Health spas in Serbia

 

Serbia has hundreds of health spas that offer treatment for health problems ranging from thyroid malfunctions to backache. The hot springs became medieval pilgrimage centers, administered by monasteries where monks and nuns tended to the needs of the sick. In the Communist era, the state took them over, even if Orthodox religious bodies often continued to run them. Now government privatization efforts aimed at drawing in investors and tourists are meeting opposition, from the Orthodox authorities wanting to protect local interests and from spa workers seeking to preserve the medical role of thermal treatment centers.

In 2008, the government approved the privatization of 13 of the country’s main spa facilities, which are increasingly being used for leisure and health tourism. About 37 percent of all tourism in Serbia is spa-related, according to the Serbian Spas Association. While the clientele is still almost exclusively domestic, out of 366,000 visitors in 2008, only 23,000 were from abroad, the government sees the sector as a potential magnet for foreign visitors.

According to the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, British investors have expressed an interest in developing thermal tourism. But developments are slow. The sale by public auction of one of the country’s best-known spas, Gornja Trepca, in central Serbia, provoked an uproar in September last year. Although the buyer, a Serbian company, paid five times the minimum set price, $96,500, the Orthodox diocesan authorities reportedly demanded that the deal be annulled on the grounds that the land on which the spa facilities were built belonged to the local monastery. Sorting out property rights often stands as one of the biggest obstacles to progress.

The Union of Serbian Spas, which represents spa workers and patients, insists that all medical activities should remain the property of the state. Related facilities should be excluded from privatization, and the priority for adding beds should be to expand treatment capacity. The union is now demanding that the legislation governing privatization be amended to protect local patients’ rights and limit privatization to spa hotels, excluding treatment facilities.

The privatization of spas has started, but is awaiting a special law on spas, and a definition of privatization for each one, and the publication of tenders for the most appealing ones to attract investors. No more than half the existing beds will be privatized. At least half will stay in the national health system.

Serbia has 360 thermal springs and 36 spas. High quality and affordable medical care is found throughout Serbia. Many of the medical spas that offer treatments also offer guests top medical care, accommodation and peaceful surroundings to heal and enjoy. With over 50 health resorts and 1300 mineral baths, Serbia is growing as a popular medical destination for a variety of medical treatments, procedures, health spas and services.

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