By Kim Han-joo
SEOUL, May 31 (Yonhap) -- For those who are under heavy stress from bustling city life and demanding work responsibilities, getting away from it all may be the best remedy for the body and soul, although it could be a tall order for many urban dwellers given costs and lack of time.
Chung So-hyun, a banker in Seoul, is among those who are looking for places to take care of their physical and mental state to improve their quality of life. Thankfully for Chung and people like her, a new type of "wellness" hotel and resort has gained popularity in South Korea.
"I have always wanted to have a wholesome and healthy lifestyle but failed on a daily basis due to my work," said the 31-year-old woman, who recently visited Park Roche, the country's first upscale resort fully dedicated to wellness tourism. "I planned this three-day vacation to a wellness spa because I thought a holiday could be an ideal time to improve the quality of my life."
Wellness tourism is a relatively new concept for purpose-driven travels for spas, beauty, fitness, meditation and other activities, which is different from medical tourism where people travel for treatment of a diagnosed disease.
Hyundai Development Co., a local construction company, opened the resort in January 2018 ahead of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics to offer accommodations for the Games' officials, and it has since emerged as a hot spot for wellness travelers.
"Jeongseon had long been cherished because of its geographical isolation and breathtaking scenery," said Yoon Mi-sook, a general manager at Park Roche, located in Jeongseon County, 150 kilometers east of Seoul. "Most of our resort is adult-only to provide some time away from the noise of children."
A day in the upscale resort surrounded by mountains starts with a meditation class or different kinds of yoga classes and then a breakfast buffet with locally inspired cuisine based on herbs and vegetables. Guests can have various massage and skin care services and read books in Korean and English in the library next to the spa room.
Park Roche also provides sophisticated amenities for visitors, like optimal bedding that measures visitors' body composition type and recommends individual bedding types for the stay, with a daily average price of around US$300.
Wellness tourism is one of the fastest growing segments in the global tourism industry, which is expected to grow from $639 billion in 2017 to $919 billion by 2022, according to the Global Wellness Institute.
To meet rising demand, several luxury wellness-themed resorts and spas have opened across the nation to give some relief and serenity to stressed-out people.
The state-run Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), the country's tourism promotion agency, also has selected 25 resorts and destination spas as "wellness vacation spots" in 17 regions nationwide.
"Wellness tourism is one of the most anticipated and lucrative industries that can invigorate the overall industry," Joo Seong-hee, a KTO official, said. "Unique wellness tourism content, such as Korean-style herbs and saunas, set South Korea apart from other Asian countries."
For those who want more than just spa and yoga classes, WE Hotel on the southern resort island of Jeju can be a nice option.
WE Hotel operated by Jeju Halla Hospital, the island's largest general hospital, is considered a "medical wellness resort" as a team of doctors are available around the clock for wellness and anti-aging solutions.
The hotel runs various hydro-spa programs and more than a dozen water facilities based on the island's volcanic bedrock water filled with natural mineral deposits.
A meditation pool maintains a constant temperature of 34-37 degrees C, about the same as the fluid in the womb, to provide psychological comfort, helpful to easing insomnia and depression, according to the hotel.
"Water treatment programs are a core part available for visitors suffering from muscle aches and skin problems," said Lee In-sun, an official at WE Hotel. "We have facilities that fuse the Western contemporary with Korean traditions to give an authentic feel."
More than 40 percent of visitors to WE Hotel are from overseas with 30 percent of them from China, with women in their 30s and 40s making up a major clientele, she noted.
The hotel said the business outlook is bright as more people are interested in their well-being and willing to spend money for themselves.
"The definition of wellness continues to expand as more people are keenly understanding the concept," Lee said. "The industry goes beyond just a fancy facility to provide a wholesome experience with healing elements."