a centuries-old health tourism tradition.
While Croatia's policies have been reactive, the reports notes, other countries like neighboring Slovenia are working to tackle the threat of overtourism before it becomes an issue.
The country has created four macro-regions to manage tourism flows, three of which are wellness-oriented. One of those is its thermal Pannonian region, known for its healing waters.
In Japan, the report says, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) has been developing new tourism routes with wellness features to coax travelers away from the congested Kyoto-Osaka-Tokyo corridor.
For example, Japan's Dragon Route winds through the Chubu region, which includes historic and cultural sites, natural landscapes such as Mount Fuji, and plenty of hot springs. Additionally, JNTO says the village of Misugi, in Mie Prefecture, is promoting its stargazing, forest bathing and beer baths, or onsens.
Photo Credit: Hinotani Onsen Misugi Resort
Meanwhile, some upscale international brands are also capitalizing on the traditional Japanese spa experience, the report says. Last year, InterContinental Hotels Group opened the ANA InterContinental Beppu Resort & Spa on the southern island of Kyushu, a scenic retreat with more than 2,400 natural springs.
The Lake Biwa Marriott Hotel, located by Japan's largest lake, is also designed as a wellness destination. And the Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono, set to open next year in one of Japan's top ski destinations, will also have a large wellness component, according to the report.
"Tourism professionals must seize on the interest of wellness travelers seeking alternative destinations that provide hyper-local, transformational experiences," the report concludes. "Tourism boards need to shift their focus from promotion to planning and management challenges in order to spread these visitors to alternative areas. Those destinations with a clear, long-term vision are the most likely to achieve sustainable growth and mitigate or prevent overcrowding."