Thermal/Mineral Springs: What Does the Future Look Like?
Collaboration Takeaways

The Global Wellness Collaborations bring industry leaders together in meaningful dialogue to share ideas and best practices for navigating the COVID-19 crisis around a specific industry segment.

Topic: Thermal/Mineral Springs: What Does the Future Look Like?
Date of Discussion: May 5, 2020
Countries/Regions Represented: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, India, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Thailand, UAE, UK and US.

  • In Slovenia, we have 14 spas in our association. At the moment, three remain open. We have three spas that are providing care for severely ill patients on rehabilitation programs. Those patients come directly from hospitals for the normal two-week treatment, but we agreed with the ministry to prolong this for one additional week. We put every patient in separate isolation rooms for six days. The therapist performs the procedures in the room.
  • Just yesterday, we opened the ambulatory rehabilitation section, where patients come daily for rehabilitation. There are longer procedures on each patient since the therapist works one on one; we are seeing very good results.
  • In Poland, you have a little bit different situation because all the facilities, including thermal spas and springs, are absolutely closed at the moment, and we don’t know when our facilities will be reopened.
  • The opening of the market will be in four phases. As of yesterday, the hotels opened but only for the accommodations. We anticipate the rest of the facilities opening end of June.
  • Thailand has only three hot springs, and they are presently closed. Ninety-five percent of all hotels and tourism facilities in the country are also closed. Just recently, parks and certain restaurants were able to open up.
  • There are two ongoing projects in China that are in the design development stage, and since they are not yet operational, they were not affected.
  • Our facilities in Korea, China and Taiwan are fully back.
  • (Property in Europe…) We should be open by June 1, including the thermal pools. We are now working day and night on protocols. The majority of our protocols are created in conjunction with other European countries, so we have cooperation with our ministry and our national institute.
  • At our property in Southern California, we saw what was coming in the beginning of March. We wanted to be early, and we wanted to be responsible, so we closed. Everyone remained on health insurance. We made sure that everybody was well taken care of, and actually have been using the time to redo the entire canteen food and lounge facilities. We intend to open on June 1 or June 15. We are putting things into place. We have new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), new processes and procedures in place.
  • Before we closed, we had about 1,000–2,200 people every day at our springs, and we will start off only allowing 350. We have removed a lot of lounge chairs and changed the entire seating capacity in the restaurants to have 300 people on the entire 20 acres of land.
  • In Japan, we have hot spring onsen facilities. Even though there has been a state of emergency declared by the government, many onsens are open. Some of the spa resorts are still open because there is no regulation, and the law doesn’t punish them at the moment.
  • Anyway, my guess is that the Japanese government is going to be looking closely at the numbers of infected patients per day, and the speed at which infection is spreading. At the moment, it seems like the opening will be the end of May.
  • Is there a huge concern about people going back to the thermal springs in terms of infection and COVID-19? Is that a big conversation or would you say that’s not something a lot of people are concerned about.
  • Yes, it’s a very big problem because many of the customers have a strong commitment to social distancing. And then, of course, sanitation and hygiene are quite important.
  • When compared to the other countries, Standard Operation Procedures allow for the other facilities. Now, the Japanese SOP is not so fine, I think, because now only the Japan Spa Association has revealed their SOP standard but not the other associations yet. The number of infected people is not so big like the other countries. Bathing is an essential service because they have to keep the hypochlorous acid water humidity of the sink over 60 percent in a changing room or the other common room.
  • In Texas, we decided to delay the opening of our new thermal property by a year and take that time to expand our facilities and have a bigger footprint when we open. We will have the ability to open up with suites that have private pools that are drain and fill. We’re looking at opening in June, beginning with the suites as well as a small amount of food, beverage and retail.
  • We’ll be making a presentation to the governor of New Mexico, which is one of the states that is really locked down tight. We have to go to the governor to get permission from her to move ahead.
  • I did talk to Dr. Benjamin Newman, a world-renowned Coronavirus expert. He explained to me that whatever humans like—the virus likes. The hot water in our tubs will slowly inactivate the virus, but it won’t knock it out quickly. However, the water will not cause the transmission of the virus. UVC light and ozone pretty much inactivate it almost immediately.
  • There is a difference between sanitation and disinfection. Sanitation kills most germs but not all. Disinfection kills all the germs. And so, if you’re killing the bacteria, you’re also killing viruses. I believe that we can create a safe environment for our guests as they come into our resorts.
  • One of the things I’ve learned is that hair salons, nail salons, and those type of operations have always had very good sanitation procedures. We are also looking at hospital grade sanitation procedures.
  • Then there’s these electrostatic guns that you can use to disperse the disinfection materials. So, when it hits the surface, it evenly spreads out and adheres to the surface for a longer period of time. So, you ensure more contact time on the surface to inactivate the virus.
  • GWI has aggregated reopening standards and toolkits that are being used by various organizations around the world.
  • The big question has been the relationship of heat/thermal and chlorinated water to the viral load and to what extent it can combat it. Is there evidence and science to support it? We’ve all heard some discussion about whether the virus thrives more in cold weather than warm—if there is a seasonality to it. Seems like this hasn’t been decided yet one way or the other.
  • It is my understanding that the Coronaviruses, which are enveloped respiratory and RNA viruses, have a lipid coating around the outside, and that this is quite fragile. So, they can’t tolerate heats above 55 degrees Celsius (131 Fahrenheit). So, inside a sauna or a steam room, the virus will just melt and be destroyed. Therefore, inside solar is one of the safest places you can be.
  • In addition, there are so many reasons why heat stress will help activate your immune system, and no social distancing is required in a sauna because of the heat.
  • It is my understanding that treatments like hot spring bathing and sauna bathing or alternating hot and cold, like the traditional methods, have good evidence that they can prevent respiratory viral infections like COVID-19. One caveat, you certainly wouldn’t use heat treatments during a fever or while someone’s actively sick.
  • What about the mineral water? And also chlorinated water? Do those have an impact on the virus? Chlorine doesn’t work well in hot water. As far as mineral water goes, we don’t know the effect on the virus. There’s been no studies on COVID-19 for mineral water.
  • I understand in Europe, they’re doing some studies, but certainly viruses cannot replicate in water like bacteria can. Viruses need human cells to replicate. And you have to take the virus into your nasal mucosa and let it reproduce there to actually catch it. So, unless someone coughs in the hot pool, and then you snort, it’s not going to transmit through the water. So, that’s actually not a high-risk environment.
  • In Canada, we have three facilities in different provinces, and all are closed. We need scientific information to educate our government on whether it is safe or not to open a sauna or hot tub.
  • There’s quite a bit of research out there that talks about heat and viruses. There’s nothing on this current Coronavirus, but there is evidence about heat for SARS and MERS.
  • I do keep up with scientific articles and the research literature and have done a paper summarizing a lot of these for the industry. I’m happy to do more, including outlining protocols in terms of how to use heat and cold in thermal facilities.
  • In Poland, our customers really use thermal facilities not just for wellness but also for medical.
  • I do also think that evidence-based research is very important, and while that is going to get us open, we also need the protocols.
  • We’re developing programs where people can have a private program so that their experience feels more luxurious.
  • We are currently closed, struggling with all the regulations in Thailand that have been previously mentioned. And I am definitely willing to work on developing protocols and trying to communicate standards. The science is what needs to be conveyed to politicians and other public health officials.
  • On another topic, has anyone had success with doing virtual communications while your thermal/mineral springs businesses are closed?
  • We share healing videos every morning.
  • Colorado, where the hot springs are, we have a vignette several times a week, or we go live on Instagram and show, in real-time, the river flowing through the city and all of the hot tubs along the river to sort of just give people a moment of peace and tranquility. It’s really just more of a glimpse of nature.
  • We do a moment of calm, which is about 10 or 15 minutes of something in nature. Could be just a view of the lake or even a flower in the garden. One day, it was raining, and the view was really beautiful, coming off the dock. We’ve gotten a lot of great response from these efforts. That way people tune in and just love taking a breath in their day.
  • We developed a cuisine called tonic cuisine that is gluten and dairy product free. It’s a gastronomy cuisine. And we never thought that we would develop a takeout, but in fact, we have! It’s very interesting; it’s a way to make us known through a different channel.
  • The hydrothermal expert fleet channel is keeping the momentum going. We’ve reached out to practitioners and therapists, and we’re coaching them in how to teach their clients at home to provide a way for people to boost their immunity, for example, through various bathing rituals.
  • This is an incredible time to be doing research and to be working on plans that you couldn’t get to do when you’re busy doing your other projects. It’s a huge opportunity for training.
  • Other collaboration calls were about practical steps to building your business. Looking at online sales and things you could be doing with an online presence. All of this is geared to be ready when the doors open again.
  • Links to share that received a lot of coverage:

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