An assessment of the role of natural hot and mineral springs in health, wellness and recreational tourism

Erfurt, Patricia J. (2011) An assessment of the role of natural hot and mineral springs in health, wellness and recreational tourism. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

The aim of this research was to assess the role of natural hot and mineral springs in health, wellness and recreational tourism, based on a model which was developed for this purpose. Natural hot and mineral springs are important resources for the development of health resort and spa destinations and present interesting features for nature-based tourism (ecotourism, geotourism). Hot spring tourism involves visiting destinations with natural hot and mineral springs as key tourist attractions and is underreported in the tourism literature, although visitor numbers for this particular sector are rising. While health and wellness tourism is discussed in recent literature, a paucity of in-depth academic analyses relating to the significant contribution of natural hot and mineral springs to health, wellness and recreational tourism is evident. To close this gap in the literature this thesis focuses on the role of natural hot and mineral springs as an important natural resource in health, wellness and recreational tourism. Elements of the hot spring experience are examined and include the historical use and cultural background, their geology and their contribution to the health, wellness and recreational tourism sector based on facilities available for medical and recreational purposes at hot spring destinations. As with any research project there have been limitations which have affected the scope of the study, in particular the size of the global hot spring tourism industry and the difficulty to obtain reliable data. To assess the role of natural hot and mineral springs in health, wellness and recreational tourism was the specific aim of this research and to examine and evaluate this role five research objectives were employed:

1. To develop a conceptual model to assess the role of natural hot and mineral springs within health, wellness and recreational tourism;

2. Identification of settings where natural hot and mineral springs are integrated in health, wellness and recreational tourism;

3. Explore the historical development of hot springs as destinations for tourism;

4. Analysis of the cultural context of hot springs as a tourism resource;

5. Investigation of the recognition of the medical benefits associated with natural hot and mineral springs.

The research methodology follows the philosophical assumptions of the Interpretive Social Science (ISS) paradigm (constructivist paradigm) and is supplemented by several qualitative research methods. The evaluation of hot spring tourism commenced with a meta-analysis of relevant literature. Results of the literature analysis were used to create a conceptual model that was designed to evaluate and assess the role of natural hot and mineral so springs in health, wellness and recreational tourism. The research frame was built around two case studies as well as participant observation and interviews. The model was then tested through two case studies based on an evaluation of natural hot and mineral springs in Japan and Germany. The case studies provide an in-depth analysis of the role of hot springs in tourism. These case studies present details of socio-cultural settings, treatment methods such as balneology, national health insurance systems, government policies and relevant institutions that determine the course of development of geothermal resources for health, wellness and recreational tourism and identify common elements.

Additional research methods included participant and non-participant observation as well as semi structured interviews with key representatives from the hot spring tourism industry. While carrying out field research, enquiries were made from members of the public, tour guides and/or other visitors about their hot spring experience using a predetermined selection of interview questions. As a validation strategy triangulation was used to reduce the likelihood of misinterpretation of multiple data sources and research methods as well as to assess connections between research variables.

The key findings of the research confirm the significance of hot spring based tourism on a global basis and present a new perspective in the discussion of health, wellness and recreational tourism. Natural hot and mineral springs are found in many countries and make a significant contribution to health, wellness and recreational tourism. As an alternative health source natural hot and mineral springs have the profound benefit of being seasonally independent and therefore attract visitors all year round. A high awareness about the therapeutical value of natural hot springs due to their mineral content is common throughout the related literature and among interview respondents. In many European countries for example medical treatment based on natural hot and mineral springs is integrated into the respective health systems and supported by the medical profession based on clinical studies and success rates. Government policies and regulations in countries such as Japan, Germany or Taiwan indicate strongly that natural hot springs are an important part of the national health system and provide evidence for their role in health wellness and recreational use.

Natural hot and mineral springs are recognised by the tourism industry as a unique natural resource and frequently marketed in combination with other local attractions (e.g. cultural, historical, geological). They not only provide a resource for health and wellness tourism, but also contribute to the demand for recreational aspects of nature-based tourism. Hot springs are considered a significant drawcard for the health, wellness and recreational tourism and are developed for tourism purposes where possible. The research findings further reveal that the historical and cultural use of natural hot and mineral springs has been extensive over time on a global basis. Many spa towns have a history of hundreds or even thousands of years and have upgraded and redeveloped their thermal facilities for current use (e.g. Aachen, Germany; Kusatsu, Japan; Bath, UK; Rotorua, New Zealand; Beitou, Taiwan). Another significant point is the popularity of hot springs with all age groups, genders and socio-cultural backgrounds, especially in countries were natural hot springs can be easily accessed (e.g. Japan, New Zealand, Iceland) and are used on a regular basis. Under responsible management and by avoiding over-exploitation natural hot springs present a renewable resource for sustainable tourism development on a long term basis.

The conceptual model was applied successfully to the case studies of Germany and Japan (Chapters 5 and 6) as well as in the historical review of hot spring use and has been effective in assessing and evaluating the role of natural hot and mineral springs in health, wellness and recreational tourism. This thesis addresses a significant gap in the tourism literature by reviewing in detail the various elements that collectively constitute hot spring tourism with experiences and examples from the health, wellness and recreational tourism perspective. The research findings advance the theoretical knowledge by using the model to identify the individual components of hot spring tourism and present a comprehensive analysis and assessment of the interactions between tourism and the use of natural resources by raising awareness about the current size and the future potential of hot spring use worldwide.

Item ID: 31110
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: geotourism; Germany; health; health spas; hot spring tourism; hot springs; Japan; mineral springs; recreational tourism; spa tourism; tourism history; tourism development; wellness
Date Deposited: 26 Feb 2014 23:39
FoR Codes: 15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150606 Tourist Behaviour and Visitor Experience @ 33%
15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150603 Tourism Management @ 34%
15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150699 Tourism not elsewhere classified @ 33%
SEO Codes: 90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900302 Socio-Cultural Issues in Tourism @ 34%
90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900303 Tourism Infrastructure Development @ 33%
90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900399 Tourism not elsewhere classified @ 33%
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