Categories Opinion Column

Nature Therapy in a New Global Travel Order

Written By: Jesús Parrilla, Principal, Luxury Frontiers

At the time of this writing, my city, Santiago, Chile, has been on lockdown mode for the past 123 days, owing to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. During this period of quarantine, I have been allowed only limited movement, and have found escape and comfort in my twice-weekly, 30-minute walks around the block with my mutt dog and loyal companion, Pluto of the Andes.

During these surreal times, I have worked longer hours than usual, written extensively, read books both old and new, and revisited memorable trips through travel notes and pictures. I’ve also thought long and hard about the coronavirus pandemic, reflecting on the way the crisis is not only affecting the way we live life, but also how we understand it.

In these four months of confinement and social distancing, which have at times felt eternal, my sleep has been light and interrupted, I’ve felt increasingly irritable and short-tempered, and a crop of physical symptoms—neck tightness, tension headaches, and negative feelings—have flared. All signs, I believe, of acute ‘Natural Deficit Disorder,’ a condition caused by lack of contact with Mother Nature.

As the psychological fallout from the pandemic has yet to fully manifest, the UN and the WHO are warning against an astronomical increase in mental health conditions and illnesses in the months and years ahead. While I will be cured the moment I’m able to lace up my trekking boots and plunge myself into the Andes, many others will have to seek out the diagnostic and therapeutic services of physicians and other health providers.

Though I am not a licensed medical professional, I anticipate that many people will be prescribed nature therapy—the use of experiences and activities in direct contact with nature—as means of restoring function and vitality. The positive psychological effects of spending time in nature has been documented in countless medical studies; among the benefits are reduced anxiety, depression, and tension headaches, along with an improvement in mood, sleep health, and even digestion. What’s more, nature also boosts endorphin levels and dopamine production, which promote happiness.

As we all begin our personal healing journeys in a post-coronavirus world, I am not only optimistic, but also convinced, that adventure and nature-based tourism will lead the way for the travel industry’s return from the brink of collapse. I predict that this niche market, which was the fastest growing segment of the industry, will grow at a much faster rate than in the past and will shape up a new global travel order—one where nature, wilderness, and remote and isolated destinations will be synonymous with mental health.