Vacations as a public heath resource
Let me preface this by saying that I had to change many things to fit NTU's CC0001 requirements.
Singapore was still in a state of lockdown. The pandemic has upended air travel and made it much more difficult and costly to go overseas for vacation, but that didn’t stop me from finding a way to get out. I planned an overnight trip to the Southern Islands on a weekday, for a desert island experience. It is ironic that St. John's Island, once a quarantine station for contagious diseases, is now the perfect escape from the pandemic.
The sense of relief was palpable as we left behind the strictly enforced covid restrictions on the mainland. Soon, we arrived and started to explore the island, home to many species of wildlife. Lazarus beach is a crescent shaped lagoon, filled with soft white sand imported from Indonesia. No surprise it’s clean and relatively empty as it is well secluded. To top it off, the azure waters and the never-ending sea breeze gives it an extremely peaceful vibe.
However, the sea breeze became so cold at night that we had to light up another makeshift campfire to keep warm. As we sat around the fire and held out our hands to warm up, watching the flames and listening to the crackling of the fire, I was reminded of how therapeutic the trip has been. Maybe it’s the fresh air, maybe it is reconnecting with your wild side or being able to just unplug, disconnect from the world and enjoy the moment with those I’m with.
The Southern Islands are probably the perfect escape during the height of the pandemic. For myself, it was a much-needed wellness retreat, a change of environment that I really needed to check in with my physical, mental, and social health. I came out feeling very much refreshed, relaxed, and reinvigorated.
Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has had a profound effect on our lives. Travel restrictions, unpredictable lockdowns and social gathering measures have forced us to live a more sedentary lifestyle. It is also a source of stress and anxiety, not just the fear of facing an infectious disease, but also the uncertainty, job loss and loneliness that comes with it. We are also not able to appreciate the restorative effects of travel as we once did. As we slowly adjust to the new normal after 2 years and countries start opening up to tourists, will the way we approach travel change? The unprecedented move to work from home during COVID-19 is also set to impact travel trends with the line between business and leisure travel beginning to blur. Quarantine restrictions combined with flexible working solutions is leading to more travellers combining work with play. Humans need to rest and recharge, but sometimes it can be more stressful than restful when technology is keeping us connected to our work. How can we travel in a way that maximizes its restorative potential? Can vacations be conceptualized as a public health resource?
Lehto & Lehto are both professors at Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN. Their research paper explores the potential of conceptualising travel as a public health resource. They mention the benefits of travelling, promising activities and environments people cannot find in their daily lives, self-improvement and its restorative effects. This article proposes a traveler wellness–centered design framework with four board areas: people, activity, environment and product (Packer, 2020). It highlights the important role of tourism and hospitality providers in safeguarding human health and wellness. Drawing from interdisciplinary perspectives, this study revisits tourism as a personal health and wellness resource and discusses opportunities for better leveraging design factors in delivering, communicating, and sustaining health and wellness benefits of tourism.
With physical inactivity being deemed as an epidemic by the World Health Organisation in recent years, exacerbated by the increase in digitalization in all aspects of our lives, travel can potentially be an effective mechanism for human wellness given its potential for personal growth, restorative functions and innate mobility-promoting characteristics. It may not be essential the way hospitals and grocery stores are essential in which we need to survive, travel is essential in the way books and music are essential. Food for the soul. Lehto & Lehto brings up important points in their article on why and how the tourism and hospitality industry could do more to design experiences and services that support optimal health and wellness outcomes for consumers. However, should such experiences be the only ones offered by the hospitality industry? Individuals have different perspectives of wellbeing, for some it may be relaxing at the spa, but for others it may be adventurous sports. This leads me to my second source.
Dr Heather Hartwell, an associate professor in the school of tourism at Bournemouth University writes about the synergy between tourism and public health and introduces the concept of wellbeing tourism. By aligning these two areas, local councils can create a culture where the destination is seen as promoting physical and mental health for both locals and tourists. The article describes how a public health approach to wellbeing focuses on contentment and sustainable healthy lifestyles, in contrast to a hedonistic approach which only considers happiness (Hartwell, 2011). It goes on to discuss how tourism policy has become geared towards the latter, and the shift in focus may not be in line with public health goals. The article concludes by suggesting that there is potential for synergy between these two areas, and that by working together they can create better health outcomes for the community.
Hartwell brings up the eudaimonic and hedonic happiness aspect of tourism, or the meaning and purpose versus pleasure and enjoyment. While eudaimonia does have a stronger association with flourishing and having a fulfilling life than hedonia, it does not mean that there is no place for hedonia in the pursuit of happiness. Hedonic tourism may seem superficial at first, and not a need, it is still an important part of tourism. Furthermore, tourism is for individuals as well as for businesses and the economy. In fact, tourism is the fastest growing economic sector in the world. Vacations have to encompass both of them and not just focus on either one.
Both Lehto & Lehto (2019) and Hartwell (2011) approach the topic of vacations and public health. Lehto & Lehto looks at it from the perspective of the hospitality industry and Hartwell from the perspective of public health. Since the Industrial Revolution, travel has always been about businesses and the economy. Health benefits that come from tourism are not always as tangible or measureable, and often overshadowed by the economic benefits. However, because of the pandemic, we are slowly seeing a mindset shift in how we look at mental health and vacations, as people are more concerned about their health and miss travelling. Society is becoming more aware of the health and wellness benefits that travels bring, and it is seen less as a want and more as a need.
Singapore has also recently set aside half a billion dollars to support the reopening of the tourism industry, with a new focus on positioning Singapore as an urban wellness haven. With wellness tourism being projected to be a trillion dollar industry by 2025, this might very well be the 'new normal', where tourists are not just looking at places to visit, but more importantly, places to recharge. With places like Bali, Maldives and Sri Lanka being some of the most popular wellness destinations and travel continues to get cheaper, it is likely that the trend of wellbeing tourism will only continue to grow in popularity, and even possibly conceptualized as a public health resource.
Hartwell, H. (2011, July 28). Can we bring tourism and public health strategy together? The Guardian. Retrieved April 5, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/local-government-network/2011/jul/28/wellbeing-tourism-public-health-strategy/
Lehto, X. Y., & Lehto, M. R. (2019). Vacation as a Public Health Resource: Toward a Wellness-Centered Tourism Design Approach. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, 43(7), 935–960. https://doi.org/10.1177/1096348019849684/