Hungary promotes health and wellness tourism

According to Balázs Botos of the Ministry for National Economy the central message of the country for the forthcoming years will be “healing Hungary”, “Hungary has all the potential to render health tourism as a breakthrough point. In the next few years, the Hungarian message will focus on physical and mental health, but with the help of gastronomy, the quality of life and tourism services will also improve. To achieve this, more support should be given to the catering industry. In order to improve the possibilities, the demand and the offer should be more balanced. Problems include the lack of restaurants offering traditional gastronomy values, fresh Hungarian ingredients are often missing from the menu and the education system is also out of date.”

If you are suffering winter blues, Hungarian capital Budapest has just the solution – free spa admission for visitors to the city through March 2011. Offered as part of the city’s winter marketing campaign, the deal offers those looking to visit Budapest free entry to one of the city’s three most popular spas, as well as a free night if you visit for three or four nights. Hungary’s capital has 118 thermal springs, which were first discovered by the Romans and remain a popular tourist attraction today. Among them are the Széchenyi thermal bath, the largest medicinal bath in Europe, and the Gellért Baths and Spa, one of the most popular for visiting tourists. The Hungarian National Tourist Office says that alongside the three spas, 60 hotels are participating in the campaign by offering free guest nights, and Hungarian national carrier Malev is providing deals on flights.

The tourism office plans to position Hungary as a health tourism destination over the coming years, targeting German, Austrian and British tourists away from other eastern European health hotspots such as Poland and the Czech Republic. This is being driven by a boom in the number of spa and wellness hotels in the country – from only 24 in 2001, there are now 150.

Although private spa, wellness and dental clinics offer high quality at reasonable prices, basic state medical care has problems. Hungarians pay a healthcare premium to the government and receive free healthcare services funded by the state. However, the quality of those services is often so poor that Hungarians who can afford it choose to pay extra for private treatment. Government and trade unions blame underfunding, structural problems and, in some instances, bad management for the woes. One of the ways to improve the situation is to attract foreign customers, according to the government. Hungary hopes that health tourism will become the main driver of the sector’s growth. Foreign tourists already go to Hungarian dentists and health spas each year — but most of them are privately owned. Much restructuring and investment will be needed before foreigners start to go to hospitals and clinics run by the state. Regardless of how much money is put into the system, independent audits say that efficiency needs to improve.