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Around the world, hot springs are having something of a moment, with renewed interest and investment ushering in a new era of social bathing. Jane Kitchen takes a closer look at the myriad of new developments in Australia, New Zealand and the US


The mineral-rich waters of natural hot springs are heated from deep within the earth’s core and have been used for medicinal purposes and socialising in almost every culture, from ancient Romans to Native Americans. In recent years, consumers are showing a renewed interest in the benefits of thermal bathing and this is breathing new life into long-forgotten facilities.

This wave of investment has been driving renovations, new builds and expansions across several countries. Many hot springs locations have extended their offerings to include saunas, cold plunge pools, reflexology walks, clay and mud baths, salt pools, cave pools and hammams – all of which have helped turn hot springs into wellness destinations.

At the same time, there’s a movement to include broader wellness activities; consumers can now take part in a range of activities in a hot springs pool, including listening to concerts, watching films, taking yoga classes, or experiencing singing bowl meditation – all of which bring people together to connect socially.

Both of these movements (Water + Wellness and Wellness + Gathering) have been tipped as two of the biggest trends in this year’s Global Wellness Summit report.

“The boom in hot springs is not a new trend, but rather a rediscovery of our North American health heritage,” says Dr Marcus Coplin, a naturopath specialising in balneology and medical director of The Springs Resort in Colorado and Murrieta Hot Springs in California. “Hot springs have been in use around the world for centuries as part of a multifaceted healthcare approach. The recent reawakening in the mainstream as to the health benefits of hot spring bathing couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.”

True thermal mineral water has been shown to help a wide range of health problems, explains Coplin. “The ever-expanding scientific body supports the use of these waters as an aspect of a comprehensive treatment for a variety of ailments such as anxiety, burnout, joint pain, cardiovascular issues and more,” he says.

With a global rise in rates of anxiety, depression and sleep disorders since COVID, hot springs offer a natural path to relaxation. “Hot spring bathing provides an accessible way for people to take their health into their own hands and engage in an activity that’s socially enjoyable and leads to positive health benefits,” says Coplin. “That’s why we are seeing North Americans flocking to thermal springs and the increased development of these health-promoting, site-specific waters answering the call.”

Another factor in the increasing popularity of hot springs is that they can cater to a large market including everyone from children to grandparents, providing a fun, social space at a relatively low cost. “Hot springs are rapidly emerging to be a driving force for wellness practices which are accessible to the masses,” says Charles Davidson, chair and founder of Peninsula Hot Springs in Victoria, Australia. “One of the advantages is that they allow a wellness experience with a large footfall, making them more accessible to a broader range of guests. If the experience includes self-guided activities then overheads can be kept down, which can reduce the price point, further widening the accessibility.”

Australia & New Zealand
In Australia and New Zealand, numerous new facilities have opened or expanded in recent years and a multitude of projects are in development. In fact, investment in the area totals more than AU$550m (US$380m, €354.1m, £314.3m).

“Australia – and Melbourne in particular – has been a perfect testing ground for the development of a globally inspired thermal bathing wellness centre,” says Davidson.

New openings in the country include the Alba Thermal Springs in Victoria, an AU$100m (US$69m, €64.4m, £57.1m) development that opened in late 2022 with more than 30 thermal pools; Deep Blue Hotel and Hot Springs in Warrnambool, Victoria, which revealed an AUS$3.5m (US$2.4m, €2.3m, £2.2m) cave-based hot springs bathing park in the grounds of its oceanside hotel in 2020 and in outback Queensland, Talaroo Hot Springs, a million-year-old mound spring, debuted in 2021 and is operated by the Ewamian people.

Peninsula Hot Springs is adding overnight accommodation, new thermal bathing facilities and a function centre in 2025 at a cost of more than AU$150m (US$103.m, €96.6m, £85.7m). Peninsula also operates the newly launched Metung Hot Springs, a 25-acre wellness destination that overlooks the Gippsland Lakes. First opened in the 1960s but closed in the 1990s, an initial AU$6m (US$4.1m, €3.9m, £3.4m) investment brought the springs back to life in November 2022 with geothermal bathing pools, saunas, barrel pools and a glamping village, but a further AU$2m (US$1.4m, €1.3m, £1.2m) expansion will add a floating sauna, mud steam cave, five thermal pools, two grass music amphitheatre spaces and walking trails. Peninsula will also operate the upcoming Phillip Island Hot Springs, an AU$46m (US$31.7m, €29.6m, £26.3m) development slated to open in late 2023 with views over the Bass Strait Ocean at Cape Woolamai.

And Cunnamulla Hot Springs, an AU$10m (US$6.9m, €6.4m, £5.7m) project funded by the Australian Federal Government, will come to fruition in outback Queensland in mid-2023, with Peninsula Hot Springs as the operator. Peninsula has also purchased the local theatre next to the hot springs, which will become a cultural hub with art exhibitions, films and performances.

The US
Vicky Nash, executive director of the Hot Springs Association, says around 50 hot springs projects are in development in the US. “There’s definitely a renewed interest in hot springs properties in the US right now,” she says. “These past two years, health-conscious consumers have been utilising geothermal pools and baths in greater numbers, seeking more natural immune-boosting activities and many resorts have recently experienced record-breaking visitation numbers.”

Dozens of historic facilities have made significant improvements and expansions to their properties in recent years and new ownership at decades-old institutions has breathed new life – and money – into a number of locations.

Colorado is home to three noteworthy projects. Here, the century-old Trimble Hot Springs has been transformed from disrepair into the new Durango Hot Springs after a US$10m (€9.1m, £8m) renovation. The facility now features 41 thermal mineral water features and in the summer, guests can soak in the hot springs while they listen to live music performances. The owners report visitation numbers are now over 400,000 a year.

Secondly, at Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs, expansion is nearing completion with the addition of 10 rock-bottom, adult-only pools, which doubles the size of the facility.

Thirdly, The Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs has also benefited from new owners and a renovation, with 25 mineral hot spring pools and a variety of health and wellness activities on offer, including a new guided ritual that introduces guests to the benefits of hot and cold contrast bathing. The new owner, Olympus Real Estate Group, has purchased neighbouring land and plans to double the size of the resort, with 21 riverfront pools, close to 80 additional hotel rooms, a restaurant and an outdoor music venue.

Olympus has also purchased California’s historic Murrieta Hot Springs – originally developed in 1902 as a health resort – for US$50m (€45.6m, £40.2m) and plans to renovate the 46-acre property and reopen it as a “world-class wellness destination”, with an anticipated opening date of December 2023. The renovation will include expanded use of the natural hot springs, overnight guest lodging, wellness classes and activities, a geothermal-focused spa and access for day guests.

Another historic California property, Dr Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs, completed a multi-million dollar renovation in 2022, adding an outdoor spa garden, four indoor mud baths, seven indoor and two outdoor mineral baths, a cold deluge shower and a dedicated geothermal mineral pool.

In Arizona, Castle Hot Springs, originally established in 1896, has been brought back to life under new ownership as a high-end boutique resort in the desert. Set on 1,100 acres with just 30 cabins and bungalows, rates at the resort start at US$1,200 (€1,095, £966) a night, including meals and activities.

In downtown Palm Springs, California, the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians has just opened the 73,000sq ft Spa at Séc-he complex inside a museum celebrating the tribe’s culture. Séc-he means boiling water in the Cahuilla language and the exciting development taps into local sacred healing waters that are believed to be 12,000 years old.

Also in California, Six Senses has announced plans to restore the Aetna Springs resort – home to a natural thermal water spa until the 1970s – and reopen it as Six Senses Napa Valley, with an anticipated opening of 2026. The historic mineral springs will be revived with indoor and outdoor thermal experiences and bathing, including wild swimming in the estate’s pond. Layered onto this will be indoor bathing facilities incorporating local herbs and essential oils into hot and cold therapies.

Finally, in Utah, investors hope to build a 16-acre US$30m (€27.4m, £24.1m) resort on the Virgin River near the popular Zion National Park. The proposed Zion Canyon Hot Springs resort will include more than 20 bathing tubs and a freshwater pool.

“There are geothermal facilities all over the US, with the highest concentration in the west,” says Nash. “The majority are in remote locations, which adds to their appeal.” But perhaps most importantly, she explains, “A hot springs property is a special place; you can’t just build one anywhere.”

Hot Springs Connection 2024

The US’ fifth annual Hot Springs Connection conference will be held at Murrieta Hot Springs in California from 8-11 January 2024. The event was established in 2018, with a view to providing networking opportunities, seminars and workshops for owners and operators of geothermal pools, spas and resorts. Details: www.hotspringsconnection.com

Metung Hot Springs has just opened and has lake views Credit: Metung Hot Springs
Deep Blue Hot Springs has hot spring caves Credit: Caitlyn @The.Wanderlust.Times
Peninsula Hot Springs will add overnight facilities Credit: Peninsula Hot Springs Group
Alba Thermal Springs opened in late 2022 Credit: Alba Springs
The Springs in Colorado has 25 mineral pools Credit: The Springs Resort Pagosa Springs, CO
The Durango Hot Springs has had a $10m renovation Credit: Durango Hot Springs Resort & Spa
Castle Hot Springs in Arizona has been brought back to life Credit: Castle Hot Springs
Dr Wilkinson’s added new mud baths in a 2022 renovation Credit: Mark Compton
The 73,000sq ft Spa at Séc-he in California has just opened Credit: Courtesy of Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
 


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Leisure Management - Hot topic

Industry insights

Hot topic


Around the world, hot springs are having something of a moment, with renewed interest and investment ushering in a new era of social bathing. Jane Kitchen takes a closer look at the myriad of new developments in Australia, New Zealand and the US

Murrieta Hot Springs in California will reopen later this year Murrieta hot springs, CA
Metung Hot Springs has just opened and has lake views Metung Hot Springs
Deep Blue Hot Springs has hot spring caves Caitlyn @The.Wanderlust.Times
Peninsula Hot Springs will add overnight facilities Peninsula Hot Springs Group
Alba Thermal Springs opened in late 2022 Alba Springs
The Springs in Colorado has 25 mineral pools The Springs Resort Pagosa Springs, CO
The Durango Hot Springs has had a $10m renovation Durango Hot Springs Resort & Spa
Castle Hot Springs in Arizona has been brought back to life Castle Hot Springs
Dr Wilkinson’s added new mud baths in a 2022 renovation Mark Compton
The 73,000sq ft Spa at Séc-he in California has just opened Courtesy of Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

The mineral-rich waters of natural hot springs are heated from deep within the earth’s core and have been used for medicinal purposes and socialising in almost every culture, from ancient Romans to Native Americans. In recent years, consumers are showing a renewed interest in the benefits of thermal bathing and this is breathing new life into long-forgotten facilities.

This wave of investment has been driving renovations, new builds and expansions across several countries. Many hot springs locations have extended their offerings to include saunas, cold plunge pools, reflexology walks, clay and mud baths, salt pools, cave pools and hammams – all of which have helped turn hot springs into wellness destinations.

At the same time, there’s a movement to include broader wellness activities; consumers can now take part in a range of activities in a hot springs pool, including listening to concerts, watching films, taking yoga classes, or experiencing singing bowl meditation – all of which bring people together to connect socially.

Both of these movements (Water + Wellness and Wellness + Gathering) have been tipped as two of the biggest trends in this year’s Global Wellness Summit report.

“The boom in hot springs is not a new trend, but rather a rediscovery of our North American health heritage,” says Dr Marcus Coplin, a naturopath specialising in balneology and medical director of The Springs Resort in Colorado and Murrieta Hot Springs in California. “Hot springs have been in use around the world for centuries as part of a multifaceted healthcare approach. The recent reawakening in the mainstream as to the health benefits of hot spring bathing couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.”

True thermal mineral water has been shown to help a wide range of health problems, explains Coplin. “The ever-expanding scientific body supports the use of these waters as an aspect of a comprehensive treatment for a variety of ailments such as anxiety, burnout, joint pain, cardiovascular issues and more,” he says.

With a global rise in rates of anxiety, depression and sleep disorders since COVID, hot springs offer a natural path to relaxation. “Hot spring bathing provides an accessible way for people to take their health into their own hands and engage in an activity that’s socially enjoyable and leads to positive health benefits,” says Coplin. “That’s why we are seeing North Americans flocking to thermal springs and the increased development of these health-promoting, site-specific waters answering the call.”

Another factor in the increasing popularity of hot springs is that they can cater to a large market including everyone from children to grandparents, providing a fun, social space at a relatively low cost. “Hot springs are rapidly emerging to be a driving force for wellness practices which are accessible to the masses,” says Charles Davidson, chair and founder of Peninsula Hot Springs in Victoria, Australia. “One of the advantages is that they allow a wellness experience with a large footfall, making them more accessible to a broader range of guests. If the experience includes self-guided activities then overheads can be kept down, which can reduce the price point, further widening the accessibility.”

Australia & New Zealand
In Australia and New Zealand, numerous new facilities have opened or expanded in recent years and a multitude of projects are in development. In fact, investment in the area totals more than AU$550m (US$380m, €354.1m, £314.3m).

“Australia – and Melbourne in particular – has been a perfect testing ground for the development of a globally inspired thermal bathing wellness centre,” says Davidson.

New openings in the country include the Alba Thermal Springs in Victoria, an AU$100m (US$69m, €64.4m, £57.1m) development that opened in late 2022 with more than 30 thermal pools; Deep Blue Hotel and Hot Springs in Warrnambool, Victoria, which revealed an AUS$3.5m (US$2.4m, €2.3m, £2.2m) cave-based hot springs bathing park in the grounds of its oceanside hotel in 2020 and in outback Queensland, Talaroo Hot Springs, a million-year-old mound spring, debuted in 2021 and is operated by the Ewamian people.

Peninsula Hot Springs is adding overnight accommodation, new thermal bathing facilities and a function centre in 2025 at a cost of more than AU$150m (US$103.m, €96.6m, £85.7m). Peninsula also operates the newly launched Metung Hot Springs, a 25-acre wellness destination that overlooks the Gippsland Lakes. First opened in the 1960s but closed in the 1990s, an initial AU$6m (US$4.1m, €3.9m, £3.4m) investment brought the springs back to life in November 2022 with geothermal bathing pools, saunas, barrel pools and a glamping village, but a further AU$2m (US$1.4m, €1.3m, £1.2m) expansion will add a floating sauna, mud steam cave, five thermal pools, two grass music amphitheatre spaces and walking trails. Peninsula will also operate the upcoming Phillip Island Hot Springs, an AU$46m (US$31.7m, €29.6m, £26.3m) development slated to open in late 2023 with views over the Bass Strait Ocean at Cape Woolamai.

And Cunnamulla Hot Springs, an AU$10m (US$6.9m, €6.4m, £5.7m) project funded by the Australian Federal Government, will come to fruition in outback Queensland in mid-2023, with Peninsula Hot Springs as the operator. Peninsula has also purchased the local theatre next to the hot springs, which will become a cultural hub with art exhibitions, films and performances.

The US
Vicky Nash, executive director of the Hot Springs Association, says around 50 hot springs projects are in development in the US. “There’s definitely a renewed interest in hot springs properties in the US right now,” she says. “These past two years, health-conscious consumers have been utilising geothermal pools and baths in greater numbers, seeking more natural immune-boosting activities and many resorts have recently experienced record-breaking visitation numbers.”

Dozens of historic facilities have made significant improvements and expansions to their properties in recent years and new ownership at decades-old institutions has breathed new life – and money – into a number of locations.

Colorado is home to three noteworthy projects. Here, the century-old Trimble Hot Springs has been transformed from disrepair into the new Durango Hot Springs after a US$10m (€9.1m, £8m) renovation. The facility now features 41 thermal mineral water features and in the summer, guests can soak in the hot springs while they listen to live music performances. The owners report visitation numbers are now over 400,000 a year.

Secondly, at Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs, expansion is nearing completion with the addition of 10 rock-bottom, adult-only pools, which doubles the size of the facility.

Thirdly, The Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs has also benefited from new owners and a renovation, with 25 mineral hot spring pools and a variety of health and wellness activities on offer, including a new guided ritual that introduces guests to the benefits of hot and cold contrast bathing. The new owner, Olympus Real Estate Group, has purchased neighbouring land and plans to double the size of the resort, with 21 riverfront pools, close to 80 additional hotel rooms, a restaurant and an outdoor music venue.

Olympus has also purchased California’s historic Murrieta Hot Springs – originally developed in 1902 as a health resort – for US$50m (€45.6m, £40.2m) and plans to renovate the 46-acre property and reopen it as a “world-class wellness destination”, with an anticipated opening date of December 2023. The renovation will include expanded use of the natural hot springs, overnight guest lodging, wellness classes and activities, a geothermal-focused spa and access for day guests.

Another historic California property, Dr Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs, completed a multi-million dollar renovation in 2022, adding an outdoor spa garden, four indoor mud baths, seven indoor and two outdoor mineral baths, a cold deluge shower and a dedicated geothermal mineral pool.

In Arizona, Castle Hot Springs, originally established in 1896, has been brought back to life under new ownership as a high-end boutique resort in the desert. Set on 1,100 acres with just 30 cabins and bungalows, rates at the resort start at US$1,200 (€1,095, £966) a night, including meals and activities.

In downtown Palm Springs, California, the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians has just opened the 73,000sq ft Spa at Séc-he complex inside a museum celebrating the tribe’s culture. Séc-he means boiling water in the Cahuilla language and the exciting development taps into local sacred healing waters that are believed to be 12,000 years old.

Also in California, Six Senses has announced plans to restore the Aetna Springs resort – home to a natural thermal water spa until the 1970s – and reopen it as Six Senses Napa Valley, with an anticipated opening of 2026. The historic mineral springs will be revived with indoor and outdoor thermal experiences and bathing, including wild swimming in the estate’s pond. Layered onto this will be indoor bathing facilities incorporating local herbs and essential oils into hot and cold therapies.

Finally, in Utah, investors hope to build a 16-acre US$30m (€27.4m, £24.1m) resort on the Virgin River near the popular Zion National Park. The proposed Zion Canyon Hot Springs resort will include more than 20 bathing tubs and a freshwater pool.

“There are geothermal facilities all over the US, with the highest concentration in the west,” says Nash. “The majority are in remote locations, which adds to their appeal.” But perhaps most importantly, she explains, “A hot springs property is a special place; you can’t just build one anywhere.”

Hot Springs Connection 2024

The US’ fifth annual Hot Springs Connection conference will be held at Murrieta Hot Springs in California from 8-11 January 2024. The event was established in 2018, with a view to providing networking opportunities, seminars and workshops for owners and operators of geothermal pools, spas and resorts. Details: www.hotspringsconnection.com


Originally published in Spa Business Handbook 2023 edition

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