Journeys of the self: the need to retreat

Catherine Kelly, Melanie Kay Smith

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


Ten years ago, in 2006, the authors of this chapter wrote a paper about holistic tourism and edited a special edition of a tourism journal (Smith and Kelly, 2006) to collate research on an emerging sector now well known as ?wellness tourism?. At the time, the authors chose to focus on the term ?holistic tourism? to reflect a preference for exploring tourism spaces that tried to engage with the whole-self and the balance of body, mind and spirit. A distinction was made between those forms of tourism that take place in thermal or healing waters (e.g. hot springs and spas) and those that usually take place in (holistic) retreats and are generally not water-based. The former (i.e. wellness tourism using water) tends to be based more on curative treatments for the body, whereas the latter (i.e. retreat tourism) tends to be based more on preventative therapies for the mind and spirit. Self-development is also a major focus of this form of tourism. Subsequent publications (e.g. Smith and Puczkó, 2009, 2013; Erfurt-Cooper and Cooper, 2009; Bushell and Sheldon, 2009; Kelly, 2012; Voigt and Pforr, 2013) have made this distinction much clearer. For example, Voigt, Brown and Howats (2011) wellness tourism research makes the distinction between beauty spas, lifestyle resorts and spiritual retreats, but there have still been relatively few publications that have focused exclusively on retreat-based tourism (with the exception of Lea, 2008; Heintzmann, 2013; Fu, Tanyatanaboon and Lehto, 2015). Along with Dina Glouberman and Josée Cloutier?s contribution to this Handbook, this chapter provides a re-visitation of retreat-based tourism. However, as a complement to Glouberman and Cloutier?s chapter which focuses on the importance of communities for holistic wellbeing, this chapter explores the idea of how individual selves negotiate their everyday lives in conjunction with the idea of retreating for various purposes at different stages in their lives. Women, in particular are focused on as key participants in this form of tourism, especially middle aged women. Research has shown that the majority of spa and wellness consumers and tourists are women e.g. ISPA (2011) showed that around 78 and with an average age of 45 (Smith and Puczkó, 2009, 2013). Kelly?s (2012) research, based on several retreats, showed that 88 but a relatively high number tends to be between 35 and 55. As suggested by Gray (2002) women are more open to discussing their feelings and emotions in a public forum, according to popular psychological research. The Retreat Company (2013) represents at least 500 retreat centres in the UK and Europe and reported that their most popular requests are for yoga holidays. Gerritsma (2008) analysed yoga in the Netherlands and showed that on average yoga practitioners are about 800s (2006) study and is also confirmed by Smith and Sziva in this Handbook. Womens? identities, family responsibilities and physical bodies are scrutinised by others and by themselves on an ongoing basis according to objectification theory (Mask, Blanchard and Baker, 2014). Fullagar and O?Brien (2014) suggest that women aged 35-44 in Australia make the most use of online access to psychologists and psychotherapists. A recent study showed that although women are generally happier and more satisfied than men, they also report higher levels of anxiety (ONS, 2016). Engagement with holistic retreats for spiritual or psychological respite/reflection allow women space, time and support to cope with their everyday lives, their self-perceptions and anxiety levels. A case study of a womens? retreat is presented in the latter part of the chapter to illustrate how this works in practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Health Tourism
EditorsMelanie Kay Smith, László Puczkó
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9781138909830
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • Wellbeing tourism
  • Wellness tourism
  • Health tourism
  • Retreat tourism
  • Yoga tourism
  • Medical tourism
  • Women's tourism
  • Spiritual tourism
  • Holistic tourism


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