The Lithuanian Resorts Association and the National Association of Sanatoriums and Rehabilitation Institutions held an international conference in Birštonas on Friday, 22th October, to discuss the strengthening of resorts, resort areas and the health business in Lithuania in the post-pandemic period. Taking into account the arguments expressed at the conference, the associations propose to strengthen the legal basis of the sector, adopt the currently prepared draft Law on „Sustainable Development of Resorts and Resort Areas“, improve the financing model, initiate research and thus contribute to the country’s economic recovery.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which changed the world, became a test of health care, social welfare, economy and society as a whole, particularly hitting the tourism sector and strongly affecting the Lithuanian tourism axis – resorts and resort areas and sanatoriums, rehabilitation institutions and health centers.
On October 22th, experts – researchers and practitioners from the tourism industry, health and wellness sector – gathered in Birštonas, at the international conference “The Role of Resorts, Resort Areas and Sanatoriums in the World Affected by COVID-19”. Presentations were given by Nijolė Dirginčienė, President of the Lithuanian Resorts Association, Mayor of Birštonas Municipality, Artūras Salda, President of the National Sanatoriums and Rehabilitation Institutions, Director General of Eglės Sanatorija, Vincas Jurgutis, Vice Minister of Economy and Innovation, Csilla Mezosi, Secretary General of the European SPA Association (ESPA), Kurt von Storch, Executive Director of Quality in Health Prevention , Ingrida Zurlytė, Head of the World Health Organization Representation in Lithuania, prof. dr. Diana Šaparnienė, Head of Recreation and Tourism faculcy of Klaipėda University, doc. dr. Alona Rauckienė-Michaelsson, Director of Health Research and Innovation Research Center of Klaipeda University, Guoda Šileikytė, Associate Lawyer of the Walless Law Firm.
The reports discussed the current condition of Lithuanian resorts and resort areas, and assessed how the crisis affected sanatoriums, medical spas and the entire tourism sector. Instead of focusing on failures, the lessons learned by market participants and the challenges to help the sector recover were also discussed.
Welcoming the participants of the conference, the President of the Lithuanian Resorts Association N. Dirginčienė drew attention to the diversity of Lithuanian resorts and resort areas and their importance to the Lithuanian economy. According to her, it is necessary to keep pace with the times and to take into account the changes taking place in the global and international competitive market and to take the necessary decisions that would help to strengthen the health sector. One of them is the adoption of the Law on „Sustainable Development of Resorts and Resort Territories of the Republic of Lithuania“.
“Apart from the challenges posed by COVID-19, we need to look at long-term perspectives and find solutions that are long-term and sustainable.” – Speaking about the importance of tourism, resorts and health, the Vice Minister of Economy and Innovation of the Republic of Lithuania V. Jurgutis emphasized.
According to Csilla Mez ősi, the Secretary General of the European Spa Association, health tourism and prevention can be one of the most effective factors in a sustainable economic recovery, as it supports employment in many areas. Health tourism is projected to have particularly great potential in the coming period. Lithuania has all the necessary potential to become one of leading countries in Europe, but it needs state support.
“We all seem to agree that health care needs to focus more on prevention, as it helps to prevent and stave off health problems, thus improving public health and saving state money. However, countries that make prevention a state priority in practice are implementing this through concrete measures. For example, in Poland and Germany, citizens receive compensation for sanatorium-spa treatment once every two or three years. “Maybe today the state is not ready for such a great attention to the health of citizens, but there are many other decisions that require only political will and not additional financial resources,” said the President of the National Association of Sanatoriums and Rehabilitation Institutions – Atūras Salda.
Following the expert insights, discussions and generalizations expressed at the conference, the Lithuanian Resorts Association and the National Association of Sanatoriums and Rehabilitation Institutions have prepared joint Manifesto on strengthening resorts, resort areas and the health and wellness sector. It was submitted to the Parliament and Government of Lithuania. The document focuses on the legal framework, the formation and implementation of a long-term health tourism strategy, the development of a policy for the implementation of medical research, and other important elements of the development of this sector.