In a new paper from Edith Cowan University (ECU), experts propose that we should rethink the way we view the tourism industry. The researchers say that traveling is not just a recreational experience, but also a potential therapy that can provide real health benefits.
The study was a collaboration between experts in ECU’s Centre for Precision Health and School of Business and Law. The researchers identified many aspects of vacationing that could have a positive impact on people with mental health issues or cognitive disorders. In particular, the researchers investigated how tourism could benefit people with dementia.
“Medical experts can recommend dementia treatments such as music therapy, exercise, cognitive stimulation, reminiscence therapy, sensory stimulation and adaptations to a patient’s mealtimes and environment,” said Dr. Wen. “These are all also often found when on holidays.”
“This research is among the first to conceptually discuss how these tourism experiences could potentially work as dementia interventions.”
Dr. Wen noted that the varied nature of tourism means there are many opportunities to incorporate treatments for conditions like dementia. For example, new experiences and environments provide cognitive and sensory stimulation.
“Exercise has been linked to mental well-being and traveling often involves enhanced physical activity, such as more walking,” explained Dr. Wen. “Mealtimes are often different on holiday: they’re usually more social affairs with multiple people and family-style meals have been found to positively influence dementia patients’ eating behavior.”
“And then there’s the basics like fresh air and sunshine increasing vitamin D and serotonin levels. Everything that comes together to represent a holistic tourism experience, makes it easy to see how patients with dementia may benefit from tourism as an intervention.”
In recent years, the impact of Covid-19 on travel had raised questions about tourism’s value beyond lifestyle and economic factors, said Dr. Wen.
“Tourism has been found to boost physical and psychological well-being. So, after COVID, it’s a good time to identify tourism’s place in public health – and not just for healthy tourists, but vulnerable groups.”
Dr. Wen said he hopes a new line of collaborative research could begin to examine how vacationing can enhance the lives of people with various conditions.
“We’re trying to do something new in bridging tourism and health science. There will have to be more empirical research and evidence to see if tourism can become one of the medical interventions for different diseases like dementia or depression.”
“So, tourism is not just about traveling and having fun; we need to rethink the role tourism plays in modern society.”
The study is published in the journal Tourism Management.