Travel Therapy – Tourism as a means of improving wellbeing and mental health

A diabetes blood sugar test kit on a commercial aircraft.

With travel options starting to get back to pre pandemic levels, a recent university research project has brought attention to travel therapy, and those who may not be able to enjoy the same levels of travel due to health conditions.

The World Health Organization estimates 20 per cent of the world’s population suffer from non-communicable chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or mental disorders, which often make travelling difficult, while some people may even avoid taking holidays altogether.

A cross-disciplinary research project from Edith Cowan University has highlighted the impacts this decision can have on people with these health challenges, and outlined the future repercussions for the industry as a whole.

Through collaboration between ECU’s School of Business and Law and its centre for precision health, the project has put forth the concept of ‘travel therapy’, which sees tourism as a means of improving mental health and wellbeing.

Researcher Dr Jun Wen said it is vital the tourism industry catered more to vulnerable people with physical or psychological disorders, a market he described as important but too often overlooked.

“Most are able to travel but remain vulnerable during trips and need intensive services,” he said.

“The world has an ageing population, so there will be more and more people dealing with the challenges that brings, like dementia, physical limitations and so on.

“There are also more people being diagnosed with mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.

“Tourism needs to be able to accommodate vulnerable travellers such as these for the industry’s survival — but also because health is important and as our previous work has shown, tourism can help support health.”

Thoughtful woman in the train looking through the window (iStock – martin-dm)

According to Wen strategies could be implemented throughout the tourism industry chain (food, accommodation, transportation, travel, shopping, and entertainment) and could include considerations or allowances for caregivers who may need to accompany travellers.

Dr Wen also said education was critical and new technology will also have a role to play.

“Staff and stakeholders need training to be made aware of vulnerable travellers’ needs and demands.

“This can include developing manuals to standardise services for vulnerable travellers, enhancing accessible infrastructure and equipping professional emergency and care facilities appropriately, such as with first-aid tools.

“The tourism industry should develop virtual products that enable all travellers to be present in a destination and to enjoy fun and health-related benefits.”


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