Academic journal article European Journal of Tourism Research

The Relationship between Tourism and Residents' Quality of Life: A Case Study of Harkány, Hungary

Academic journal article European Journal of Tourism Research

The Relationship between Tourism and Residents' Quality of Life: A Case Study of Harkány, Hungary

Article excerpt

Introduction

Hungary is one of the leading health and wellness tourism destinations in Europe (Smith and Puczkó, 2009), and for a number of years, medical bath development has been given high priority in Hungary's tourism policy. The National Tourism Development Strategy (2005-2013) and Hungary's most important strategic programme on economic and social renewal, the New Széchenyi Plan (2011-2020), and specifically its sub-programme 'Healing Hungary - Health Industry', places great emphasis on tourism's impact on a better quality of life (MTH, 2005), acknowledging the potential of tourism development in achieving broader social goals (Crouch and Ritchie, 1999). These strategies also demonstrate that, besides its presence in related social science publications (e.g. Hankiss and Manchin, 1976; Andorka, 1997; Kopp and Kovács, 2006; Utasi, 2006), the recognition of the non-material elements of life can also be detected in current Hungarian political thinking. Tourism is, undoubtedly, a factor which can markedly increase the quality of life in a community (Cecil et al, 2008, 2010), and so, its support is a matter of serious political interest (Kopp and Skrabski, 2008). Both national and local government can boost the quality of life, not only by encouraging travel in different ways (Richards, 1999), but also by broadening and improving tourism supply in individual settlements (Sirgy, 2010; Sampson and Gifford, 2010).

Considering that health is, perhaps, life's most important single desirable factor, we may assume that health travellers who can successfully satisfy their physical and mental needs are the most contented in the world. On that basis, we could also theorize that those who live in health and wellness tourism destinations are happier than the average, due to their constant access to health-maintaining facilities and services. By combining the two, we may conclude that in a country as rich in the supply of the basics of health tourism as is Hungary, only happy people live. Sadly, reality is different. Between 2007-2011, the Geographical Research Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, together with the Kodolányi János University of Applied Sciences, undertook an in-depth examination of the topic. The project, supported by OTKA (Hungarian Scientific Research Fund) was entitled 'Health and Wellness Tourism and the Quality of Life in Hungary: A Geographical Synthesis of the Social, Economic and Environmental Problems of Health-oriented Mobility'. First results based on national samples and secondary data analysis proved that, compared to other tourism products, involvement in health and wellness tourism did not affect participants' quality of life to the expected extent (Michalkó et al, 2009). Therefore, neither health seekers nor the inhabitants of health tourism destinations in Hungary could be considered significantly happier than their respective counterparts (Rátz and Michalkó, 2011).

This study examines the most important elements of the symbiosis between tourism and Quality of Life (QoL) of the local inhabitants based on the case of a spa resort, Harkány, which is located near the Hungarian-Croatian border and is also known as the 'Mecca of Rheumatism'1 (Figure 1). We attempt to analyse the impact of the renovated (with the help of EU funds) medical spa on the general sentiments of the local population: essentially, on their perceived quality of life. The results of a questionnaire-based survey conducted in 2011 with 297 respondents from Harkány show us the connection between tourism and the local residents' attitudes and opinions on the medical spa and the impact of its services on their own QoL.

Within the overall health tourism field, the main tourist product of Harkány may be defined as medical spa tourism (Smith and Puczkó, 2009) based on treatments using thermal mineral water with healing properties. Following the typical Central European traditions (Smith and Jenner, 2000), the chemical and hydrodynamic effects of the water rich in sulphur and other minerals are complemented by physiotherapeutic, gynaecological, dermatological and other kinds of medical treatments. …

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