You may have noticed more attention being paid lately—by consumers and media—to hot springs. Of course, hot springs have been around for hundreds of years, but over the last 50 or so, the advent of the modern beauty salon, and then spa, meant that consumers were engaging in many of their health and wellness routines indoors. However, the tide is turning; “Hot Springs Heating Up” was one of SpaFinder Wellness’ 10 trends for 2014, and there are a multitude of reasons why this is so. Hot springs, or thermal springs as they are also known in other parts of the world, are local, authentic, sustainable, social and affordable, making them ideal players in the burgeoning wellness tourism movement.

So in that spirit, last weekend I attended the 41st International Congress of SITH, the International Society for Hydromineral Technologies, in Cuntis, Spain. Who knew there was such a society, or a congress? As it turns out, in Europe there are a number of thermalism groups, typically of medical origin; the ISMH (International Society of Medical Hydrologists) and OMTH (Organizzazione Mondiale del Termalismo) among them. All of these groups had representatives at the SITH congress; many from Spain and Italy, but others from further afield places such as Argentina and Turkey. Cuntis, a small town in the northwestern Spanish state of Galicia, is home to a large thermal bath complex, Termas de Cuntis, grouped with two hotels and a small conference center, making it ideal to host the group.

The Congress began on Friday evening with an opening ceremony hosted by the presidents of the three aforementioned medical thermalism societies, and featured an award given for research in the field, which was won by a team from the University of Siena, Italy, for their findings on the benefits of thermal water to chondrocytes. Afterward, we enjoyed a buffet dinner at 9 p.m., Spanish-style, and as it remains light out until nearly 11 p.m., it didn’t feel as late as it sounds!

The second day brought a series of panel presentations on topics such as “Transboundary Thermalism” and “Peloids Research”, some of which were difficult to follow even with simultaneous headphone translation! One group discussed “Technical Facilities and Cost Optimizations”, featuring architects and engineers showing some of the “behind the scenes” issues with running a thermal complex—which were, as you can imagine, extensive. There was also a risk management round-table discussing ways to avoid water-related illnesses in the complexes.

A gala dinner followed, and the next morning we finished up with a panel on “Marketing & Commercialization” in which I participated. As this group is mostly medical in origin, marketing is not typically a core competency; I was joined on the panel by two companies that offer booking engines/catalogues, and the President of the Slovenian Spa Association, who showcased the “I Feel Slovenia, Land of Health” campaign. Most of the thermalism businesses participating in the congress also offer spa services, especially massages and facials, but this is clearly, at least at this point, a small portion of their business.

This was an altogether fascinating look at an industry that’s making its move into the 21st century: different groups marshaling their resources to make sure they’re strongly positioned in the wellness movement and evolving into a viable wellness opportunity for today’s consumers.

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