Jordan blazes a trail in wellness tourism

The Dead Sea ... the largest natural spa in the world

Jordan has been identified as one of the world’s leading wellness tourism 'trailblazers'.

The kingdom, home to the therapeutic Dead Sea, was one of three destinations highlighted as an international example of wellness tourism excellence at the World Travel Market (WTM) held in London in November 2015.

'Jordan is a small country, but it has a lot to offer in terms of the experiences we can give visitors and wellness tourism is high on our agenda,' said Dr Abed Al Razzaq Issam Arabiyat, managing director of the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB).

'And we have a unique selling point – the Dead Sea – which is the largest natural spa in the world, 420 m below the sea level and with an oxygen concentration that is 10 per cent higher than anywhere else on Earth.

'We have the product and we have the experience and we are investing more than $3.5 billion in infrastructure around the Dead Sea in order to further enhance its appeal.'

Arabiyat described the Dead Sea as 'Jordan’s success story'.

'The minerals and salt in the water can alleviate skin diseases and promote relaxation,' he said. 'It’s also now considered one of the best places to do meditation.'

Arabiyat also highlighted Jordan’s thermal waterfalls at Ma’in, which were becoming increasingly popular with patients seeking wellness experiences.

Located in the hills above the Dead Sea, the most famous thermal spring is at Wadi Zarqa Ma’in where water ranging in temperature from 45 deg C to 60 deg C tumbles off the hillside in a series of waterfalls and is collected in a variety of pools for public bathing. The water contains health-promoting properties including potassium, magnesium and calcium.

The Dead Sea and Ma’in springs are becoming increasingly popular destinations for Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) groups, Arabiyat revealed. 'Corporate groups visit for a meeting, conference or workshop and extend their stay to experience the Dead Sea,' he said.

'It’s the best place to send your employees if you want them to develop something new because the oxygen levels promote creativity.'

While the JTB is looking to further develop, refine and promote Jordan’s rich wellness tourism assets, Arabiyat said the plan was to create packages that combined two or three experiences indigenous to the country.

'For example, visitors can meditate at Wadi Rum where they experience local Bedouin food and then head to the Dead Sea for wellness treatments and to simply float,' he said.

Packages combining excursions to religious and historical sites were also being developed, he added.

Arabiyat was speaking as part of WTM’s panel session entitled ‘The Trailblazers of Wellness Tourism’.

Another panellist at this session, Elisabeth Ixmeier, co-founder of Healing Hotels of the World, revealed how in a first for Saudi Arabia, a wellness resort in the kingdom had become one of the entity’s newest members.

The women-only Luthan Hotel & Spa in Riyadh is a wellness sanctuary described as 'the first of its kind in the Middle East'. It’s a purpose-built facility committed to holistic living – a concept that’s becoming increasingly popular globally, said Ixmeier.

'The spa and health movement is not just physical, it’s mental – it’s holistic,' she said. 'I see it as a global movement for the betterment of the world.'

The wellness tourism market drives $2 billion in revenue and 10 million overnights annually, she said.

'A third of overnights are coming from the wellness sector, so it’s incredibly important to the tourism economy,' Ixmeier added. 'In fact wellness tourism is growing 50 times the rate of general tourism, so the opportunities to develop this sector are seismic.'

Fellow panellists included Eva Stravs Podlogar, head of the Directorate for Tourism and Internationalisation, Slovenia, who revealed the country’s tourism slogan ‘I feel Slovenia’ was designed with the spa and wellness market in mind.

'I feel Slovenia, I feel love – wellness and wellbeing is about loving yourself,' she said.

Slovenia boasts 14 spa resorts and delivers a significant proportion of the country’s overnights. The country is home to natural thermal waters, while one of its most popular treatments uses local honeybee products.

Finland was also represented on the panel and the country’s tourism product specialist, Liisa Renfors, explained how sauna tours of the country were taking off.

'It’s a sauna bathing spree, involving visits to nine different saunas where you can experience a wide range of treatments, from acupuncture to traditional Finnish massages,' she said.

Finland has also developed a brand to promote its strong wellness offering, called ‘Fin Relax’, which focuses on four different themes – sauna, water, nature and forest.

Renfors said one of the most sought-after wellness experiences was a forest cottage break with sauna, massage and outdoor pursuits in peaceful surroundings.

All panelists agreed that activities and sports were now integral to a wellness package given exercise promotes wellbeing.

From woodland walks in Finland to hiking in Jordan’s Wadi Rum and Petra’s mountains, the wellness ‘trailblazers’ could offer it all, the session concluded. 

By Gemma Greenwood