Developing thermal tourism: Greece shows the way
The Ancient Greeks loved to use spas – and now hydrotherapy is back in the form of thermal tourism. The idea is to boost the flagging national economy and make Greece a priority destination for wellness fans. See how Greece capitalizes on its natural resources to develop its tourist business!
Greece: a natural spot for thermal tourism
Like many other European countries, Greece has major historical and geographical arguments plus high tourist potential – an ideal mix for developing the Greek thermal spa industry with a vast range of services including balneo-, thalasso- and inhalation therapies.
Greek hydrotherapy, as old as history!
Precursors of hydrotherapy, Grecian spas are rooted in Antiquity (5 centuries BCE). In fact, the word thermal comes from the Greek word for "hot"! Rich in minerals, the thermal springs were already recognized by eminent scientists for their healing virtues. Grecian spas were introduced throughout Europe and today, most countries have their own!
A tourist sector in good health
With over 27 million tourists in 2017 (1), Greece is one of Europe’s most visited countries. The total contribution of tourism and travel to the Greek GNP is already an impressive 19.7% - and this is expected to grow by 5.3% in 2018, while the European average is only 10.3%. Greek tourism directly and indirectly provides 934,500 jobs - 24.8% of the total workforce (2). And that’s not all! According to Elena Kountoura, Greece’s Minister for Tourism, the objective is to reach 35 million tourists by 2020.
The wellness and spa industry is now a top priority in the country’s tourist policy as is has 750 natural thermal springs, most of which are as yet unexploited. Wellness sector tourists spend 61% more than other tourist typologies (3) and are a high growth market.
The Greek Tourist Development Plan
Hydrotherapy is a priority because this activity was particularly affected by the economic crisis. In 2017, as only 900,000 admission tickets were sold in spa establishments vs. 2,500,000 in 2010, the government has taken radical measures to rectify matters. This proactive and committed policy has three main tactics.
Maintaining tourist traffic all year round
To accelerate economic development, the government has decided to change its tourist policy to make Greece a prime destination all year round. Above all known for its islands and heritage, Greece is heavily promoting hydrotherapy which is not affected by seasonal variations. Additional airline routes are being opened to support this transformation. The summer season is being extended to become March to November.
Necessary changes in Greek legislation
The Greek nation owns all thermal springs and authorizes the operations of some of them. Hydrotherapy centers had to renew their permits every year but this changed in 2018 when the Ministry for Tourism passed a bill to enable permanent permits to encourage local investments.
The new legal framework specifically meets current tourism development challenges by ensuring:
- faster delivery of the new operating licenses for new thermal spas
- the creation of a natural resources protection committee to accelerate thermal spring certification
- clarification of operating standards for the creation, conversion and extension of thermal springs
- procedures and specifications for the distribution of a special operating seal for thermal spas (4).
Closer cooperation between everyone concerned
Most Greek thermal springs are on the mainland in the central and western mountain regions (Macedonia and the Peloponnese), the Greek Tourism ministry is actively promoting these less frequented tourist areas with the local authorities which are working with private investors to create an attractive thermal spa offer, facilitating 4-season opening. On February 26th, 2018 (5) a workshop dedicated to investment in the hydrotherapy sector was organized in Greece.
The Greek Ministry for Tourism reports that 124 thermal springs out of 750 have already been - or are in the process of being - licensed. Greek government actions facilitate private sector investments in thermal tourism. And more good news is that these actions can be applied to other countries!
Our thanks to Marcos Danas, General Secretary of Hellenic Association of Municipalities with Thermal Springs, and to Maria Pagoni, Directorate of Strategic Planning of the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism, for their contribution.
(1) GTP : Greece Welcomed Over 27 Million Tourists in 2017, Says BoG
(2) World Travel & Tourism Council : Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2018 - Greece
(3) GTP : Greek Thermal Spring Properties Up for Privatization
(4) GTP : Thermal Springs in Greece: An Opportunity for Investors
(5) Enterprisegreece : Investor’s workshop - Dévelopment of thermal springs in Greece
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