Finns support Estonian spa business

The Baltic Times, TALLINN
By Kairi Kurm
Jun 28, 2001

 Estonian spas have become one of the biggest tourist attractions for foreigners in the country, with 77 percent of the 80,000 people visiting spas last year residing outside Estonia.

“Estonian spas are mostly (frequented) by the Finnish tourists,” said Vello Saar, head of the Estonian Association of Health Resorts and Rehabilitation Treatment.

In the future, Saar said he would like to see more clients from Central Europe and Russia.

He said that 90 percent of the clients at spas in western Estonia are from abroad, while in eastern Estonia the number of foreign clients is smaller.

Saar, who also heads the Varska spa in eastern Estonia, said that two-thirds of its visitors are local. Varska is famous for its mud and natural mineral baths.

The foreign clients help to keep the rate of occupancy high year round. The average rate of occupancy at spas is 65 percent to 70 percent, but during the summer it jumps to around 90 percent.

“The occupancy rate of the Kuressaare, Haapsalu and Parnu spas, which depend on foreign tourists, does not drop below 50 percent from autumn until spring, while in Varska, Toila and Narva-Joesuu it is sometimes 30 percent,” said Saar. “The Tervis Rehabilitation Center in Parnu, the leading spa in Estonia, has already booked most of the nights for the next year.”

Tervis, which has 320 rooms, had a 70 million kroon ($3.9 million) turnover last year. It was followed by Estonia, a spa in Parnu, which after expansion is completed will have 360 rooms.

The prices at the spas vary from 270 kroons at Toila to 770 kroons at Bergfeldt. The prices are high at Bergfeldt spa in Haapsalu because it is small and there is a high demand for rooms there.

The average price for a day at the Estonian spa, which includes three meals and three treatment procedures, is 400 kroons.

The patients are examined by doctors, who suggest special exercises, massage treatments, mud and baths. Estonian spas employ a total of 1,129 people, one-third of whom are medical personnel.

Besides the treatment programs most spas offer entertainment and conference facilities.

Some spas have different prices for foreigners.

“I would not say that foreigners pay high prices. We have discounts for Estonians,” said Vello Luts from the Laine health spa in Haapsalu.

Jaak Prunes, head of Toila spa, said that foreigners are charged one-third more for the same services. “The Estonian people could not afford it for that price. We give them the package for the cost price, which is 270 kroons,” said Prunes.

Toila Sanatorium was originally established to provide preventive treatment to workers from the oil shale mining company Eesti Polevkivi.

Prunes said that the company incurred a 450,000 kroon loss each month before it was taken over by new investors. The spa is famous for its salt chamber, which is the biggest and oldest in Estonia.

Enn Rettau, head of Kuressaare AS, said that they would no longer offer better prices for local people because the Estonian media had made too much noise about it. The company’s spa Saaremaa Valss charged locals 400 kroons and foreigners 600 kroons.

Most spas belong to Estonian private investors. Three spas – Parnu Mudaravila, Estonia and Soprus – belong to the town of Parnu and the Laine spa in Haapsalu is also partly owned by the municipality. Pohjarannik, the only state-owned spa in Narva-Joesuu, was closed at the end of May due to financial difficulties.

“The business was not profitable with the prices set by the state,” said manager Ivan Litcman.

In the past, most of the spas belonged to the state or the trade unions, and the state paid for the treatment of sick and retired people.

Today the funds paid by the state health insurance fund and social security are only 4.8 million kroons or 2 percent of the total turnover of Estonian spas and cover the treatments of about 2,000 patients.

According to Saar the 13 Estonian spas made an 80 million kroon profit on 260 million kroons in turnover last year. It reinvested some 116 million kroons.

Saar believes that the number of beds would soon reach the level Estonia had during the Soviet era. Today there are 2,376 beds in Estonia.


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