March 7, 2023

Culture, health and conquering North America: the future of spa towns 

Ancient thermal towns have helped shape the tourism industry as we know it today. Now, wellbeing and medical tourism trends are making spa towns more relevant than ever

Simone Zagrodnik, Executive Director of the European Historic Thermal Towns Association, shares all in an eye-opening interview with ITB Berlin News on the past, present and future of spa towns.

First of all, could you tell us about the European Route of Historic Thermal Towns? How are you promoting wellness and thermal tourism?
We are a cultural route of the Council of Europe, which means that our towns and our association is standing for European heritage that needs to be shared, with a certain impact on the development of culture, tourism and heritage in the continent.
Spa towns are central to this. The development of tourism in Europe actually started with travel to thermal towns, and our spa towns have been tourist destinations for centuries.

Are you looking to expand?
Yes, we are trying to expand, and there is a special interest in eastern Europe, where the tradition and heritage of spa towns is great. We are expecting to develop that further. Otherwise, Ukraine has been the latest addition to our association.

Where do the majority of your tourists come from? 
In general it is very much about national markets, but certainly there are neighbouring countries within Europe that are strong markets too. The German-speaking markets have a great potential, for example.
This year we have started focusing on attracting North American travellers. The combination of visiting spa towns with a wellbeing and medical service is certainly something to look closer at. 

What are some of the health and wellness treatments on offer, and what is most popular?
This is a tricky question for spa towns because the range is so big. It all starts with our waters. The waters are different for different treatments. You have spa towns that are specialised for skin care for example, where the water is different to water that can help treat certain kinds of diseases, so the variety of destinations is the same as the variety of waters that are used.

What do travellers expect from their health and wellness experiences and how is this changing?
Because of history and tradition, people are travelling to spa towns to get a certain treatment. Before it was more about medical treatments only, and now it has changed to be more the search for wellbeing. 
This is the challenge and change for spa towns: so many people still think “oh [thermal towns] are [for] treating the sick,” which is not true. Of course there is treatment of diseases, but there is so much about prevention and wellbeing.

Combining cultural and health tourism: a key segment to be unlocked?

Ms. Zagrodnik offers a unique perspective into how spa towns offer an opportunity to combine cultural and medical tourism initiatives. The Executive Director of the European Historic Thermal Towns Association said that thermal towns have a “historic component that cultural tourism also plays a big part in.” According to her, this offers a chance to combine certain experiences for travellers. “You have this wellbeing and health component, but you can combine it with cultural experiences,” Ms. Zagrodnik said. “This is something that will probably develop in a very positive way.” Indeed there could be the option for thermal towns to further develop products and services that fuse medicinal practice with cultural engagement, with options to combine spa town experiences with cultural, sports or gastronomy tourism. “There is a really good potential and wide range of possibilities to develop for the destinations and the spa towns specifically,” Ms. Zagrodnik told ITB News. As a Cultural Route of the Council of Europe, the European Route of Historic Thermal Towns honours the culture and heritage of spa towns via events such as European Thermal Heritage Day and World Water Day.

Listen to the interview on ITB News Podcast #07
Click here

Culture, health and conquering North America: the future of spa towns