The UNWTO Conference on Education and Skills in Medical and Wellbeing Tourism, held in Sofia, Bulgaria, shed light on the immense possibilities offered by health and wellbeing tourism. Leaders from the public and private sectors convened to discuss the coordination, investments, and skilled workforce required to fully realize its potential.
Health and Wellbeing Tourism: Growing in Size and Relevance
Organized within the framework of the 68th Regional Commission for Europe, the conference emphasized the expanding significance of health and wellbeing tourism as a key driver of growth and opportunity.
The conference was inaugurated by UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili and Ilin Dimitrov, Minister of Tourism for Bulgaria, who commended Bulgaria’s recognition of the potential of health tourism for economic diversification.
Diverse Participation Reflecting Growing Importance
The conference witnessed the participation of Deputy Ministers from Georgia and Lithuania, esteemed government representatives from Czechia and Ukraine, the Vice-Chair of the TRAN Committee of the European Parliament, leaders of the European Spa Association, expert academics, and prominent figures from leading business groups. Reflecting the global relevance of this tourism segment, participants also joined from China and the United States.
Health Tourism: A Catalyst for Diversification and Job Creation
Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili emphasized, “Health tourism helps destinations diversify, creating jobs, supporting businesses, and extending these benefits to rural communities. However, this sector heavily relies on skilled workers. As tourists’ expectations rise, so too must the level of service destinations can provide.”
Key Challenges: Education and Skills
Aligned with UNWTO’s overarching priorities for the sector, the conference focused on the vital role of education and training in health and wellbeing tourism.
Expert inputs from leading academics and private sector stakeholders were shared during a panel discussion. Key takeaways included the importance of making training attractive, accessible, and empowering to encourage workers to return to the sector following the personnel loss during the pandemic. Speakers also stressed the need for government support, particularly in investing in health and wellbeing infrastructure and training personnel.
UNWTO’s Leading Role in Advancing Tourism Education
UNWTO updated participants on its significant contributions to tourism education, including the establishment of the first Undergraduate Degree in Sustainable Tourism Management and innovation competitions aimed at identifying and supporting new talent. Acknowledging the growing importance of health tourism globally, UNWTO is committed to addressing cultural and regional differences, implementing regulatory and ethical measures, measuring the impact of health tourism, promoting investments and cooperation, ensuring harmonized data collection, considering technological advances, fostering public-private collaboration, and generating knowledge at the intersection of tourism and health.
Masterclass Empowering National Tourism Stakeholders
To conclude the conference, national stakeholders benefited from a Masterclass focused on identifying the unique selling point of destinations, with Czechia and Slovenia showcased as successful examples of marketing strategies. The Masterclass was followed by an interactive discussion.
Health, Travel & Tourism in the Global Context
In the broader context of health and tourism, UNWTO has collaborated closely with the World Health Organization to coordinate measures and messaging throughout the pandemic. Recognizing the profound interconnection between health, travel, and tourism in today’s globalized world, UNWTO is establishing the UNWTO Global Working Group on Health and Travel & Tourism. This initiative aims to learn from the COVID crisis, enhance resilience within the travel and tourism sector, and ensure preparedness for future challenges.
The UNWTO Conference on Education and Skills in Medical and Wellbeing Tourism has shed light on the immense potential of health and wellbeing tourism in Europe. By addressing challenges, investing in education and infrastructure, and fostering collaboration, destinations can unlock the remarkable benefits of this growing segment. As health, travel, and tourism continue to intertwine, the path to success lies in embracing innovation, promoting sustainable practices, and ensuring the well-being of travelers and communities alike.