Costa Rica: Building a Flourishing Wellness Tourism Industry

Now that the pandemic has lost its grip on our lives, people want to spend more time far away from the news and depressing data about deaths and case counts to a place where their minds and bodies can be rejuvenated and refreshed. Wellness tourism has seen a sharp upswing since the pandemic eased out, and many wellness tourism destinations are upping their games to ensure they meet the demands of these eager clients. 

Costa Rica, one of the most visited tourist destinations is one of those changing the game and investing heavily in this trending form of tourism. 

Costa Rica receives millions of tourists yearly, drawing tourists from different nationalities to its beautiful attractions, including the Manuel Antonio National Park, the top volcano viewing areas of the Arenal Volcano, the jaw-dropping sights and sounds of nature at the Cloud Forests, and the beautiful beaches of the Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park.

With a large clientele base coming into the country to relish its beautiful tourist centers, Costa Rica is looking to infuse wellness into travel. The country wants to shift the paradigm to offer visitors an experience that will help them achieve and improve their mental, physical, and emotional well-being. The country is not just looking to beautify its attraction sites for the millions of visitors coming in, but to become an abode of wellness, a destination that draws people looking for a spiritual, mental, and emotional rebirth. 

Visit Costa Rica, the official website of Costa Rica’s Tourism department has also begun to reflect wellness needs and services in its bouquet of services, highlighting food wellness, stress management,  forest baths, and earthing. For the Central American “Rich Coast,” it is time to show the world why one of its largest cities has attained the Blue Zone status of destinations where people live the longest

“Costa Rica has all the necessary conditions to consolidate itself as a paradise that allows the visitor to detoxify from stress and daily hustle and bustle, in an involvement with the environment that allows unique and unrepeatable tourist wellness activities,” said Gustavo Segura, the country’s former Tourism Minister. 

While the pandemic gave the wellness tourism business the needed push for the country to remodel and reposition itself for a global takeover, the country was already setting the foundation for a strong wellness tourism brand even before the pandemic set in. 

Before the coronavirus became a thing, the Costa Rican Tourism Board had signed a framework agreement with the Wellness Association of Costa Rica to implement projects and initiatives that will place the country on the global map as a leading wellness travel destination. The initiatives border on training, retraining, and offering professional upskilling for wellness businesses. 

The agreement also meant the ICT would engage the services of the Costa Rican Institute of Technical Standards (INTECO) to design a framework that would become the national standard of wellness tourism in the country. This led to accreditation indicators and metrics for spas and other wellness businesses across the country. 

However, the pandemic gave most of these initiatives the needed boost to drive the market. 

In 2021 as the pandemic began to lessen in Costa Rica and across the world, the Costa Rica USA Foundation for Cooperation (CRUSA) a San José-based non-profit, partnered with the country’s Tourism Board (ICT) to issue grants of up to $10,000 each to hotels and resorts to boost wellness tourism services and projects across the northern part of the country as they prepared to receive tourists looking to get away from the stress of the health crisis.  

Tens of small and medium-sized hotels, spas, and other tourism businesses were given access to cash to expand their wellness packages as the country raced to redefine wellness tourism. 

In May 2022, the government of Costa Rica in partnership with tourism stakeholders and businessmen launched a plan to expand its wellness tourism projects, liaising with key educational centers and global players to improve training and establish services in wellness tourism. This took place at the Latin American Spa Congress held in Mexico City, with several organizations, including Largarta Lodge, Costa Rica Inspirations, and Four Season Costa Rica driving these discussions. 

This Congress had driven collaborations and networking between Costa Rican wellness tourism businesses and global key players and stakeholders to reinforce and strengthen wellness projects across the country.

The Wellness Association of Costa Rica also launched a similar networking initiative on this year’s Global Wellness Day marked on June 11. The initiative is aimed to foster collaborations with leaders in wellness tourism with a series of discussions about the need to integrate well-being services - including beauty, architectural designs to support wellbeing, forest therapy, and wellness trips - into tourism. 

The country has since expanded its stake in wellness tourism, introducing innovative services, including reflection therapies, multiple yoga programs, floatation therapy, medicinal massages, and thalassotherapy to attract more wellness seekers from around the world. The boost given to the industry has led to expansion and creation of prime wellness destinations across Costa Rica, including Nicoya, one of the world’s Blue Zones and wellness retreats such as the Asclepios Wellness & Healing Retreat. 

The rise in the demand for wellness travel has also come with an uptick in demand for standards in wellness. People no longer take website details or guest reviews as the ultimate source of wellness information but look to third-party validation that guarantees that a hote, spa, or resort has exactly what a wellness seeker needs. 

The Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) has engaged key players in the space to ensure standards and best practices remain at the core of wellness tourism business across the world. You would know that you have received more value for the money you paid to a wellness business. The GHA Wellhotel Accreditation provides a seal that demonstrates that a wellness business is committed to providing an excellent guest experience, all-round wellness, and safety. 

The GHA Wellhotel Accreditation also recently teamed up with the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) to up these standards and reinforce an organization’s commitments to the highest of sanitization as well as other wellness standards. The GBAC STAR/GHA Wellhotel Accreditation helps a hotel to provide the right environment for wellness, safety, and health, and builds trust for clients and guests.

It is no longer business as usual, and for the government of Costa Rica, the time is right to key into the upswing in demand for standards in wellness tourism, and this has pushed them to foster the needed collaborations and partnerships. Accreditation has also become the new determinant for success in wellness tourism travel, hence GHA has created a framework for wellness tourism business not only to thrive but also to ensure standard are met in rethinking wellness and safety and redefining the industry.