Archive for February, 2010

Exploiting geothermal waters for wellness tourism

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Mývatn Nature Baths

The Mývatn Nature Baths (see: www.jardbodin.is) offer a concrete manifestation of the expectations tourism entrepreneurs round Iceland hold towards the abundant geo-thermal water in the country. Lake Mývatn has long been one of the best known destinations in N. Iceland, although in recent years the nearby town of Húsavík has started to rival it with its fame as a whale watching spot. The attractions of the lake and its surroundings are in the form of numerous geological features set in an idyllic sparsely populated countryside. The geology of the region is very active due to the lake being on the volcanically active zone in NE Iceland. This means that in addition to all the features and unique nature, boiling water and steam emanates from the ground.

Myvatn

The Mývatn Nature Baths (MNB) are founded upon the steam that comes from the ground. Traditionally locals had made use of the hot water and steam for bathing especially in one particular spot named after the activity: Hotspring bathing hills (Jarðbaðshólar). In 1996 a couple of local entrepreneurs decided to revitalise the tradition and put up a fibre-plastic barrack shape facility over one of the crevices in Jarðbaðshólar, as had been done a couple of times before in the 20th Century. Thus they created a natural steam bath, and as the steam is coming from fresh ground water, magma heated from below, it is relatively odour free as opposed to the often distinct H2S smell geothermal water carries. The steam bath became an immediate success with locals and word spread amongst tourists in the region. With growing demand the idea of developing good service facilities took root. Two years later a limited holdings company (Baðfélag Mývatnssveitar hf.) was set up around the idea and six years thereafter in spring 2004 the current facility was up and opened to visitation. This facility is only partly built around the old nature steam bath. The centre piece of the facility is the blue thermal pool with water provided from the National Power Company’s nearby energy facility. There, much like in Svartsengi (Blue Lagoon, Iceland), boreholes provide steam that propels turbines and generates electricity for local industry, but thereafter the steam is put directly to the pool. This surplus water had been pumped out before and was pooling up at the roadside of ring-road number 1 going through the area and attracting a considerable tourism bathing crowd, furthering demand for facilities to be built.

The number of visitors to the MNB is juxtaposed with the total number of foreign visitors to the region. Obviously the region also gets domestic tourists but only estimates of overnights are available for them. Generally what the table indicates is that MNB seems to have immediately secured the relevant portion of the market and stabilised at around a third of foreign guests visiting the region. As the building of the facility had been fully funded with share capital, mainly from various government funds, the owner of the MNB, the Mývatn Bathing Company ltd., has turned a profit every year from start. In spring 2009 a 300m2 extension to the existing facility was opened, housing a restaurant and a retail corner for souvenirs and nature cosmetics from Icelandic producers. To date with the addition the facility consists of a 5.000m2 pool with geothermal water from the nearby power plant. There are two natural steam baths there, built on the old idea of using steam coming from crevices in the area. There are hot tubs, with water slightly hotter than what is in the pool. There are facilities to change, showers and washrooms, along with a small kiosk/restaurant and retail outlet. All this represents a considerable change from what used to be there prior to 2004 as then the only facility was the fibre-plastic barrack and a hose for rinsing.

Under the general terms of rest and relaxation, the MNB advertises that one should come there to relax and soak in the hot water in beautiful surroundings, an escape from it all in that sense. On the other hand what emerges through interviews stakeholders of the MNB and Mývatn Bathing Company (MBC) is that, contrary to expectations, the marketing focus is not on health and wellness, but is simply about providing a needed service (bathing), the traditional way. There was a need for an all year round recreation in the area and the customers were already there. “It was just a matter of picking them from the main road” (MBC chairman) and the water and tradition for bathing was already there. As this form of bathing is traditional this ensured the good-will and co-operation of the locals, both through direct investment and use of the facility and ensuring a good reputation as informants in the region made unanimously clear.

Thus, on the most general level, what the MNB seems to provide is a needed ballast for other service offerings. This has led to the expansion of existing ones and increasing interest in developing new service offerings, amongst these is the interest for health and wellness tourism. Centred on the MBC, using the MNB as a central attraction, formal health and wellness tourism is being established and various informal spin-offs and ideas are germinating in the adjacent village and the rural area around the lake.

Under the general terms of rest and relaxation, the MNB advertises that one should come there to relax and soak in the hot water in beautiful surroundings, an escape from it all in that sense. On the other hand what emerges through interviews stakeholders of the MNB and Mývatn Bathing Company (MBC) is that, contrary to expectations, the marketing focus is not on health and wellness, but is simply about providing a needed service (bathing), the traditional way. There was a need for an all year round recreation in the area and the customers were already there. “It was just a matter of picking them from the main road” (MBC chairman) and the water and tradition for bathing was already there. As this form of bathing is traditional this ensured the good-will and co-operation of the locals, both through direct investment and use of the facility and ensuring a good reputation as informants in the region made unanimously clear.

Thus, on the most general level, what the MNB seems to provide is a needed ballast for other service offerings. This has led to the expansion of existing ones and increasing interest in developing new service offerings, amongst these is the interest for health and wellness tourism. Centred on the MBC, using the MNB as a central attraction, formal health and wellness tourism is being established and various informal spin-offs and ideas are germinating in the adjacent village and the rural area around the lake.

Under the general terms of rest and relaxation, the MNB advertises that one should come there to relax and soak in the hot water in beautiful surroundings, an escape from it all in that sense. On the other hand what emerges through interviews stakeholders of the MNB and Mývatn Bathing Company (MBC) is that, contrary to expectations, the marketing focus is not on health and wellness, but is simply about providing a needed service (bathing), the traditional way. There was a need for an all year round recreation in the area and the customers were already there. “It was just a matter of picking them from the main road” (MBC chairman) and the water and tradition for bathing was already there. As this form of bathing is traditional this ensured the good-will and co-operation of the locals, both through direct investment and use of the facility and ensuring a good reputation as informants in the region made unanimously clear.

Thus, on the most general level, what the MNB seems to provide is a needed ballast for other service offerings. This has led to the expansion of existing ones and increasing interest in developing new service offerings, amongst these is the interest for health and wellness tourism. Centred on the MBC, using the MNB as a central attraction, formal health and wellness tourism is being established and various informal spin-offs and ideas are germinating in the adjacent village and the rural area around the lake.

In the marketing strategy of the MNB there is a reference to the science of balneotherapy not only to the fact that hot water relieves pain and aches, but also citing its chemical properties. The minerals suspended in the geothermal water and precipitating or evaporating from it are held to have healing properties in numerous ways. This has been studied in Japan especially where e.g. water rich in sulphur is said to relieve bronchial complications and silica and other minerals are beneficial to skin problems of all kinds. The healing properties of the water has been proven with testing in the Blue Lagoon, but so far not in the Mývatn Nature Baths and it bears little on the destination’s development. This means that the former can offer government subsidised treatment linking tourism with welfare state provision, whilst the latter cannot. This reference to balneotherapy points towards another strand of health and wellness tourism development prominent in the region.

This entry has been supplied by Edward H Huijbens [edward@unak.is], Icelandic Tourism Research Centre, Borgum v/Nordurslod, 600 Akureyri, Iceland (IS) Tel: +354 460-8930, mobile: +354 847-4104

Ribe Byferie – role model for quality tourism

Thursday, February 18th, 2010
Ribe Byferie holiday centre designated as a role model for quality tourism

Well-thought-out architecture, a location close to the city and deep respect for the historic and architectural individuality of Ribe. These factors were behind the designation of Ribe Byferie holiday centre as a role model for how to cater for heritage and tourism together.

For many years now, Ribe Byferie holiday centre has organised very successful themed holidays to enable visitors to explore history, culture or nature in the city. The latter in the form of murmuration of starlings, oyster trips and studies of the Wadden Sea.

Within a couple of days, the city gets completely under visitors’ skin.

Upheld as an example in EU report

Ribe Byferie holiday centre is upheld as an example in a major report on the Wadden Sea region, known as the Lancewad Plan, a joint venture involving the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, with EU funding. The holiday centre is praised for its ability to combine tourism and heritage and to make the most of the possibilities that exist in the local area.

Strategy required

Since 2001, Ribe Byferie holiday centre has worked intensively, first to streamline the running of the holiday centre and secondly to develop new, quality products for tourists. “Our ideas often come from the holidaymakers themselves. We conduct ongoing analyses in which we ask them about their expectations, experiences and satisfaction, and solicit suggestions for improvement and new ideas,” director Britt Steffensen Nielsen explains.  “We’re always working on our strategy – adapting it to today’s challenges and our holidaymakers’ requirements. Readiness to change is a vital factor.”

The location of the holiday centre in the heart of Ribe means there are restaurants, shops, tourist sights and attractions all within walking distance. Thus, holidaymakers have a wide range of options, with no need for the holiday centre to run its own restaurants and shops, for example. “We offer holidays that include board, a water park, wellness, oyster trips, guided walking tours of the city, and much more besides. We don’t organise any of it ourselves; instead, we collaborate with local stakeholders in the city, who put on the events. We spot trends and opportunities and make special offers available to our guests. This is very beneficial to us all in the city.”

Tourism must be authentic

“The most important thing we’ve learnt from our analyses is that our tourist products have to be ‘authentic’. The analyses show clearly that the old quarter of Ribe, with its cobbled streets and irregular little houses, as well as the beautiful cathedral, are among the favourite tourist sights. The wonders of nature are a hit, too. One way of ensuring authenticity is to collaborate with museum curators, people working in the cultural sector and nature guides. In other words, people with a deep insight into their specialised field.”

Britt Steffensen Nielsen also emphasises that you must have the courage to always believe in your own product.

“We are aware of our guests’ changing needs and expectations, and we have to keep in step, without compromising on our core values. An old city with museums, listed buildings and a fascinating history is always worth visiting, but the opportunities offered and the way history is conveyed must be adapted to today’s requirements. So must our core service, in other words, our accommodation facilities.”

Facts

Ribe Byferie is owned by the Fonden Ribe Byferie fund. The purpose of the fund is to operate, maintain and upgrade the holiday centre, with an emphasis on maintaining its high standards. Ribe Byferie holiday centre was built in 1995 and is one of the most-visited holiday centres in Denmark today. The architecture of the holiday centre echoes the building traditions of old Ribe, with gabled accommodation units and narrow alleyways. The plan of the accommodation pays homage to the district around the harbour, intersected by narrow alleyways leading down to a canal.

Fonden Ribe Byferie supports a number of cultural and sporting events and works with hospitals each year to organise holidays for families with children affected by illness.

Ribe is the oldest city in Denmark, with a history extending back to Viking times, when the city took shape in the early 700s as a trading centre by the water’s edge.

For further information, please contact Britt Steffensen Nielsen, tel. +45 7988 8000/bs@ribe-byferie.dk

Klægager Bed&Breakfast – Reaping the benefits of a rich history

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Klægager – Den Gamle Digegreves Gård (The Old Dyke Count’s Farm) is a Bed&Breakfast worth experiencing. It is located just a few hundred metres from the impressive Wadden Sea. The farm is owned and managed by the Lorezen family – the sixth generation on the farm.

Klægager3

The farm was built in 1857 and was one of the first farms built around a square in the marshland. The farm was a wedding gift from father to daughter. Until 1976 the farm was run as a cattle farm, but when the old dyke count, Niels Lorenzen – fifth generation, took over he replaced cattle breeding with pig production and plant production in consequence of the developments in farming. The preservation of the past was an important consideration in the upgrading of the farm. He strove to update the farm without losing the fundamental things from the past and without blocking the possibility of further initiatives in the future. Niles Lorenzen’s son, Christian took over the running of the farm in 1985, but it was not until 2003, when the dyke count past away, that the idea of alternative utilization and management of the farm developed. Christian and his wife Ruth decided to invite others to experience the farm and learn from the stories of the farm and the marshland. They opened a Bed&Breakfast in the farmhouse and a new milestone in the life of the farm was reached.

Klægager is designed with five double rooms and one single room. A total capacity of 12 overnight stays inclusive extra beds. Two of the rooms are located in the old stable and the remaining are located in the farmhouse, which also comprises a number of living rooms, a hall and a kitchen that unites modern facilities with nostalgia. The atmosphere in the farmhouse takes one back to the origin, as both arrangement of rooms, heating stoves, tiled walls, panels and doors are preserved. The feel of the place is particularly authentic due to the well preserved details, the original pieces of furniture and the decor.

Klægager Klægager4 Klægager1

This authenticity did not come about by chance. The owners started the project with the aim of offering not only a comfortable night stay to their guests, but also a historical, atmospheric and learning experience. They have extended the idea of the traditional Bed&Breakfast to include their own specialty, storytelling. They offer unique and reliable stories about the farm and marshland to their guests as part of their overnight package. This elaboration and innovation on the theme of farmhouse Bed&Breakfast makes the experience of staying at Klægager unique and desirable.

Due to the owners desire to pass on local stories the farm is not only open to overnight guests. They also welcome day visits from tourists visiting the area. Recently, family events, family parties and “folk school days” have become a part of the concept.

Combining farming with tourism has proved to be a successful decision. Overnight stays on an old farm incorporating storytelling are in high demand. The farm has approximately 1300 overnight guests per year as well as the daytime guests. Due to increasing demand for the experience the owners can no longer manage the service of their guests on their own. Most of the guests are repeat visitors, who come back to visit the farm with family or friends. The target group is mainly the mature Danish audience, who seeks open spaces and nature experiences in peaceful and beautiful surroundings.

Klægager2

Such a great concept and the increasing amount of visitors has brought various challenges and considerations to the owners. As the focus is on storytelling and dissemination it is complicated for the owners to take on new employees. Conveying the stories is straightforward to the owners, as they are a fundamental part of the farm and its history. But it is a challenge to pass on their knowledge and enthusiasm, which is a vital part of the farm, to new employees because the amount of stories about the farm and marshland is endless. Therefore, the owners are highly aware of the importance of educating new employees so they feel equipped to convey the stories and make the guests’ experiences complete. To overcome this challenge the owners invite new employees to attend their presentations and gradually assign parts of the stories to them. Moreover, they plan to organise an event on how to become a competent communicator for potential employees and helpers.

Tourists, locals and the area around undoubtedly benefits from the storytelling and dissemination of Klægager and the owners are highly aware of their roles in each context. They do not wish to become an “overrun tourist attraction”, and they do not exceed their capacity in relation to overnight stays or the quality of their impressive stories. They hope to be a honey pot, that brings people together, and not a lighthouse, that towers high above.