For thousands of years, people have used thermal/mineral springs for bathing, healing, socializing and spiritual practices. These traditionsfrom Japan to Mexicorepresent the very roots of the modern spa industry. But as the quest for the authentic, indigenous and the natural has taken hold as the most powerful travel trend worldwide, hot springs are experiencing a true renaissance.

The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) recently undertook the first research* to size this “millennia-old-but-hot-again” market. The findings: This is now a $50 billion global market, with nearly 27,000 revenue-earning springs (i.e., with built facilities).

The GWI research segmented the industry into thermal/mineral springs facilities that offer bathing with spa services, and those that don’t.

Those without spa services heavily dominate location-wise, at 20,343 establishmentsor roughly two-thirds of all facilities. These include most of the onsen in Japan, thermal pools and waterparks common in Latin America and thermal swimming pool facilities prevalent in Iceland.

There are 6,504 thermal/mineral springs with spa services across the worldonly roughly a third of global establishments. These, of course, include the health resorts and sanatoria all across Europe, as well as the hot springs resorts common (and booming) in places like China and Taiwan.

But just consider what a value-add the spa component is in terms of revenue: Hot springs with spa services (in aggregate) earn almost twice as much as springs without spa services: $32 billion vs. $18 billion annuallyor 64 percent of industry revenue.

Takeaway: We’re going to see more businesses built around hot springs in countries where the industry is less developed; in well-established markets like Europe, we’ll see more facilities get a modern makeover to appeal to more travelers. And for both, spa services can (and does) represent the real money driver.

*2014 “Global Spa & Wellness Economy Monitor”  

AuthorBeth McGroarty, Director of Research, GWI