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Korean wellness

South Korea has the potential to be the next up-and-coming destination for wellness, says Leekyung Han. Investors and developers should be paying attention


Although K-Pop and K-Beauty have hit the mainstream, much of Korean culture is still under-represented, including Korean wellness. But wellness has existed in Korea for more than 5,000 years and South Korea has the potential to be the next up-and-coming destination for wellness investors and operators. With a strong influence from shamanism, it’s typically known as traditional Korean medicine (TKM) and is similar to traditional Chinese medicine. South Korea is ready for wellness development and investment because of its distinctive natural attributes and traditions that lend themselves to the creation of new wellness customer journeys.

In addition to TKM, significant draws include an abundance of natural hot springs, salt farms, a history of healthy cuisine and a high concentration of sacred sites. South Korea has many beautiful myths associated with the landscape and is known as a country with great chi. This lays an excellent foundation for brand storytelling that can be translated into every detail of a retreat. Creating a sense of place can help to create a much more impactful experience, because it’s clear guests are being immersed in a healing landscape as soon as they arrive.

The country’s culture of public bathing already runs deep in its DNA, with bathhouses used as a social space for people to relax together. In the early 90s, this public bath concept was transformed into a new form called ‘jjimjilbang’. This introduced a range of saunas with varying temperatures, as well as sleeping areas and F&B outlets.

South Koreans tend to gravitate towards wellness offerings backed by medicine, whether this is TKM or Western medicine. However, acupuncture, cupping and boyak (a customised herb medicine to balance energy) are also very popular activities. Sound healing, yoga, IV therapy, ayurveda and immunity-focused experiences, in particular involving crystals, are also popular.

Most investment into wellness is funded by domestic companies to create more jjimjilbangs and hotel spas in urban areas, but there’s a growing demand for rural retreats as people look to de-stress further afield from their busy daily lives. If investors branch into more rural areas, the development costs will be lower in comparison with city space, and ROI could be just as good.

The most important thing for the South Korean wellness market to take off is a change in mindset. Developers need to break away from their comfort zone and look at the country’s natural assets to harness its full potential as a wellness destination.

Furthermore, if the country can blend its beautiful traditional healing rituals with its natural healing assets, it will attract both domestic and international tourists by offering distinctively Korean wellness experiences that can only be felt authentically in the country.

Investors should focus on bringing a destination wellness offering that offers the usual aspects of wellness programming, but also provides something that can only be found or experienced in South Korea. For example, a full-moon meditation and halotherapy ritual on a salt farm, body scrub rituals at jjimjilbangs, a customised TKM tea ceremony or culinary experience of Korean Buddhist food.

These unique offerings will attract adventurous travellers who are curious about Korean wellness. If there’s a buzz from domestic consumers, this will then catch the attention of the international market too.

About the author:

Leekyung Han is founder and managing director of Seoul-based Polaris Advisor. Before founding Polaris, she served as head of real estate development at China’s new wellness community, Sangha by Octave Living.

Newer ‘jjimjilbang’ facilities include heat experiences, sleeping areas and F&B outlets alongside thermal bathing Credit: photo: shutterstock/nitis.s
The wellness consultant was born and raised in South Korea Credit: photo: Seth Powers
The country is known for its strong presence of good chi energy Credit: photo: Noppasin Wongchum
Tea ceremonies would be a great addition to programming Credit: photo: rainsoop
Younger Koreans prefer western spas over traditional bathhouses Credit: photo: shutterstock/imtmphoto
 


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Leisure Management - Korean wellness

Industry insights

Korean wellness


South Korea has the potential to be the next up-and-coming destination for wellness, says Leekyung Han. Investors and developers should be paying attention

Newer ‘jjimjilbang’ facilities include heat experiences, sleeping areas and F&B outlets alongside thermal bathing photo: shutterstock/nitis.s
The wellness consultant was born and raised in South Korea photo: Seth Powers
Space to grow: there’s little spa development in rural areas at the moment photo: chanchai duangdoosan
The country is known for its strong presence of good chi energy photo: Noppasin Wongchum
Tea ceremonies would be a great addition to programming photo: rainsoop
Younger Koreans prefer western spas over traditional bathhouses photo: shutterstock/imtmphoto

Although K-Pop and K-Beauty have hit the mainstream, much of Korean culture is still under-represented, including Korean wellness. But wellness has existed in Korea for more than 5,000 years and South Korea has the potential to be the next up-and-coming destination for wellness investors and operators. With a strong influence from shamanism, it’s typically known as traditional Korean medicine (TKM) and is similar to traditional Chinese medicine. South Korea is ready for wellness development and investment because of its distinctive natural attributes and traditions that lend themselves to the creation of new wellness customer journeys.

In addition to TKM, significant draws include an abundance of natural hot springs, salt farms, a history of healthy cuisine and a high concentration of sacred sites. South Korea has many beautiful myths associated with the landscape and is known as a country with great chi. This lays an excellent foundation for brand storytelling that can be translated into every detail of a retreat. Creating a sense of place can help to create a much more impactful experience, because it’s clear guests are being immersed in a healing landscape as soon as they arrive.

The country’s culture of public bathing already runs deep in its DNA, with bathhouses used as a social space for people to relax together. In the early 90s, this public bath concept was transformed into a new form called ‘jjimjilbang’. This introduced a range of saunas with varying temperatures, as well as sleeping areas and F&B outlets.

South Koreans tend to gravitate towards wellness offerings backed by medicine, whether this is TKM or Western medicine. However, acupuncture, cupping and boyak (a customised herb medicine to balance energy) are also very popular activities. Sound healing, yoga, IV therapy, ayurveda and immunity-focused experiences, in particular involving crystals, are also popular.

Most investment into wellness is funded by domestic companies to create more jjimjilbangs and hotel spas in urban areas, but there’s a growing demand for rural retreats as people look to de-stress further afield from their busy daily lives. If investors branch into more rural areas, the development costs will be lower in comparison with city space, and ROI could be just as good.

The most important thing for the South Korean wellness market to take off is a change in mindset. Developers need to break away from their comfort zone and look at the country’s natural assets to harness its full potential as a wellness destination.

Furthermore, if the country can blend its beautiful traditional healing rituals with its natural healing assets, it will attract both domestic and international tourists by offering distinctively Korean wellness experiences that can only be felt authentically in the country.

Investors should focus on bringing a destination wellness offering that offers the usual aspects of wellness programming, but also provides something that can only be found or experienced in South Korea. For example, a full-moon meditation and halotherapy ritual on a salt farm, body scrub rituals at jjimjilbangs, a customised TKM tea ceremony or culinary experience of Korean Buddhist food.

These unique offerings will attract adventurous travellers who are curious about Korean wellness. If there’s a buzz from domestic consumers, this will then catch the attention of the international market too.

About the author:

Leekyung Han is founder and managing director of Seoul-based Polaris Advisor. Before founding Polaris, she served as head of real estate development at China’s new wellness community, Sangha by Octave Living.


Originally published in Spa Business Handbook 2023 edition

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