Many of us have probably heard of music therapy and art therapy, but what about “travel therapy”?
A new interdisciplinary paper from Edith Cowan University (ECU) proposes to change the way we think about tourism, not only as a leisure activity, but as an industry that can bring real health benefits.
A collaboration between the ECU Precision Health Care Center and the School of Business and Law has shown that many aspects of a vacation can have a positive impact on people with mental health issues or conditions.
Lead researcher Dr. Jun Wen said a diverse team of experts in tourism, public health and marketing researched how tourism can benefit people with dementia.
“Medical experts can recommend dementia treatments such as music therapy, exercise, cognitive stimulation, memory therapy, sensory stimulation, and patient adaptation to meal times and environment,” said Dr. Wen.
“All this is also often found on vacation.
“This study is one of the first to conceptually discuss how this travel experience could potentially work as an intervention in dementia.”
Holiday entertainment… or treatment?
Dr. Wen said the diverse nature of tourism means there are many options for treating conditions such as dementia.
For example, being in a new environment and having new experiences can provide cognitive and sensory stimulation.
“Exercise is linked to mental well-being, and travel often involves increased physical activity, such as walking more,” Dr. Wen said.
“Meal times on holidays are often different, usually more social events with multiple people, and family-style eating has been found to have a positive effect on the eating behavior of dementia patients.
“And then there are the basics, like fresh air and sunshine, which increase vitamin D and serotonin levels.
“All that comes together to present a holistic tourism experience makes it easy to see how dementia patients can benefit from tourism as an intervention.”
Shift in thinking
Dr. Wen said the impact of COVID-19 on travel in recent years has raised questions about the value of tourism beyond lifestyle and economic factors.
“Tourism has been found to promote physical and psychological well-being,” he said.
“So, post-COVID, it’s high time to redefine tourism’s place in public health – and not just for healthy tourists, but also for vulnerable groups.”
Dr. Wen said he hopes to start a new line of joint research to explore how tourism can improve the lives of people with different conditions.
“We are trying to do something new in the combination of tourism and health sciences,” he said.
“More empirical research and evidence will be needed to see if tourism can become one of the medical interventions for various diseases such as dementia or depression.
“So, tourism is not only travel and entertainment; we need to rethink the role that tourism plays in modern society.”