Finnish health tourism should concentrate on wellness


Finnish spas should develop their offering to meet changing customer preferences, according to new research. The popularity of health tourism is on the rise, according to research by the Innovations and Learning in Spa Management project (ILIS), coordinated by the Turku University of Applied Sciences. The range of spa and wellness travel services has increased rapidly in central Europe but Finnish spas have been slower to develop their offering. The ILIS Project has examined the views of both spa management and customers on how the sector should be developed, and compiled the results into virtual educational modules.

The research says that future growth areas in the travel sector will include health tourism. According to the Finnish Tourist Board, Finland’s strengths include opportunities for relaxation in calm surroundings, enjoying physical exercise in scenic nature, and the sauna. These are the main elements on which the current offering of basic wellness holidays and the health and exercise holidays are based.

Recent years have also seen the emergence of pampering holidays on the market. According to the ILIS Project, the customers’ interest in being pampered seems to have lessened and demand is now directed more towards treatments promoting good health. Responding to this trend requires closer cooperation between the spas and research centres, and the utilisation of multidisciplinary know-how.

Health tourism was defined by the International Union of Tourism Organisations in 1973 as the provision of health facilities utilising the natural resources of the country, in particular mineral water and climate. Since this definition the development of health tourism and spa tourism as its main sector has been rapid with a dramatic growth of supply and service differentiation. Natural resources (mineral water, salt, mud) are still in use, but integrated provision of body and mind is the trend including a wide spectrum of wellness, fitness, and medical wellness products and services. At the same time a broader population is being introduced to spa services.

ILIS project has defined a spa as: "A designated place of services in the continuum of health, wellbeing, relaxation and body styling (nutrition, gym, physical activities, cosmetic surgery, beauty care), which are offered holistically by skilled professionals often with aid of healing water."

Spa tourism is widely acknowledged as a core element of the health and wellness movement, which covers a broad spectrum of holistic, curative and preventative activities. The experience of spa goers is variable in the nature of treatments offered, the standards of service provided and the training that spa managers and the operatives delivering the treatments have experienced.

The ILIS project ended in 2010, but the final reports to the EU have only just been released. ILIS sought to-
•    Develop an understanding as to the nature and regional characteristics of spa products and services as an integral part of health tourism offered within the EU and of the demand characteristics for these products and services in each of the regions represented in this project.
•    Determine the extent to which each region is meeting the demand for skilled operatives, middle and senior management in the spa tourism industry.
•    Create common vocational training and virtual educational modules (including language and cultural skills) in cooperation with participating higher education and industry enterprise partners.



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