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Thermal Tourism in the World

Thermal waters have been used since ancient times. In ancient times, people would visit places that were believed to have healing powers. The spas and thermal facilities built during the era of the Roman Empire are such examples. After the fall of the Roman Empire, many of these facilities ceased to function, yet they still attract the attention of health tourists today (Didaskalou and Nastos 2003; Cook 2008).

In antiquity, it was believed that thermal waters were heated by divine forces, hence their healing powers. These waters were used not only for bathing but also for washing and cooking. Festivals, feasts, and fairs at particular periods of the year used to be organized around thermal waters (Kervankiran and Kaya 2013). By 4000 B.C., Sumerians were known to have baths with thermal waters in their temples. In 2000 B.C., they manufactured bronze cups to be used for drinking the waters which were rich in minerals. Drinking these waters had become a preferred form of treatment. In 1500 B.C., the Greeks built the Asklepios temple to honor the god of healing. Many patients visited this place to find healing.

Similar developments happened in Japan during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as Japanese warriors believed that the waters had miraculous powers. Furthermore, tourists find it interesting that thermal waters have been used in hospitals in Egypt during the same time. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, “Saludeper Aqua” (spa) used the iron-rich spring water in Ville d’Eaux in France. By then, spa had attracted a worldwide interest (Jagyasi 2010).

The use of thermal waters intensified with the development of tourism starting with the seventeenth century (Nelson 2013). Spa and thermal tourism has quickly spread throughout the Western European countries (Ajmeri 2012: Tubergen and Linden 2002) to reach North America by the beginning of the nineteenth century (Nelson 2013).

Recognizing the importance of thermal tourism in terms of human health, many countries in the world prioritize the development of this type of tourism. Ten million people visit Germany and Hungary for thermal tourism purposes every year, while eight million people go to Russia, one million to France, and 800 thousand to Switzerland for this reason. Approximately 13 million visit Beppu city in Japan every year for thermal tourism (Ministry of Culture and Tourism 2015).

The leading countries in Europe in terms of thermal tourism are Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Russia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. There are 263 thermal centers in Germany with official certificates with a total bed capacity of 750,000. Eight thousand people visit the Das Leuze’s springs and recreation facilities in Stuttgart every day in the summer months (Genpay 2007). Spa treatment is fully or partially paid by both private and public health insurance companies in Germany provided the treatment has been prescribed by a doctor. There are 360 thermal facilities in Italy, 128 in Spain, 104 in France, and around 60 thermal facilities in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The 1500 spas in Japan have an overnight capacity of 100 million visitors. There are thermal facilities in the state of Arkansas in the USA which are used by 55 thousand people, and new centers have been established in Hawaii to extend mainly thermal tourism applications throughout the year (Genfay 2007).

The significance of thermal resources which have served mankind since ancient times has become more pronounced in present times. Since developed countries became aware of this significance earlier, they started to develop thermal tourism in previous years. Presently, developing countries have, albeit belatedly, understood the significance of thermal tourism and have started to enter the thermal tourism market. While wealthy tourists used to prefer the thermal venues of developed countries in previous years, now they have turned to developing countries due to their more authentic and natural environments. Consequently, the number of tourists visiting developing countries for their thermal waters increases continuously.

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