The Future of Thermal Tourism in Turkey
Turkey is located on one of the most significant geothermal lines. Thermal water in Turkey is of higher quality than in other countries in terms of resource capacity, physical and chemical features, temperatures (20-110 °C), flows (2-500 l/s.), and healing capacity.
The importance of using geothermal water in tourism has recently increased. Thermal and hot springs that used to be run by traditional methods are now being run by more modern tourism facilities. As a result of such demands, modern thermal tourism investments increase around the traditionally operated thermal springs in many parts of Anatolia. However, there are some problems as a result of uncontrolled and unplanned investments which are developed very rapidly. If no measures are taken, soon these could develop into more serious problems that may be more difficult to solve in future. Therefore, in the use of thermal waters, rational, effective, and productive plans should be carried out in order to ensure sustainable development (Kervankiran and Kaya 2013).
One of the main problems confronting the development of thermal tourism in Turkey is the shortage of specialist personnel due to the rapidly increasing number of thermal facilities in Turkey (including clinics, medical applications, and research centers in addition to thermal units). These centers require technical and professional staff. Relevant education in this area should be increased in the medical faculties in Turkey to fulfill this need.
The future of thermal tourism in Turkey is largely dependent on the sustainable use of geothermal waters. The use of thermal centers for tourism purposes is mainly driven by economic concerns. However, the physical, ecological, and social carrying capacities of the resources which are used must also be taken into consideration. Taking into consideration thermal centers as a whole, efficient planning for minimal negative impact to the environment and the community should be carried out.
Geothermal waters may contain boron, arsenic, mercury, lead, chromium, and heavy metals. If these waters are released into the environment without treatment after use, they could have serious negative impacts on the environment as well as on human health.
Many other countries which use geothermal energy, such as Japan, the USA, and Iceland, use modern techniques, such as “reinjection”(binary cycle system) to minimize the negative impact these waters could have on the environment. Through the “reinjection” technique, the geothermal waters are pumped back into a reservoir inside the Earth, and by so doing, the negative impacts on the environment discussed above are avoided. The establishment and operation of reinjection systems is mandatory in many countries using geothermal energy. In geothermal areas where this technique is not employed, the application of treatment technologies is mandatory for the conservation of the environment. If reinjection is not done, the reservoir’s pressure will decline, geothermal waters will mix with surface waters and with underground potable water, and the temperature of the geothermal water may change. Although the establishment and operation of a reinjection system is costly, it is significant in preventing environmental problems in the long term (Kervankiran 2013).
It is particularly important that unplanned and uncontrolled settlements in the periphery of newly developing spa environments are prevented. In the majority of these illegal structures, thermal waters are used without permission. These operations are licensed by local municipalities unlike the high-quality operations which are licensed by the central government. Service quality in such facilities is poor, the super and infrastructure are inadequate and there are hygiene-related problems; yet these facilities are still preferred by visitors from adjacent settlement areas. Essentially, the future of thermal tourism centers is significantly affected by such negative aspects. The responsibility for ensuring the sustainability of geothermal resources in such areas falls mainly on central and local administrators (mainly municipalities) and the proprietors of tourism facilities. Relevant academic studies in this subject and projects aiming to minimize negative aspects should be supported.
The future of thermal tourism in Turkey is dependent on the sustainable use of geothermal waters. If we want to give future generations the opportunity to use thermal tourism areas which derive their resources mainly from their physical structures and specific physical carrying capacities, these waters which are the source of healing should be inspected on a regular basis and their usage controlled. Furthermore, the monopolization of geothermal resources like in many countries in the world (Japan, Germany, Italy, Hungary, etc.) and their management should be regulated.
The tasks and responsibilities regarding the extraction of thermal waters in Turkey, their usage, operation, inspection, and the relevant planning are allocated to different administrative units. Sometimes, this can generate a conflict in terms of authority. To avoid such a situation, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, the Prime Ministry, and State Planning Organizations need to work in coordination and all stakeholders including public administrators and private sector representatives, civil society organizations, academics, and local administrators should contribute to the generation of a common outlook for the preparation and application of short-, medium-, and long-term master plans.