The inaugural Hot Springs Connection – a three-day conference held in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, US in early November – unleashed a torrent of interest and enthusiasm, resulting in next steps to form a national geothermal trade association and develop a website representing every hot springs entity in the US.
The inaugural event welcomed 95 attendees from 14 states and three different continents – North America, Europe and Australia. In total, 36 hot springs facilities were represented, with 12 vendors, suppliers and consultants also attending.
“It’s astounding to me that no one had organised a conference specifically for commercial geothermal attractions,” said Vicky Nash, CEO and owner of Resort Trends, a firm specialising in in hot springs marketing and tourism industry communications and organiser of the event. “All the feedback I received told me there was an interest in pooling knowledge and working together as a business community. Geothermal springs offer a unique and highly sought-after visitor experience; they also have a sector-specific set of challenges that need to be addressed. Getting the nation’s geothermal stakeholders in the same room and talking with one another proved to be an invaluable experience for everyone involved.”
Attendees started the conference with a rare, up-close look at the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool in an unusual state: drained and empty. Devoid of its over-one-million gallons of water, conference guests learned about the pool’s intensive cleaning and maintenance processes.
Afterward, at a mixer prior to dinner at the historic Hotel Colorado, guests were invited to participate in a water tasting. Water sommelier Janet Abbot of the Balneology Association of North America (BANA), guided tasters through a flight of waters sourced from the drinking springs in Manitou Springs, and one from a local spring. Throughout the afternoon, guests could also take tours of the Spa of the Rockies, a spa that incorporates geothermal water into many of its treatments and spa rituals.
Topics at the conference included hydrothermal spa and wellness standards, the challenges of building a new hot springs and remodelling older facilities, education about balneology and geothermal bathing practices, elevating guest experiences through new technologies, vital components of a vibrant destination resort, geothermal legal challenges, hot springs architectural and landscape design, water quality and sanitation practices, water rights and permitting issues, the Global Wellness Institute’s Hot Springs Initiative and the success of the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop.
On the final day, attendees received access to behind-the-scenes site tours of Glenwood Springs’ three hot springs attractions. Hoping that others can learn from their experiences, co-owners of Iron Mountain Hot Springs Steve Beckley and Mogli Cooper shared what worked and what didn’t as they built Colorado’s newest hot spring destination from the ground up in 2015.
At Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, facilities managers Brian Ammerman and Steve Matzl provided detailed information on a variety of topics, from ozonation to point-of-sale software.
At the Yampah Spa & Vapor Caves, co-owner David Anselmo explained the property’s history and its connection with Native American culture, while co-owner Patsy Steele and her staff provided tours of the underground geothermal steam baths and the spa facilities.
During a forum discussion, attendees overwhelmingly decided that they wanted to move forward with the formation of a trade association to share information and resources, as well as create an entity to represent this geothermal industry sector in the US and abroad.
Nash will work closely with an association management company to begin the process of establishing a board of directors and bylaws. Additionally, her firm will begin creating a website and map to list every commercial hot spring in North America.
Nash also plans to continue coordinating the conference in the future and, based on the success of the inaugural Hot Springs Connection, expects the number of attendees to grow.
The 2019 Hot Springs Connection will likely take place again in November, though dates and locations have yet to be determined.
“The amount of collaboration was inspiring, and I believe it got us all reenergised to continue to push for excellence in our field,” said Scott Whitaker, director of operations at Glen Ivy Hot Springs in California, who attended the conference. “Meeting people who have the same challenges and growing pains as we do makes us remember that it is worth it and provides a network of support that is invaluable. I am looking forward to a continued network of symbiotic relationships.”