The European Spas & Balneology Congress 2023 officially commenced with an opening ceremony in the legendary Imperial Spa (Kaiserbad) in Karlovy Vary. The event has been taking place for 27 consecutive years. This year, it intertwined three central pillars of the ESPA association: the ESPA Congress, the ESPA Innovation Award and the SPA-CE B2B workshop for spa and wellness tourism.
Esteemed guests have addressed participants at the opening ceremony, including Ivan Bartoš, Minister for Regional Development, Petr Kulhánek, Governor of the Karlovy Vary Region, Andrea Pfeffer Ferklová, Mayor of Karlovy Vary, Thierry Dubois, President of the European Spas Association, Eduard Bláha, President of the Association of Medical Spas of the Czech Republic and Josef Pavlovic, Deputy Minister of Health.
The congress was co-organised by ESPA (European Spas Association), the Region of Karlovy Vary, Medical Spas of the Czech Republic and the Balneology Research Centre of Karlovy Vary. A record-breaking 230 participants from more than 30 countries joined the event.
The official part of the event featuring expert presentations took place between 5-6 October 2023. The central topic of the event was: »The way to a healthy Life«.
Thierry Dubois, President of the European Spas Association, commented: “The interest in attending the ESPA Congress grows yearly. That shows that balenology is gaining prominence. This year, we hosted numerous experts who presented diverse topics from medicine, sustainability, sales, and new health-oriented services, but all emphasised the challenges presented by Europe’s demographics. For this reason, the importance of preventive health treatments will increase.”
For the high-ranking representatives, we would like to express our thanks to Martin Plachý and Eduard Blaha from the Czech Healing Spas Association. This year the European Spa and Balneology Congres were opened by Ivan Bartoš, Minister of Regional Development, and Josef Pavlovic, Deputy Minister of Health. The Innovation Award Gala was welcomed by the Minister of Health, Vlastimil Válek and the Governor of the Karlovy Vary Region, Petr Kulhánek. An important part for the congress and for the industry was the final discussion with the Minister for EU Affairs, with Mr. Drovak and he recieved personally the Karlovy Vary Declaration. One of the impressive reception was in the newly renovated Imperial Spa by Mayor Andrea Pfeffer Ferklová with a very elegant and impressive start for the memorable congress. For the first time the European Spas welcomed the representative of the UNWTO and the fruitful cooperation will continue.
The keynotes were adress the most current challenge about The Aging Population, Opportunities for the Healthcare System by Jakub Hlávka, online media consumption in health-tourism by Karel Kovář, Medicine and prevention in balneology by Richard Češka.
The opening section concentrated on EU Health policy and the potential of the health resorts, new pathways of cooperation. Nina Kušar, Senior Project Specialist Regional Department for Europe World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), gave an overview and possible cross-cutting activities, István Újhelyi MEP EU, Vice President of the TRAN Committee, emphasized the importance of EU4H and prevention, Todorka Kostadinova show the importance of Stakeholder Management, new fields of cooperation on behalf of the European Health Management Association. She opened a new chapter for global medical cooperation, including with the WHO. Sven Aerts, ESPA adviser on EU health policy, made clear what role European spas should play in the EU Long Covid strategy and other EU programs.
The expert medicinal aspect of spas is also one of the main goals of the ESPA association and was at the forefront of the congress. This section was organized by the Balneology research centre of Karlovy Vary, supported by MUDr. Ladislav Špišák. Speakers from all around Europe, including the new chairman of the medical commission of European Spas, Prof. Patrick Carpentier, presented numerous new findings in treating cardiovascular disease, burnout, long-term COVID treatment, climate health resorts and other scientific challenges.
One of the central parts of the event was the meeting of mayors hosted by Karlovy Vary’s proactive mayor, Andrea Pfeffer. Distinguished guests, Petr Kulhánek, Governor of the Karlovy Vary Region, Brigitte Goertz-Meissner, President of the German Spa Association, Georg Steckenbauer, Professor of the Economy in Tourism and Christoph Köstinger, Director of Gasteiner Heilstollen, discussed the economic aspects and multiplicative effects of spa towns. The speakers also showcased good case practices and success factors of health destinations from the charismatic mayor of Baden bei Wien, Stefan Szirucsek and including the positive effects of spa tourism in the Gastein region by Christoph Köstinger.
The marketing panel echoed among the audience and included distinguished guests such as Jan Herget, CEO of Czech Tourism and Barbara Zmrzlikar, Head of the department of the Slovenian Tourist Board. They delved into ever-trending topics of marketing and sales that left a lasting impression on the participants and the online reservation system operators.
Two evening events offered the perfect opportunity for congress attendees to convene with participants of the SPA-CE B2B workshop, where 25 health and Spa resorts from 10 countries meet representatives of 40 tourist agencies and tour operators from 14 countries. SPA-CE B2B workshop was organised in cooperation with Czech Tourism, Toleranca marketing and local hosts.
On Wednesday, 4 October, while on their way to the grand reception at the Imperial Spa, the attendees even broke the local record for group drinking of the healing mineral water, which organisers promote as a »Drinking for health initiative«.
Thursday evening was devoted to the traditional ESPA Innovation Awards, where awards in 8 categories were given to the most innovative heath and Spa resorts, destinations and individuals. The Award ceremony took place in the famous GrandHotel Pupp.
The Friday programme focused on practical topics such as best examples and trends of entrepreneurship in the spa business, new demands in health tourism, role of balneology in physical and mental health prevention and in the parallel section other current medical topics such as burnout, Longevity, holistic approach to healing in spas, concept of the spa therapeutic landscape.
The concluding act of the event was the signing of the »Karlovy Vary declaration«, led by Martin Dvořák, the Minister for European Affairs. A joint declaration was prepared to make an appeal to the elected representatives of the European institutions and to the candidates for the EU Parliament elections to support the medical spa industry and European health destinations, not to underestimate the industry’s therapeutic significance and other benefits, and those who save a lot of money for public health, and not to neglect this in the strategic plans and meetings of stakeholders, and concepts being developed at the level of European institutions.
The programme concluded with expert familiarization trips to Marianske and Františkovy Lazne, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.