Thierry Dubois: “Balneotherapy can answer the new needs of our changing world”

Interview with Thierry Dubois, President of European Spas Association

Q: European Spas Association recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. What were the main goals of the association in the first years and what are the goals for the next decade?

The European Spas Association (ESPA) is a non-profit organization that brings together 20 European countries that are involved in balneotherapy. ESPA’s main goal has been to promote the use of spa medicine in Europe as a curative and preventive approach using natural remedies, rehabilitation techniques, and lifestyle education to maintain and enhance the health of patients and guests, promote healthy aging, and improve the overall quality of life.

In the next decade, ESPA plans to strengthen its presence in Europe as an essential player in the healthcare industry for managing chronic diseases, some of which have been exacerbated by the consequences of COVID-19, such as respiratory, cardiac, neurological, psychological, and musculoskeletal disorders. ESPA will continue to develop spa wellness and prevention, areas in which spa therapy has been shown to be effective.

As natural treatments become more popular among both healthcare providers and patients, it is important to continue educating and promoting the benefits of spa medicine and prevention using natural remedies. In recent years, people have realized that traditional drug treatments are not always the best solution due to their potential side effects. This has led to a growing interest in natural treatments, and the spa industry and health tourism have been growing at an annual rate of more than 10% worldwide.

The trend in “the new normal” is very promising, but government support is a tough discussion every year due to the economic situation.


The aim is to convey information that spa medicine and prevention using natural remedies are good investments in the health of our citizens.

Q: The European Spas Association represents 20 countries. What benefits does ESPA bring to its members?

We provide benefits for our members through the exchange of experiences among different stakeholders, the sharing and development of best practices, and the conduct of medical and economic studies. This allows for the strengthening of spa therapy at the European level. Additionally, ESPA aims to:

  • Influence policy in the European Union.
  • Promote and improve quality standards in all spas and health resorts within Europe.
  • Create positive perceptions about the medical benefits of spa treatments among public authorities, health funds, and medical doctors.

The ESPA Annual Congress is considered a crucial aspect of ESPA’s activities. It serves as a platform for the transfer of knowledge and best practices, and also offers recognition for the most innovative spa products through the ESPA Innovation Awards. Additionally, the congress provides new business opportunities for members. The congress is held annually in a spa town in a member country, and features a diverse range of themes, including medical, economic, marketing, and energy saving, among others. The event features a variety of specialized speakers and the Innovation Awards recognize the most outstanding achievements in Europe and provide motivation for members. Additionally, ESPA has also been organizing B2B events with spa centers and travel agencies for several years, to promote balneotherapy in these cities.

“The ESPA Congress is the main annual highlight for members and professionals”

Q: How important do you consider the annual ESPA Congress to be in terms of transferring knowledge and best practices, as well as providing recognition for innovative spa products through the ESPA Innovation Awards and creating new business opportunities?

The ESPA Annual Congress, which always takes place in a spa town in a member country, is the main annual highlight for members or professionals attending the congress.

The themes are very varied (medical, economic, marketing, energy saving, etc.). Numerous speakers specialised in their field develop current or prospective themes.

The Innovation Award recognizes, in several categories, the most outstanding achievements in Europe and provides a stimulus for members.

For several years, a B to B is realized with professionals of spa centers and travel agencies to favor the promotion of balneotherapy in these cities.


Q: Balneotherapy plays an integral role in preserving good health. How has the perception of balneology changed due to the Covid-19 epidemic?

The Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed the mentality of citizens. The isolation imposed by governments for many months, the teleworking, and the confined life for families in cramped housing, made citizens aware that they had to live differently.  People are moving from big cities to smaller towns, to the countryside, to the seaside, to leave a cramped flat for a house with a garden. Teleworking also encourages this relocation.

Spa therapy, and medical treatment, allows relaxation, and letting go, and many citizens come to our centers, for those who have one near them, regularly to take care of their body, of their minds. For others, they come back to the spa centres once or twice a year. Besides, numerous spa centers have developed programmes adapted to answer the needs of their patients.

“In the coming years, we will welcome more and more patients suffering from mental health problems”

Q: Discussion around mental health is gaining prominence around the world. What is your professional view on the importance of mental health and well-being?

Mental health and well-being are becoming very important issues for our citizens. This is due to the hectic life that is imposed on them because of the speed of new communication tools.

Professional burnout is increasing enormously, and disorders such as fatigue, insomnia, and even anxiety and depression are on the rise. All this has been aggravated by the consequences of Covid-19.

Our citizens are going to take more care of their health, and balneotherapy can answer their new needs by preventing and stays of well-being, in order to offer them a better quality of life in an adapted natural and sustainable environment, free of pollution.

Spa therapy has developed new programs for the treatment of these new pathologies with a strong development. It is certain that in the coming years, we will welcome more and more patients suffering from these pathologies, it is thus necessary to adapt our treatments to these psychosomatic disorders.

Q: What challenges lie ahead for spa and health tourism in the coming year?

The challenge for ESPA and health tourism is to adapt to these new pathologies, and to make this known by promoting them in our own countries, but especially at the European level.

Spa therapy is an effective healthcare tool for a large number of pathologies, without side effects and inexpensive compared to some other treatments.

Let’s promote it and continue its development.

Our organization in France has started a very important study on the ECONOMIC IMPACT of health resorts. In this study we integrate all providers of the spa industry, and this could be a prime example of a comprehensive and realistic measurement of the economic contribution to health tourism in Europe. We would like to prove this essential information about the economic effects of spa destinations and diverse important influences on employment and infrastructure of health resorts in rural areas of Europe with strong facts.

“As you see, the world is changing. Our fellow citizens have adopted a totally different lifestyle, and balneotherapy and health tourism can answer their new needs. This augurs a strong growth recovery.”

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