International trends in health tourism: Implications for thermal spring tourism in the Western Cape province of South Africa

24 Feb 2015

Travel to thermal springs for the sake of health and healing can be traced at least as far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans, with the earliest forms of tourism being based on apparent curative powers of mineral-rich thermal waters. There are 11 thermal springs in the Western Cape, seven of which have been developed into a total of eight resorts. Only one of these resorts has a focus on health, with appropriate facilities, the others functioning primarily as family leisure resorts. Internationally there has been a move by traditional thermal spring resorts to offer a combination of health (medical and wellness) services in combination with leisure activities. In the light of the rapidly growing demand for healthy holidays in other parts of the world, it may be that a potentially lucrative natural resource, mineral-rich thermal water with a long tradition of healing, is not being adequately utilized as part of the Western Cape?s tourism offering. This literature-based article traces the development of thermal spring health tourism internationally, and questions why such an industry is not being developed in South Africa, and in the Western Cape in particular, given the excellent resources currently available. Recommendations are made for location-specific medical and wellness thermal spring tourism product development in the Western Cape that focus on the utilisation of locally available natural resources and benefit local communities.