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Colorado Looks To Health And Wellness Tourism

Grace Hood
Over just two years since it was built, the $34 million University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center has created a high-tech space for research and programs.

America’s obsession with weight loss has given birth to reality shows like The Biggest Loser and Extreme Weight Loss. The latter aired the second installment of its new season with part of the episode shot on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. The popular culture influence is reinvigorating Colorado’s image as a health and wellness destination — but with a medical twist.

When the ABC show Extreme Weight Loss pitched the idea of having contestants spend three months at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center in Aurora, their chief strategist John Peters wasn’t sure about the idea.

“We said, ‘What are you talking about,’ and then once they explained more about what it was, once we learned it was about transformation and not about a contest, we say ‘Wow, this sounds like a great opportunity,’ ” said Peters.

Credit Grace Hood / KUNC
John Peters stands next to the Bod Pod, equipment that Anschutz Health and Wellness Center uses to study body composition.

It’s an opportunity that’s created more opportunities. The Center is launching an October destination boot camp pilot program — which Extreme Weight Loss will help promote later this month. Over just two years since it was built, the $34 million Health and Wellness Center has created a high-tech space for research and programs.

“We’re like an R&D center for wellness,” said Peters. “This is where we do the research, and we do the development and then we work with a multitude of partners as the distribution system.”

Colorado: Lean & Green

Even though it’s struggling with its own obesity challenges, Colorado’s image as the leanest state is translating into big money. About $3 billion is already coming in thanks to the state’s ski industry. And there could be even more.

“Globally it’s a very powerful brand,” said Ken Lund, Executive Director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.“People want to be part of a healthy state, a healthy environment.”

Broadly, Colorado’s $40 billion industry includes traditional and alternative health care, natural food products, health information technology, research initiatives, fitness and outdoor recreation.

"People want to be part of a healthy state, a healthy environment."

Although prevention and wellness is one of the smallest segments, a strategic action plan issued [.pdf] by Lund’s office on the industry reported it has great potential for growth.

“Things like Extreme Weight Loss are things people want to know about. We think those broadcast globally are good for Colorado’s brand that this is place that focuses on health,” said Lund.

Colorado Puts Medical Tourism On The Map

The health focus also takes away some attention around the state’s other new big industry: legalized marijuana. Then there are the jobs.

In Estes Park recently, Gov. John Hickenlooper, Mayor Bill Pinkham and Stanley Hotel Owner and Grand Heritage Hotel Group CEO John Cullen broke ground on a new 15,000 square foot health and wellness facility focused on physical fitness and weight loss. When it’s up and running, the project is expected to create as many as 70 full-time jobs.

Credit Grace Hood / KUNC

Cullen said University of Colorado’s Health and Wellness Center will provide consulting and programs for Estes Park center.

“They have 150 people just in research on this topic,” he said. “It gives us a great opportunity to be their little brother, and quite frankly, put medical tourism on the map for the state of Colorado.”

The project will also include a 50-room boutique hotel. It’s a $30 million public-private partnership between Grand Heritage Hotel Group and Estes Park Medical Center.

For EPMC, CEO Brian Herwig said the project will provide a much-needed revenue boost in a world of declining insurance and federal reimbursements.

“This gives us a new service line. It’s a cash business,” he said. “We talk about it being like a guided fishing trip. You pay half down and half when you show up.”

Similar projects from Grand Heritage are in the works for Colorado Springs, Telluride and Denver.

Ultimately, John Peters at Anschutz Health and Wellness Center said the key work making wellness work in a vacation setting is integration.

“It’s bringing it to life in a way that it’s not a bolt-on thing anymore,” said Peters.

With wellness tourism expected to grow to almost $680 billion worldwide over the next three years, Colorado entrepreneurs will have plenty of details to sweat over.

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