On 9 December 2021, HTI in partnership with the European Spa Association (ESPA) and supported by the European Travel Commission (ETC) organized an online event on European health tourism, hosted by the Member of the European Parliament István Ujhelyi and Slovenia as Country Partner.
Almost 60 healthcare and tourism professionals from 22 countries, active in health and spa tourism, gathered online to discuss prevention opportunities in health resorts and medical spas, and consequently higher quality of life to the benefit of all European citizens. As we all know, Europe is still the most visited region, but it is rapidly losing its market share. However, health tourism proved to be the fastest-growing tourism segment worldwide, positively influenced by demographic, sociological, and cultural conditions of life in Europe, now boosted with the pandemic. To discuss common challenges and opportunities for European health tourism, the European HTI Summit has been offered since 2018 in the European Parliament in Brussels, providing a platform for dialogue between leaders of European private sector and public officials on possible partnerships, promotion and legislation changes and sharing views on Europe as a destination of health. The online session of European Health Tourism served as introduction to the 5th European HTI Summit to be offered in 2022 in the European Parliament in Brussels, when Covid-rules would allow.
MEP István Ujhelyi opened the event a welcome address: “The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the European Health Union. It is not just about major differences and inequalities in health systems across Europe, but also about new challenges such as long-standing post-covid syndrome or mental health diseases. Nevertheless, health tourism can contribute to the recovery of our citizens, and natural health resorts and spas in European health destinations are the ones that offer the most sustainable prevention model, highlighting Europe’s unique tourism product. As a result, the time has come to agree on common tourism strategies, policies and frameworks that would finally lead us to the establishment of the European Tourism Union.”
The Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union endorsed the event and Slovenia was presented as a Country Partner. Minister of Economic Development and Technology and Deputy Prime Minister of Slovenia Zdravko Počivalšek emphasized the great importance of the participation of key stakeholders in creating a modern and competitive health and spa offer of the European Union: “It is necessary to continue cross-border networking and close cooperation of all stakeholders in the development of sustainable and new products of health and spa tourism and follow the trends so that this tourism sector remains competitive in the future and meets the expectations of tourists. Promoting cross-border preventive and curative treatment in European certified health resorts will make an important contribution to improving the health and well-being of the people of the European Union, while also increasing the resilience and competitiveness of the tourism industry. Cooperation between the private and public sectors will play an important role in this. That is why we strongly support the European Health Union’s initiative for a common strategy and a common framework for Europe.”
The newly appointed Acting Director of the Slovenian Tourist Board, Ilona Stermecki presented the key pillars of Slovenia as a green, active and healthy destination with a long tradition of health tourism: “Health resorts are traditionally one of the most important tourist products of Slovenian tourism, accounting for one third of all overnight stays and significantly contributing to the diversification of tourist flows and dispersing the tourist season. The spa tourism offer significantly contributes to Slovenia’s vision as a global green boutique destination for highly demanding visitors looking for unique and diverse experiences throughout the whole year. Especially today, when safety comes first, when travelers are looking for non-mass destinations and when visitors prefer individual and personalized experiences in destinations, the interest in spas is showing growth. Curative programs offered at Slovenian natural health resorts for recovery after suffering from covid-19 are becoming highly important, as well as the use of unique mineral waters. These are the reasons why the Slovenian Tourist Board pays special attention to the promotion of health resorts.”
The opening session part was followed by a roundtable with distinguished guests and representatives of the European tourism sector who discussed the opportunities for better implementation of cross-border healthcare and prevention at European spa destinations. Eduardo Santander, CEO & Executive Director of the European Travel Commission (ETC) moderated the roundtable and stated: “The European Travel Commission supports all efforts in developing and promoting pan-European health tourism offer, moreover in pandemic times that put health in our focus. It not only helps to reduce seasonality and preserve highly qualified medical professionals, but it also reflects the tradition and lifestyle in Europe and provides a framework for further sustainable and more dispersed tourism development to the benefit of all European citizens and destinations.”
Being one of the panelists, Thierry Dubois, President of the European Spa Association ESPA said: “Members of the European Spas Association offer Long Covid programs, and medical studies prove the beneficial effects of natural remedies on the human body. We wish medical research substantial support from EU programs. The use of balneology (spa medicine) in the context of national health policy, the European health resorts, and spa cities as a world cultural heritage should be more recognized by partners at the EU level both in the health policy and in the tourism industry. ESPA is pleased to have both representatives of the EU Commission at the round table and Slovenia as a country partner with excellent services in health tourism.” The presentation is available here.
Iztok Altbauer, Managing Director of the Slovenian Spas Association: ”Slovenia has a century-old tradition of thermal and spa tourism. Unique natural healing factors have enabled the development and integration of knowledge in the field of balneology. We also have top specialists in the field of rehabilitation with outstanding achievements, and we also combine new knowledge in the preparation and implementation of post COVID-19 programs. Slovenian spa and health tourism certainly has many opportunities for development and success.” The presentation is available here.
The representatives of the European Commission Velina Pendolovska from DG Health and Thomas Segretain from DG Grow also took part in the round table. They presented concrete activities of the EC for the recovery and resilience from the pandemic, related both to health and tourism, while explaining the available financial framework for European countries, such as the EU4Health program and the tourism pathway initiative that is still under consultation. Presentation on tourism activities is available here.
On behalf of the organizer’s online meeting HTI – Health Tourism Industry is Leila Krešić-Jurić, HTI Managing Director and organizer of European health tourism events, stress out: “We are proud to be connecting prominent European health tourism stakeholders and encouraging the communication between the private and public sectors, leading to a better understanding of business opportunities. The journey towards Europe as a destination of health and health tourism is long, but every journey starts with single steps. This event is one of the steps on the road that finally ends up in Brussels.”