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Leisure Management - Spa & Wellness Association of Africa conference

Event report

Spa & Wellness Association of Africa conference

Lisa Starr shares her highlights from the annual conference of the Spa & Wellness Association of Africa

Lisa Starr, Wynne Business
Wellness and medical tourism in Africa was a focus
Rupert Schmid from Biologique Recherche, a key sponsor

Around 75 government officials, hospitality executives, physicians and spa operators from a dozen African countries convened in the sunny seaside town of Mombasa, Kenya in September for an annual industry conference organised by the Spa & Wellness Association of Africa (SWAA).

With the backdrop of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which outlay a plan of action for planetary health and wellbeing, and Africa adding 2030 and 2063 Agendas which focus on this, the 2019 SWAA conference was dominated by exploring the difference between medical and wellness tourism, and the status of those markets in Africa. “Tourism is on the rise [in Africa] and health is as important as it’s ever been before,” says Elaine Okeke Martin, president of the SWAA’s board of directors.

While defined data is difficult to come by concerning many things African, it would seem that South Africa and Mauritius have more well-developed markets in wellness tourism, but Africa as a continent sees very little inbound medical tourism. Suki Kalirai, a former UK spa industry representative at government level and current spa owner, shared some reasons for the scarcity of medical tourists including a lack of both standards of treatment and supporting regulatory structures, as well as contracts and processes that meet global expectations.

However, progress is being made, and Dr Betty Radier, CEO of the Kenya Tourism Board, explained that ageing populations in advanced economies, urbanisation and an increase in time spent on leisure activities are factors driving health tourism in Kenya.

One issue flagged up by public health specialist Meelan Thondoo is the fact that African countries have enough challenges providing sustainable healthcare for their own communities, and that available funding should go towards that effort.

Having previously held director roles at Six Senses and Anantara, Naim Maadad, CEO of Gates Hospitality, moderated an excellent panel on the intersection between wellness and health tourism. The major theme emerging was that wellness tourism is typically elective and even recreational, while health tourism is often driven by need as well as economic factors.

Meanwhile, medical aesthetics were highlighted to spa operators, including live botox demonstrations. Isabel Roos of Isa Carstens Academy in South Africa explained the current framework of beauty certifications in this part of the sector.

Ancillary workshops engaged African spa operators with practical and actionable education. The well-attended events included two full-day spa management courses in Nairobi and Mombasa delivered by Wynne Business, Wellness for Cancer training delivered by Julie Bach, both sponsored by Biologique Recherche, and LCN nail training sessions.

The overall takeaway is that SWAA continues to bring high-quality educational and networking experiences to the spa and wellness operators in Africa.

Lisa Starr

Lisa Starr is a senior spa consultant and trainer at Wynne Business
[email protected]

Originally published in Spa Business 2019 issue 4
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06 Apr 2020 issue 153

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