The Turnaround of the Thermal Spa Sector In France

By Jacqueline Clarke Wellness Research Director, Diagonal Reports | July 03, 2016

French Thermal Spas can inspire modern wellness and spa industries worldwide. They are turning around an industry that was in terminal decline. Their vision is of "a new thermalism" that will develop thermal solutions to solve the public health problems of today. The mega health problems they target include ageing-related conditions, addictions, allergies, stress, obesity related, and effective, but non-medicated, solutions for common pains. The new thermalism expands its appeal by diversifying from the rigidly therapeutic offer into the more flexible "thermoludic" (thermal and leisure). A major research project is generating the evidence to convince consumers and insurers.

New Thermalism for New Century / A €250 Million Vote of Confidence

French Thermal Spas can be an inspiration far beyond France. They have halted and reversed what, a decade ago, seemed to be an end game. Today the 89 active thermal spas are leading from the front. Their shared mission is to create "a new thermalism" that is integrated not just into the official health care system, but also into the public consciousness of their wellness options.

The industry data indicates there is growing demand for the new offer. Thermal spa visitor numbers, in 2015, were up 2.5% on the previous year and have been growing since 2010. The growth comes from treating health conditions that were not served by the "old" or classic thermalism. Among them conditions that were often weight -related, such as diabetes, veins, etc. The recent €250 million investment in new facilities and refurbishment is a strong vote of confidence by the sector in its vision for the future.

Some 15 new "resort style" or "thermoludic" spas have been opened in the past years. These centres are dedicated to the "thermoludic" offer - that is services, and facilities designed for relaxation and leisure or pleasure, rather than exclusively for medical cures.

What Consumers Rejected

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.