In 2018, the Global Wellness Institute published a report on the wellness economy in every part of the world, including the Middle East and North Africa.
The report indicated that global spending on wellness had increased from $3.7 trillion to $4.2 trillion between 2015 and 2017 — an annual increase of 6.4 percent, almost double the growth of the global economy. Global spend in 2017 included $360 billion on complementary and alternative medicine; $639 billion on health tourism; $595 billion on manual and mental therapies; $119 billion on health resorts; and $56.7 billion on the thermal and mineral springs industry.
Spend on health resorts in the MENA region came to $2.8 billion in 2017. Saudi Arabia ranked second in MENA in this sector, with income of $347 million from 510 establishments employing about 9,298 people.
Over the same period, the MENA region received $10.7 billion from health tourism — one of the world’s fastest-growing industries — from 11 million trips. The Kingdom ranked sixth in the region with 700,000 trips and a profit of $492 million.
Saudi Arabia was also second in the MENA region for workplace wellness and health programs, covering 2.5 million workers at $286 million.
When it comes to complementary medicine as a curative and preventive sector, according to the WHO’s Strategy for Traditional and Complementary Medicine (2014-2023), there is an increasing global demand for these products and practices. The complementary medicine sector plays a prominent role in the economic development of several countries worldwide, and the use of complementary medicine in health care may result in an actual reduction in its costs.
As this data shows, the wellness industry and complementary medicine can play an influential role in boosting the economy in line with Saudi Vision 2030.
Due to the Kingdom’s enjoyment of natural wealth and the necessary resources, there are several initiatives that can have a significant effect on the industry’s growth. Feasibility studies are being made available to investors to simplify procedures and draw more national and international investment to complementary medicine, which boosts the economy and adds thousands of new job opportunities.
Increasing scholarships and complementary medicine education will allow Saudis to ensure the Kingdom plays a leading role in medical education, especially in complementary medicine.
By encouraging investment in health — or wellness — tourism resorts, it is hoped that the Kingdom will eventually rank first in the region in the sector. The goal of 2 million visits within three years has been met, thanks to cooperation between the relevant authorities.
There is also work ongoing to catalogue the Kingdom’s natural wealth of medicinal plants — with an inventory of their various uses — as well as to make them available to the world through the establishment of the largest factory for the manufacture of herbal products in the region. Both China and India have proven how important homegrown medicinal products can be to the economy, so this sector could provide thousands of new jobs and a significant source of income for the Kingdom.
Interest in natural products has only increased since 2017. So too has public awareness of the benefits of following a healthy lifestyle. Interest from investors is increasing, as is spending on natural products and alternative health services. So the future is bright for the wellness and complementary medicine industry, even after the COVID-19 pandemic.
* Saad Majdy Baslom is a highly experienced director with over 10 years of leadership and specialist experience in complementary medicine. Baslom holds a doctorate in traditional Chinese medicine, a master’s in Chinese herbology, and a master’s in acupuncture.