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Business in Polish spa waters

In every country in the world there are place names that evoke very specific associations. The city of Bath in England, Germany’s Baden Baden or Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic belong to this group of European cities that do not need to be introduced to anyone. Their very name evokes associations with spas and treatments that have a positive affect not only beauty, but also health. Poland also has a number of centers that are visited every year by many tourists and patients from home and abroad.

Thermal Pool "Zdrój Wojciech" in Lądek-Zdrój
Thermal Pool “Zdrój Wojciech” in Lądek-Zdrój, photo Polish Tourism Organisation

When thinking about Polish holiday resorts, it is worth remembering that not every resort visited by tourists is also considered a health resort. There are a number of places that, with the help of marketing efforts, promote themselves as places of tranquil rest. It is often the case that they do not have any formal status. According to the data of the Ministry of Health, there are 46  official registered health resorts and 8 environmental protection Spa areas in Poland. So where are these places and what does such status actually mean?

What does having the status of an official registered health resort mean?

Being granting the status of an official registered health resort in Poland means that a given commune has a special form of legal protection granted by the Minister of Health. The reason for such a rigorous approach, is the source of funding of treatment. In Poland most forms of treatment in centers which are official registered health resorts, are refunded by the National Health Fund, from public money for patients who were referred by medical practitioners, as part of their necessary treatment. In consequence protection is granted to areas where there are natural deposits with special healing properties or certain climatic conditions. It is worth knowing that each of these centers has a special legal status, which is associated with both privileges and restrictions. In certain cases, a municipality may not be granted the status of an officially registered health resort. Instead, the Minister of Health may grant the status of a spa protection area to that selected location. The legal situation of communes with an official registered status of health resort and spa protection areas is regulated by the Act of 28 July 2005 on health treatment, health resorts and spa protection areas and spa communes.

Towns with confirmed health resort status are entitled to use special descriptive terminology. The most popular form of marking the health resort status is adding the suffix “zdrój” to the name of the place. Less popular are the suffixes “cieplice” or increasingly fashionable – “thermal spa”.

Each officially registered health resort consists of 3 zones – A, B, C. Zone A consists mainly of areas with a high share of biologically active substance, i.e. over 65 percent. Usually these are green areas, i.e. forests or landscaped green areas. In zone B there is a significant share – over 50% – of the biologically active substance, and zone C is the area with the largest share of built-up areas. What’s more, in each health resort there are both so-called spa treatment areas, such as spring water drinking rooms, parks, graduation towers or health paths and specialized medical facilities. It is worth knowing that each Polish officially registered health resort has its own specialization.

In the years 2007-2009, a total of 5 scientific and research institutions were authorized to confirm the healing properties of natural medicinal raw materials and the healing properties of the climate.

How many officially registered health resorts are there in Poland?

According to data from September 2022, there are 46 officially registered health resorts and 8 spa protection areas operating in Poland. In the first position, in terms of the number of such health resorts, is the Lower Silesian Voivodeship, where there are as many as 11. The second place is occupied by the Małopolskie Voivodeship with 10 such communes. The following positions are occupied by the following Voivodeships: zachodniopomorskie (5 communes), podkarpackie (4 communes) and kujawsko-pomorskie (3 communes). In the Lubelskie, Podlaskie, Pomorskie, Śląskie and Świętokrzyskie Voivodships there are two each. The least spas are located in the Łódzkie, Mazowieckie and Warmińsko-Mazurskie Voivodships.

The Warmińsko-Mazurskie Voivodeship leads in the number of spa protection areas. In the land of a thousand lakes there are as many as four of them, i.e. half of all  those registered in the country. Other spa protection areas are located in the Małopolskie, Podkarpackie, Świętokrzyskie and Łódzkie Voivodships.

Where is the largest concentration of officially registered health resorts?

As indicated above, there is no single region in Poland that would gather such health resorts. Verification of the numbers, however, allows us to draw a theory that in Poland we have two lines along which the belts of these health resorts stretch. The first one is located in the south and stretches from the south-east (Podkarpackie Voivodeship), along the southern border (Małopolskie and Śląskie Voivodeships) and ends in the south-west of the country (Dolnośląskie Voivodeship) with a break (Opolskie Voivodeship). The second stretches along the northern border of the country. It begins in the north-east (Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship), from where it goes south (Kujawsko-Pomorskie Voivodeship), and then stretches along the Baltic coast (Pomorskie and Zachodniopomorskie Voivodeships) to our western border. Despite the significant number of spa protection areas in the Warmińsko-Mazurskie Voivodeship and a fairly high number of health resorts in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship, it should be noted that the south-west leads, with the Dolnośląskie and Małopolskie Voivodships at the forefront.

Undoubtedly, in the group of the most popular Polish health resorts  are the coastal resorts, which, apart from their health giving properties, also have tourist attractions in the form of their geographical location and numerous cultural monuments. Sopot is still one of the most popular (over 35,000 inhabitants). Constituting the central part of the Tri-City agglomeration, the resort has been very popular among the country’s inhabitants for many years. It is worth noting that due to its favorable location, Sopot attracts both those interested in a temporary as well as a permanent stay.

Other noteworthy resorts are located in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship. They include such centers as Kołobrzeg (over 46,000 inhabitants according to GUS statistics from 2021) or Świnoujście located right next to the border with Germany (over 41,000). Ciechocinek located in the Kujawsko-Pomorskie Voivodship (over 10,000 inhabitants) can boast a very strong brand name when it comes to health resorts.

In the south, two Voivodships stand out in particular – Dolnośląskie and Małopolskie. In the Lower Silesian spa area, it is worth mentioning such centers as: Lądek Zdrój (about 5,000 inhabitants), Polanica Zdrój (about 6,000 inhabitants) or Duszniki Zdrój (over 4,000 inhabitants). In Małopolska, Krynica Zdrój (about 10,000 inhabitants) and Rabka Zdrój (over 12,000 inhabitants) stand out for their popularity.

When it comes to the eastern part of the country, it is certainly worth mentioning Nałęczów, which has less than 4,000 inhabitants.  Also worth mentioning is the Konstancin-Jeziorna commune located in the suburbs of the capital. Despite the small number of patients, this center enjoys great recognition. In addition to spa facilities, it is famous, for among other things, its very developed market of exclusive real estate.

Promanade in Świeradów-Zdrój, photo Polish Tourism Organisation

What are the current trends?

According to data from the Central Statistical Office from 2019-2021, restrictions related to the operation of medical facilities had a visible impact on the activities of health resorts. Despite the pandemic, some trends that developed before 2020 remained and returned in 2021. Within 3 years, interest in specific directions of treatment has not decreased. Between 2019 and 2021, the West Pomeranian, Kujawsko-Pomorskie and Dolnośląskie Voivodships enjoyed the greatest interest. It is worth noting that both in 2019 and 2021 there is a clear increase in interest in individual health treatments. While in 2019 38.2% of people treated in health resorts were paid users, in 2021 the percentage of private patients increased to 38.8%. The pandemic period also had an impact on the increase of interest in new forms of treatment. Despite the undiminishing interest in natural medicine, paraffin treatments and cryotherapy have become more and more popular since 2020.

Which sectors can look for business  opportunities in health resorts?

Each of the health resorts has a developed program of medical services and individual specializations, resulting from, among other things, their climatic conditions. While some of them also function as summer or winter tourist resorts, others focus on activities strictly related to the medical field.

As a consequence, some products or services that have a chance to become a hit in one place will go unnoticed in another. When verifying the possibilities of cooperation with representatives of local government or business, it is worth first exploring the specifics of the local market.

Health resorts located in close proximity to popular tourist destinations, such as seaside resorts, will certainly generate demand for various types of services, including: hotel, cultural and recreational. In the case of larger urban centres, services from the beauty sector may also attract interest.

In the case of smaller centers, focusing, on the treatment of senior citizens, completely different groups of products and services may enjoy popularity. This is where products and treatments related to the medical industry, pharmacy and biotechnology may be of interest.

It is worth remembering that the currently growing interest in individual private medical trips in the coming years will affect further changes in trends. At the same time, the demand for new types of services that were not previously available will probably increase.

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