Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be participating in the works of the 1st Health Travel International Conference in Greece and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Professor of Social & Preventive Medicine in the Medical School of the University of Athens and President of the Conference, as well as Director of the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (ISPM), Mr. Yannis Tountas for the invitation.
As policymakers, we see tourism as a strategic sector that can attract foreign investment in the long term, boost employment and promote the country’s regional development.
For the government, this sector lies at the heart of development, innovation, but also extroversion.
As the main objectives of the national tourism policy we have set the improvement of competitiveness, quality, authenticity and resilience of the tourist product and at the same time the strengthening of tourism investments with a low environmental footprint.
The strategic orientation of all projects related to diversified and inclusive tourism in Greece is to meet the rising demand for
- authentic experiences that offer stronger engagement with local communities, their culture and products,
- in all stages of the travel experience while capitalizing on the opportunities for the economic, social and environmental revitalization of destinations through tourism.
We wish to make Greece a resilient, accessible, and inclusive tourism destination for everyone that offers high quality services 365 days a year.
It is clear than only through collective action, solidarity and international cooperation will we be able to transform tourism and make it increasingly sustainable.
In this context and in accordance with the new Development Law (Law 4887/2022) tourism investments related to the promotion of special forms of tourism, utilizing the particular geographical, social and cultural characteristics of the various regions of the country are widely promoted. In the same spirit, a wide range of tourism investments are supported, which mainly concern the creation, expansion and modernization of integrated accommodation and resorts in order to upgrade the national tourism product.
In addition to the above, it should be mentioned that travelers’ expectations and the structure of the visitors’ economy are evolving rapidly under the impact of green and digital change. Therefore, tourism has to face major upheavals, such as the transition to the low-carbon economy and the constant adaptation to new technologies. Nowadays, innovation and sustainability have become the new norm, and rightly so.
Thus, digital and green transitions are among the priorities of the National Recovery Plan for tourism and the NSRF 2021-2027. The investment sectors in Greek tourism are digital skills, the adoption of sustainable production and consumption patterns, as well as digital capabilities and data management in view of addressing the digital and environmental transition that is of paramount importance for tourism in line with both the UN 2030 Agenda and the European Green Deal (2019-2024), as well as the transition path of European tourism according to the European Travel Committee (ETC).
The prospects for Greek tourism this year are promising, with early data showing that the season may reach, and possibly surpass, in numbers the “golden” year of 2019.
Obviously, it is still early to forecast for 2023 and we are happy with the success that seems to be predicted for the Greek tourism market, but we are not complacent.
At the Ministry of Tourism, we are working systematically and methodically to create the national strategy for tourism that will enhance our already existing comparative advantages, while at the same time allowing us to become more resilient in times of crisis, improve weaknesses and take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead of us.
The main objectives of the national tourism policy are
- to improve the competitiveness, quality, authenticity, durability and sustainability of the tourism product and at the same time
- to strengthen tourism investments with a low environmental footprint.
The aim is to proceed with the implementation of a new philosophy, focusing on the twin transition to a greener and more sustainable development, the digital transformation and the enhancement of the skills of human resources, which are called upon to staff in the present and in the future a more resilient, sustainable, accessible and innovative tourism ecosystem in our country.
We place great emphasis on diversifying our tourism product by overcoming the classic “sea and sun” model. Specifically, we aim to extend the tourist season both spatially and temporally, as well as to promote thematic tourism such as conference tourism (MICE), maritime, mountainous, gastronomic and thermal tourism, among others.
In 2018 the Greek Ministry of Tourism has introduced law 4582/2018 (A’ 208) on thematic tourism under par. 3 of article 20 of Law, “spa – thermal tourism is a special form of tourism providing tourist services in areas, the main characteristic of which is the use of recognized natural spa resources in special facilities for therapeutic purposes and addresses to those who wish to combine their rest and recreation, with the use of healing natural resources, in order to improve their physical and/or mental health”.
In addition, in par. 4 of the same article, wellness tourism is defined as “the form of tourism in which visitors-tourists enjoy in tourist facilities high-level services that include the care of physical condition, aesthetic treatment, anti-aging, thalassotherapy, healthy eating, relaxation, meditation, body care, as well as spiritual and physical rejuvenation, individually or in groups.”
Thermal tourism is also connected to medical tourism, as it enhances the creation of an integrated product that offers the visitor-patient a holistic treatment of specific diseases, combining medical treatment with rehabilitation, as well as prevention and promotion of a healthy lifestyle after the patient’s recovery.
Thermal springs’ waters have healing properties. Thermal waters spring from rocks and on their way to the surface of the earth they acquire their mineral components, which are the reason for their therapeutic effect. Depending on the composition of their mineral waters, thermal springs can be defined as alkaline, ferrous, 8 sulfurous, radioactive, etc. Their therapeutic effect is threefold: mechanical, thermal, and chemical.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the past, thermal tourism and especially hydrotherapy, was identified in the consciousness of many with illness and old age. This perception seems to be changing, according to the findings of a recent survey conducted by the University of Macedonia in collaboration with the Association of Municipalities of Thermal Springs of Greece (ΣΔΙΠΕ) and with the participation of 21 Greek thermal towns.
The ages of bath users and educational attainment have begun to expand. More and more young people and people of higher education visit the baths not only for treatment, but also for relaxation or well-being.
In Europe there are 1,400 spa tourism centers operating as Health Resorts, visited by millions of patients from all over the world, seeking medical care outside their national borders.
The main thermal tourism stations in Europe are Germany, Italy, France, England, Switzerland and Austria, where thermal therapies are combined with leisure, rejuvenation, sports and cultural activities. And in Eastern European countries, such as Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria, thermal tourism is an important sector of their economy.
Therefore, it is more than obvious that we are not called upon to reinvent the wheel, but to move forward in the new tourism ecosystem and to methodically and systematically exploit the opportunities that our country presents for spa tourism.
Nature, apart from rare landscapes and special natural beauties, has also given Greece springs with important therapeutic advantages. The thermal baths are part of the national wealth of the country, while their therapeutic properties have been known since ancient times.
Specifically, thermalism was born 2,500 years ago in the Aegean.
The father of medicine, Hippocrates, had studied and talked about the healing properties of waters and can be considered the founder of the science of hydrotherapy. References to the life-giving and healing role of water are also abundant in mythology and in the narratives of ancient historians, from which we learn that Hercules used to bathe in the spring of Thermopylae to regain his strength after each feat, Hebe, the goddess of youth, bathed in the thermal waters of Patras to keep young and the spring of Ypati was dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite.
Testimonies about baths are also found in the Homeric epics, while generally in ancient Greek times we know that baths were used for therapeutic purposes. The pre-eminent sanctuary of hydroworship and hydrotherapy during the pre-Hippocratic era was the Asclepieion of Epidaurus, while baths and fountains for hydrotherapy also had the Asclepieion of Kos.
The tradition and practice of thermal medicine and therapeutic baths was bequeathed and continued by the Romans and the Byzantines (from whom the Ottomans inspired their hammams) and survives to this day.
Greece today is one of the richest countries in natural sources of mineral water, hot and cold, with varying physicochemical composition and plenty of indications for application in modern natural hydrotherapy.
According to data from the Institute of Geological and Mineral Research (IGME), in Greece there are 822 recorded sources of thermomineral waters, of which 750 are usable in relation to their healing properties.
The existing thermal springs are divided by region as follows:
• Central Greece: 156
• Macedonia: 115
• Peloponnese: 114
• Thessaly: 57
• Epirus: 57
• Thrace: 25
• Islands: 229 of which 100 are in Crete for drinking therapy
To date, the Ministry of Tourism has certified eighty-three (83) thermal springs -soon enough to reach 84-, which are managed mostly by different public bodies (e.g., by Municipalities, by the Public Real Estate Company S.A., individuals, etc.) and has licensed 35 thermal tourism facilities. The data is posted on the official website of the Ministry of Tourism along with an interactive map providing with the location and details about each spring.
Furthermore, very soon the establishment of a working team for the evaluation, the elaboration, and the improvement of the legislative and regulatory framework for thermal tourism will be announced.
Thermal tourism and wellness tourism are a common strategic goal of the Ministry of Tourism as they often compose a single experience for the tourists, whereas both are treated as a single sector media wise.
Moreover, thermal tourism is linked to medical tourism, as it enhances the creation of an integrated product that offers the visitor-patient a holistic treatment of specific diseases, combining medical treatment with rehabilitation, prevention and promotion of a healthy lifestyle after the patient’s healing.
Taking into consideration the importance of thermal tourism in the overall tourist product of the country and according to the needs of both the visitor-tourist, as well as the businesses operating in this category of services, the Ministry of Tourism has identified the areas on which the future strategy for the promotion of thermal tourism should focus in order to attract and sustainably develop investments in the thermal sector.
In fact, it has already been included in the Recovery and Resilience Fund (RRF) and in the project “Tourism Development” (16931) that aims to promote alternative forms of tourism and extend the tourist season, a sub-project entitled “Health and Wellness Tourism by exploiting thermal springs”. The sub-project in particular aims at the exploitation of thermal natural resources through the creation of high quality, digitized and environmentally friendly infrastructure and thermal therapy units and has a completion horizon of 2025 with a budget of 28.321.000,00 €.
Specifically, the Project is part of the other tourism development projects that have been included in the RRF and concerns the exploitation of the country’s thermal resources and springs, by creating new or upgrading existing thermal tourism facilities.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The improvement of the facilities of the country’s thermal towns with modern infrastructure and equipment is necessary for the full exploitation of the thermal properties of the spring waters. At the same time, the integration of the springs into a network of various facilities that combine other activities (sports for all ages, cultural, recreational facilities for young people and children, green parks) can lead to the emergence of the springs in long-stay tourism holiday centers of all ages.
The utilization of resources by private individuals, or by Local Government through the creation of community enterprises, is an important form of local and regional development policy of the country.
In the final analysis, the full utilization, after assessing the therapeutic capacity and capacity of thermal springs in Greece, can be an area of development and investment initiatives for the benefit of the economy at national and local level.
Our country has many possibilities for developing alternative forms of tourism and spa tourism is a practical example.
Therapeutic tourism has significant economic advantages and is a form of tourism that can operate on a twelve-month basis. Many important springs could evolve from Thermal Centers that are today to Centers of Thermal Medicine (Health Resorts) and be combined with alternative forms of sustainable tourism. In this way, they will add value to the tourist product and will highlight the respective areas as destinations for demanding tourists.
Experts of the tourism market suggest that at least 150,000 people with health insurance can visit the thermal springs of our country, with a turnover of 300 million euros, given the financing of foreign travelers’ trips by their insurance funds. Furthermore, the most optimistic talk about a turnover of 1 billion euros from the exploitation of thermal springs.
Therefore, it is imperative to create the appropriate infrastructure for the provision of certified health, wellness and anti-aging services, so that Greece can acquire a dominant role in the field of health tourism and especially thermal tourism.
Thank you for your attention.