WELLBEING TOURISM is the new farm diversification trend, with more people tuned into their personal health as a result of the pandemic.

Scotland’s land-based businesses are being encouraged to grasp this opportunity and diversify into rural tourism – from ice baths to forest yoga and ‘walk and talk’ breaks, in stunning surroundings and space which offer the perfect formula for visitors looking for a digital detox.

Calum Johnston of SAC Consulting – who advises rural businesses on diversification and tourism – explained that with strong demand for staycations this year, consumers are looking for more than just visiting the countryside.

“The pandemic has fuelled recognition of the importance of personal health, nutrition, relaxation and finding new ways to switch off from digital devices, and this is extending to their holiday decisions. It doesn’t need to be luxury and may not need major investment or dramatic change to your current business. It’s how you market it – think creatively 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, and Mr Johnston highlighted that Scotland’s rural businesses can be part of this growth market by offering varied escapes to the countryside, where visitors can be active and engage, for example in farm activities, farm tours and nature trails.

With strong demand for staycations this year, now is the time to diversify in to rural tourism

With strong demand for staycations this year, now is the time to diversify in to rural tourism

With strong demand for staycations this year, now is the time to diversify in to rural tourism

“Our clients are constantly looking to see how they can enhance their offering,” he continued. “Sensory gardens, forest bathing, organic skincare products, yoga on a paddleboard, thermal pools and wild swimming are all driving interest. 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.

Forbes Top 10 ‘wellness trends’ for 2021 include eco- and ‘Walk and Talk’-therapy. Different to plain old rural recreation, eco-therapy involves a trained practitioner who offers 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 offering this, such as Borders-based Rural Remedy, recently opened by Scottish Enterprise Rural Leader and SRUC graduate Annabelle Scott:

“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,” said Ms Scott. “Walking is known to have a profound impact on mental and physical well-being, and people talk differently when they are walking. Staying at Rural Remedy can be just a place to relax and unwind as a family, or if any or all of the family want to, they can access the services of a fully trained and qualified BACP registered Counsellor to walk alongside them.”

Mr Johnston points to the success of rural wellness tourism abroad – farms in Italy; multi-award-winning luxury retreats in New Zealand; and spiritual and wellness adventures in the heart of Iceland.

“The health and wellness market is competitive,” he said. “But Scottish rural businesses have the opportunity to differentiate through direct connection with Scotland’s environment. 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,” he concluded.