Health tourism 'a growing opportunity' for Scottish farms

Wellbeing tourism has been identified as one of the top new farm diversification trends
Wellbeing tourism has been identified as one of the top new farm diversification trends

Scotland’s farming businesses are ideally placed to capitalise on the rise of health and wellness tourism in the outdoors, according to a diversification expert.

With strong demand for staycations this year, farming businesses are planning on how they can profit from emerging health and wellness trends, from forest yoga and ‘walk and talk’ breaks.

Calum Johnston of SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), advises rural-based businesses on subjects such as diversification and tourism.

“Consumers are increasingly looking for more than just visiting the countryside," he said, adding that the pandemic had fuelled recognition of the importance of personal health and nutrition.

According to him, this does not need to be luxury and may not need major investment or dramatic change to a farmer's current business.

"It’s how you market it and thinking creatively and laterally about the facilities and assets you have and how they could be translated into a compelling offering for visitors.”

Wellbeing tourism has been identified as one of the top new farm diversification trends by the Farm Business Innovation Show.

Mr Johnston said Scotland’s rural firms can be part of this growth by offering varied and exciting escapes in the countryside, where visitors can be active in farm activities, tours and nature trails.

“Sensory gardens, forest bathing, organic skincare products, yoga on a paddleboard, thermal pools and wild swimming are all driving interest," he explained.

"Digital detox is high on the agenda, as is social connection. Those booking rural breaks in the UK also want good local food and drink with nutritional benefits

"The Scottish countryside, with its scenery, secluded spaces and homegrown produce is primed to provide these ‘natural’ pursuits.”

Eco-therapy is another growing market with the acute rise in mental health concerns, exacerbated by the pandemic.

Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, predicts that Covid-19 poses the greatest threat to mental health since the Second World War and Forbes Top 10 Wellness trends for 2021 include eco and ‘Walk and Talk’ therapy.

Different to rural recreation, eco-therapy involves a trained practitioner who tailors structured sessions in the natural environment, integrating activities in a farm, garden, or woodland setting to improve mental, emotional and physical balance.

There are already rural businesses responding to this, such Borders-based Rural Remedy, recently opened Annabelle Scott.

She said: “There is a growing mental health crisis and we wanted to create a space where visitors could combine a break away with the family with the chance to offload and reset.

"Walking is known to have a profound impact on mental and physical well-being, and people talk differently when they are walking."

Mr Johnston points to the success of rural wellness tourism abroad from where Scotland’s agri-tourism sector can learn lessons, such as farms in Italy offering spiritual retreats in the countryside where visitors immerse themselves in the beauty of the landscape.

And in New Zealand, award-winning luxury retreat Aro Ha offers a variety of programmes designed to regenerate body and mind set in the countryside.

He said: "Scottish rural businesses have the opportunity to differentiate through direct connection with Scotland’s environment, and it can be a lucrative segment of the tourism market.

“It doesn’t need to be high end. Nature, space and simple pleasures that Scotland’s farmers and landowners may take for granted will be a winning formula after the last year.

"It could be feeding lambs, easy access to cycling routes or a loch to paddleboard on, and while it may or may not be something you can charge a premium for, what you can offer visitors could be the difference between booking your rural retreat and another.”