Hot Springs; Historical and Natural Richness

Hot springs have been used as a source of healing since the early days of humanity, with even modern-day doctors prescribing patients to bathe in the sulfur-rich waters to help various health issues.

The Turkish Perspective MARCH 2020 ISSUE 80

The Turkish Perspective USING thermal and mineral waters for relaxation and health purposes is as old as the history of humanity. Turkish grounds have witnessed this use via endless historical remains. In Turkish, hot waters and their sources are called “ilica” (hot spring). With the construction of facilities and baths over these areas, they were called “closed hot springs” and then “kaplica” (hot spring) was developed. When the Turks brought “cerge” (steam bath) to Anatolia, they came across the Roman baths and combined them to created and developed the “Turkish bath” (hamam). Hot water springs, which are used for health protection-development, treatment and rehabilitation and the modern use supported with scientific knowledge is growing stronger and becoming a widespread approach primarily in our country but also in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.

Wanting to protect one's health and having the awareness of and wanting a healthier life, prior to developing any disease, is a new characteristic of human beings. It is at this point where health tourism steps in and the so called “health vacation” or “being healthy during vacation” concepts come to mind. It is becoming better understood that a hot spring not only creates an ideal atmosphere for the body and physical state but also for the mind-soul health distant from the stress, fatigue and tensions related to daily life.

Hot water baths, mineral springs, inhalations and steam bath applications specific to hot springs are combined with exercise, massage, diet and nutrition and other natural and traditional methods at many hot spring centers where they create the ideal atmosphere for a “health vacation”. In the meantime, treatment concepts that make people stronger are developing like wellness, fitness, anti-stress, anti-aging, that prevent stress and aging effects. The “magical” word of wellness comes from wellbeing and fitness in English, and is an artificially produced word that is used to aim for a healthier life with a vacation-relaxation component where treatment is chosen at the hot spring and return from the hot spring is healthier.
Believed to offer many health benefits, the hot springs welcomes visitors from both Türkiye and abroad. Skin diseases, rheumatism, and nerve and bone disorders are among the ailments that people seek to alleviate in the thermal pools. Thermal tourism is the type of tourism that combines thermomineral water bath, inhalation, drinking and mud bath with physical therapy, climatotherapy, exercise, rehabilitation, diet, psychotherapy, and with recreational and entertaining activities.

Türkiye has long been among the most favorable destinations of the world for tourists due to its ideal location, very rich natural and cultural tourism attractions, and increasing tourism investments. Under the Health Transformation Program, which began in 2003, Türkiye has become one of the world's leading countries in the healthcare sector. The country has succeeded in attaining high standards both for its hospitals and healthcare professionals with help of the program over the past decade.

Türkiye has many international rehabilitation and health care organizations which have internationally accredited standards. Together with medical tourism and thermal tourism, medical care services for elders and the disabled is another important part of health tourism. Thermal tourism is a type of alternative tourism in Türkiye that is known for growing in importance and in demand. In recent years, the number of modern thermal tourism facilities has increased in Türkiye, especially to meet the growing demands of foreign tourists. The increase in the number of thermal tourism facilities in Türkiye will contribute to the diversification of tourism in the country, increased demand for tourism, expansion of the tourism market, and improving Türkiye's image in the international arena. 

Located on an important geothermal belt, Türkiye is one of the top seven countries in the world in terms of resource richness and potential and is considered as the first in Europe, with 1,500 thermal springs, ranging between 20 – 100 degreees, with high therapeutic and geothermal potential.
There are approximately 190 thermal facilities in 46 cities in Türkiye. The bed capacity of the 12 facilities (the cure center of which has been approved by the Ministry of Health) which hold tourism investment certificates of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for thermal purposes is 2,347, while the bed capacity of the 30 facilities which hold tourism management certificates are 8,567. The 156 facilities, which have an approximate bed capacity of 16 thousand, are certified by local administrations. There are 34 tourism centers, one Protection, Development Region of Culture, and Tourism to date, which have been declared as such according to the Law no 2634 on the Encouragement of Tourism and are still operative.

The inventory work aimed at assessing the mentioned thermal tourism centers' current state and their potential with regards to tourism have been completed. According to the current approved development plans, the planned bed capacity of thermal tourism centers is approximately 100 thousand.
European countries, which are the most important target market for Türkiye, will have a substantial elderly population. Türkiye will serve these people with its developed facilities in coming years.

Hot springs in northwestern Türkiye are attracting Russian vacationers looking for a way to heal various health problems. Russian holidaymakers prefer Yalova province to enjoy the hot springs. Highlighting 3,500 Russian visitors were accommodated in Yalova in 2019, with an increase of 20 – 25 percent annually, Ümit Gürbüzoğlu, deputy manager of Thermal Hot Springs Enterprise of Türkiye's Ministry of Health said, “2,500 visitors came from Middle Eastern countries. Hot spring tourism is very popular, especially during the winter”. Aiming to increase the number of visitors in 2020, Gürbüzoğlu added.

Thermal facilities in Türkiye have generated approximately 1 billion dollars in revenue from some 3 million tourists, including 750 thousand foreigners, throughout 2019, according to the head of the Thermal Health and Tourism Association (TESTUD) Yavuz Yıllık. Mostly tourists from China, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Russia, United States, United Kingdom, Malaysia, Spain, Brazil, Azerbaijan, Norway and Luxembourg come to Türkiye for thermal tourism purposes, Yıllık said. Among other countries that showed a high interest are Czechia, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), Georgia, Turkmenistan, Kuwait, Bahrain and Iran, Yıllık added. Türkiye presents foreign patients with high-quality treatment at lower costs in comparison with Europe, the US and other western countries. 

Yıllık underscored that Bursa, Denizli, Yalova, Ankara, Dalaman, Istanbul and İzmir are the most fortunate cities due to their proximity to the airports and the ease of access to the service. Located in the Aegean province Denizli, the world-renowned Pamukkale is one of the most popular sites for such tourists, particularly those from Europe, East Asia, Latin America as well as Russia. Because of its location on the graben system of the Aegean Region and the cracks formed by this system Kütahya is one of the most important regions in in terms of geothermal sources. Those sources have quite high thermal value and are important for health tourism. Yıllık further stressed that despite the fewer number of tourists from Germany, Italy, Czechia and Israel, there was a higher foreign exchange inflow due to cultural tours made in addition to thermal tourism.

“Foreign tourists, who spend 650 dollars - 750 dollars on average in the all-inclusive accommodation system, reach over 1,000 dollars in alternative tourism, thus providing more oreign exchange inflow to our country,” he continued. “In this context, our country, which is rich in terms of tourism, should focus on thermal health and alternative tourism as well as sea, sand and sun tourism.” Stating that they are trying to introduce elderly and disabled care facilities in Türkiye to foreign insurance companies and health institutions by organizing educational promotional activities at home and abroad, Yıllık explained that this year they made promotional visits to many countries and cities, spearheaded by Russia. Yıllık pointed out that Türkiye, surrounded by seas on three sides, has a short flight distance to Europe, Asia and the Middle East, which is a vital factor for the touristic preference.