Wellness has rapidly ascended to near-buzzword status over the past decade. To give you some perspective, The Global Wellness Institute’s 2021 report states that the wellness economy represented 5.1% of global economic output in 2020.
When you consider the restrictions of that year you can clearly see that this industry is thriving. NielsonIQ even found that 48% of global consumers make proactive health and wellness choices on a regular basis – that’s huge.
But ‘wellness’ is a very broad term – so what specific trends in each of its primary sub-sectors are driving the market’s overall success?
What is the business of wellness?
The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as ‘The active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health’.
Being alone at home during Covid became a time for many to be introspective, thinking about their lives, work, family, and relationships. People, for the first time in history, had a genuine moment of reflection on what was most important to them – and the answer for many was their wellness. This is what has truly sparked the growth of this industry, and within the UAE and Dubai a number of technologies and innovations are fast turning it into a booming sector – creating huge opportunities for businesses.
Unsurprisingly, there is a lot to unpack there. But for us, when we think about the possibilities for businesses, there are three distinct markets to focus on: nutrition, mental health, and physical health. We’re going to run through each segment, touching on companies from the UAE that are leading the charge on wellness.
On top of that, we’re going to look at something that combines all three into a truly nascent sector – wellness tourism.
Awareness of best body practices is on the increase as a slew of social media influencers draw attention to the importance of a good diet when it comes to self-care. While many of the motivations behind eating healthy could be considered shallow, the health benefits are clear – with increased lifespans sitting right at the top.
The health and nutrition platform Countd has developed a comprehensive strategy for addressing nutritional deficiencies and helping people achieve their health goals. It does this by offering users a platform where they can source fresh, healthy food in accordance with a tailored meal plan that matches the goals a person sets out. The Countd platform offers comprehensive meal planning but also a huge amount of educational resources on nutrition and general wellness.
The pandemic has put mental health in the spotlight. Mental health issues have seen a surge as isolation has left many people feeling trapped and secluded. Also, the improved understanding of mental health in the general medical community, along with the public consciousness, means that more and more adults are wanting to treat problems they’re only now able to put a name to.
Safe Space, started and now headquartered in Dubai, is a cutting-edge supplier of mental health and wellbeing services, and it provides businesses with a secure environment for open discussions, education about the mental health and wellbeing of staff, as well sessions with licensed therapists and counselors.
It has a subscription model that businesses can use to scale how they roll out their employee wellbeing programs. Safe Space also gives free access to the platform to a user for each subscription purchased. The idea is that everyone has the right to good mental health.
Many of us now rely on wearable tech like smartwatches and sleep trackers to improve our health, fitness, and overall wellbeing. This trend is set to continue as devices become more powerful, and cheaper, and integrate into apps and mobile devices more seamlessly. But beyond the gadgets, companies that are pushing the fitness space are focusing on engagement and education to help people live healthier lives.
Fit On Click was founded by husband and wife team Neha and Ben Samuel, and they have so far provided employee engagement programs for wellness and exercise to over 200 businesses impacting the lives of over half a million people. These efforts include wellness programs that large companies provide to their staff as a perk or even corporate sports tournaments that help build team cohesion while also keeping people fit and healthy.
They have also built Fitze, a ‘reward as you move’ software platform that encourages users to win coins and unlock goodies for each step they take. The app has amassed 20,000+ users since its official launch and has been used by over 100 businesses to offer a variety of incentives centred around virtual fitness challenges.
A report into the global wellness economy post-Covid predicts that wellness tourism as a market is set to grow by over 20% between 2020 and 2025, and the UAE – Dubai especially – is paving the way for that growth.
Dubai Fitness Challenge – 30×30
Organised by the Dubai Sports Council, and partnered with a host of big brands like Fitbit and Emirates, along with governmental support from the Dubai Health Authority and Ministry of Education, the Dubai Fitness Challenge has been running for 5 years and aims to get people in Dubai engaged in 30 minutes of physical activity, every day, for 30 days.
It’s a simple concept but an incredibly powerful one that is tied to the idea of normalising self-care through a fitness-focused mindset. The programme offers free workouts, group events, and a swathe of entertainment to bring people in from across the city. This type of work puts Dubai on the map and is precisely what brings in tourism as well as investment in the sector.
The Retreat Palm Dubai
This 5-star, family-friendly wellness resort is owned by Sofitel – the luxury French hotel chain. It aims to let guests experience a healthier and more sustainable holiday. The resort doesn’t serve alcohol in keeping with its wellness ethos, allowing visitors to cleanse and detoxify and guarantee that they leave feeling energised, fresh, and healthy.
This is the only 5-star wellness retreat in the whole of Dubai and it has achieved that status thanks to its Rayya Wellness Centre, which offers organic-based goods, uplifting rejuvenation experiences, and transformational health retreats. There, guests can find wellness therapies and speciality spa treatments including detoxifying facials, reviving cryotherapy, and the traditional Hammam offered at the Rayya Spa. This really is the cutting-edge of wellness hospitality and puts Dubai on the map as a leader in the global market.
Where’s next for wellness?
Support from The Medical Tourism Department, along with business accelerator programmes provided by the UAE government give new businesses the best opportunity to capitalise on this booming market. Even in the private sector, initiatives such as the Draper-Aladdin Startup Challenge give new businesses in fitness, health and nutrition the chance to win an investment opportunity of $500,000.
It may sound like a cliché, but the UAE wellness industry is only limited by the imagination of the people working in it. There have already been a staggering number of innovative startups in the sector and that is guaranteed to continue with the pace of growth in the industry as a whole.