Thursday, 9 January 2014

Quality Seals in the Health and Well-being Tourism Industry

Professor Kai Illing, FH Joanneum
The health and well-being tourism industry came into being in the 1990's. The Central European countries showed tremendous increases in demand and supply. Thermal spring spas, hotel spas, medical spas, and other types of spas were being built, and people decided to take wellness holidays. This kind of privately-paid pampering, relaxing, and sometimes health promoting leisure time did not develop at the same pace in all European countries. Some East European countries stuck to their more medical spa tradition based on natural remedies, with the treatments being at least partly paid by health insurance.

Booming markets often react in the same way: Some new suppliers imitate successful services, offering them at a bad cost-performance ratio. The quality erodes, clients get upset, and those who are the defenders of a best quality approach try to install instruments which help push back the late comers. Instruments of that kind include, for example, quality seals which can be obtained from various companies. If a certain set of criteria is fulfilled, a certificate is given to them.

One of the best-known quality seals comes from the European Spa Association ESPA (Quality standard for medical spas and medical wellness providers in Europe). It comprises about 1000 ambitious quality criteria which together focus on companies dealing with natural remedies. The quality seal can be obtained throughout Europe. The certification can be granted to individual companies such as medical spas, thermal baths, and other therapy centers. 

The health and well-being tourism industry in Central Europe has created a large number of quality seals; therefore hotels that want to have a quality seal have to bear in mind that very different quality seals can be obtained, some with less or more challenging criteria. Some focus on health and others on pampering, while some quality seals are only for hotels and others for clinics.

What about destinations?
Picture: ESPA
Many countries and their tourist destinations do not really specialize in certain themes such as culture, nature, or health and well-being. Health and well-being as a developing strategy on a destination level is quite new, the market is not yet driven by tough competition, and consequently not characterized by quality seals and others instruments needed in hard fought markets. Compared to other countries, Austria tried quite early to open the market up for destinations specializing in health and well-being. The "Austria well-being destination of Europe” initiative, funded by the government, started around ten years ago and showed early insight into the fact that health and well-being might be an issue for destinations too. Since then, some destinations have tried quite successfully to develop their services. Quality seals, with respect to health and well-being destinations, are not yet very common, as the market has developed slowly in comparison to the hotel wellness and spa market.

Prof. Dr. Kai T. Illing