Tourism plays significant role in economies of many countries. Moreover, tourism industry is the largest employer in the world (Aggarwal, Guglani, & Goel, 2008). On one hand, it requires almost no investment (especially if compared to other industries), and on the other, it brings billions of foreign investment into national budgets. Some countries can provide very specific forms of tourism. India is one of the examples because along with cultural heritage, this country is unique in terms of spiritual background (Craft, 2008). India can be truly considered a yoga centre of the world and the place with the most developed yoga tourism (Yoga Tourism in India, 2010). In recent years, the situation has been changing, and this study focuses on the shifts in the sphere of yoga tourism and on the ways in which they have influenced the overall development of the industry.
Yoga tourism is a part of the health tourism. The importance of this form of tourism is growing all over the world, especially in western countries. There is still no clear distinction between health and wellness tourism, although this study relies on the definition provided by Muller and Kaufmann (2000), according to which wellness tourism is a subset of health tourism.
In the discussion of idea of health tourism, it is essential to define the notion of “wellness tourism”. Wellness as a new attraction has been offered to tourists not so long ago. According to Koncul (2012, p. 527) there are two factors that explain the rise of wellness tourism: WHO health policies of “fitness” and “well-being” and the overall rise of health awareness due to improving education standards.
Europeans have a special attitude to tourism and wellness tourism. According to many authors “spirituality is a core of wellness” (Parashar & Dubey, 2012). This holistic approach has entered western society only in the 20th century, with the United Kingdom being among the leaders in wellness movement. In the UK, the nation-wide campaign in 2006 was aimed at the encouragement of healthy lifestyle. Rising obesity levels were combined with mass disillusionment with traditional medical services (Smith & Puczko, 2010, p. 164). As a result, the UK became the first country in Europe to integrate holistic medical practices into its medical services.
Smith and Puczko (2010) allocate “Yoga and Meditation” within health tourism, wellness subdivision, holistic type. While some 100 years ago holistic medicine was a characteristic element of Oriental cultures, nowadays, the situation has changed. The notions of healthy well-being and lifestyle have taken their place in the set of western values. Currently, more and more attention is paid by people to keeping themselves healthy on a day-to-day basis. Yoga, as spiritual and physical practice, is one of the most popular forms of holistic approach to medicine and wellbeing in western countries.
There are two major destinations for practicing yoga: the well-known South East Asia and the recently developed network of centres in Europe. Each of the destinations has its own advantages and disadvantages and is preferred by different groups of tourists. While India and other Asian states have much longer history of yoga practice, European resorts and retreats offer better service and other conveniences.
Thailand, India, and Singapore are among the most famous destinations for wellness tourism all over the world. Regardless of already being famous, these retreats keep on growing. For example, from 2010 to 2011, the number of foreign tourists in India has grown by almost 1 million, and since 2000 the number of foreign visitors in this country has increased by enormous 140 percent (Kim, Boo, & Kim, 2011). Each year the country welcomes more than 150000 medical tourists, thus wellness is among the prior spheres of India’s tourism.
India has become the main destination for many tourists from the United States offering hundreds if not thousands of centres for studying and practicing yoga (Craft, 2008). There are dozens if not hundreds of centres that have been established primarily for western tourists (Liberman, 2004). India has fully adjusted its infrastructure and 5000-year-long history to the requirements of tourists.
For a long time the main destination of wellness tourism was South-East Asia. But over the past decade the situation has changed significantly, and western retreats also offer wellness options.
Geographically, Europe can be broken into regions in terms of touristic activities. Western (Belgium, Austria, UK, Switzerland, the Netherlands etc.) and southern Europe (Italy, Portugal, Greece, Spain etc.) have holistic and spiritual tourism among the main spheres of their touristic activities. At the same time, northern, central, and eastern Europe have different priorities in the sphere of tourism.
Along with everyday yoga practice, tourists usually require additional recreational activities. According to Liberman (2004), the average yoga tourist dedicates to physical practice only a couple of hours per day, while the rest of time is spent on recreational activities. A study conducted by Kim, Boo, & Kim (2011) shows that such recreational facilities as spa, theme parks, and beauty care facilities increase tourists’ interest by no less than 30%.
Accommodation is very important for western tourists. Liberman (2004) notes that American tourists visiting India or other South East Asian countries prefer to live in their communities and have little contact with local population. Therefore, in many famous yoga retreats there are possibilities to shop familiar products of western civilization and enjoy all benefits of luxurious hotels (Muller & Kaufman, 2000).
Both natural and artificial resources can maximize attractiveness of retreats for tourists. Among natural resources the most important one is availability of pure drinking water (Aggarwal, Guglani, & Goel, 2008). And this is actually a great disadvantage of India, where tourists have to buy at least 1 bottle of water each day, while in the majority of European states tap water is drinkable. Among artificial resources the comfort of a good recreation resort plays an important role in attracting visitors.
Ecology is a significant element of attractiveness of a wellness resort. Kim, Boo, & Kim (2011) state that ecological experience, such as visits to forests and other natural resources nearby the retreat, increases popularity of the place among tourists. Such natural resources as hot springs, underground water or even close vicinity of a sea rapidly increase popularity of a ressort.
Along with the study of yoga itself, practitioners have to follow a number of rules. These include diet (vegetarian, no junk food), lifestyle (healthy, no tobacco or alcohol), but they are not limited to physical regulations. Yoga practitioners and tourists are also required to maintain a particular moral state, such as positive thinking and the ability to live in harmony with nature (Aggarwal, Guglani, & Goel, 2008).
Organizational structure of yoga retreat plays a significant role in its popularization among tourists. A place should have support of local authorities as well as private entities. Moreover, it is essential for a successful yoga tourist centre to have partners in different countries. For example, in the UK, the number of tourist yoga packages for South East Asia has significantly increased, which means that more and more western travellers are visiting India and other countries of the region (Lakshman, 2008). For tourists and especially for those visiting Asia for the first time, it is essential to be sure about the final destination point. Therefore, to be successful yoga retreats need to establish partnerships with tour providers in different countries.
Rapid growth of the role of yoga tourism and holistic tourism in western world have led to the development of new retreats both in traditional destinations for yoga tourists, such as India, and in the western states. While India remains the world centre for yoga practitioners and provides hundreds of retreats of various types, Europe becomes a new destination for yoga tourists. Each of the two destinations has its own strong and weak sides and offers various options for tourists in terms of quality, experience, knowledge etc.
Some countries have taken into consideration the growing role of wellness tourism. For example, Singapore Tourist Board has established Singapore Medicine, which focuses on the provision of tourists with high-quality health services. India Tourist Board has developed a special Ayurveda Yoga travel package, which combines the visit to Tajmahal and yoga practices (Kim, Boo, & Kim, 2011). This option is widely popular among tourists.
Statistics of yoga tourists reflects the overall picture of yoga practitioners. Studies conducted by the Yoga Journal show that more women than men are yoga practitioners. More than 70% of all people involved in regular yoga practice in the United States are women, while only a bit more than 27% are men (Investing in Yoga, 2011). Those practicing yoga show very interesting statistics in terms of age. The majority of practitioners are almost equally distributed in two age groups: 18 to 34 and 35 to 54 (Lakshman, 2008). It means that more than 80% of all people practicing yoga are aged between 18 and 54.
As it was already stated, the primary destination for yoga tourism for the past decades was South East Asia, with India being the main destination of yoga practitioners. The 5000-year-old culture of the country attracts numerous tourists each year (Lyon, 2012). European states, however, have also begun development of holistic retreats. European states attract tourists with the combination of familiar culture, short, and convenient trips and the overall ability to practice yoga in western culture. Moreover, European retreats offer better service quality and help visitors avoid all the discomforts of Indian ashrams.