The word spa denotes "fountain". Some experts suggest that the word "spa" originated from the Belgian town of named Spa, where curative natural spring was discovered in the 14th century, documents show. The belief in the curative powers of mineral waters goes back to prehistoric times. Such practices have been popular worldwide, but are especially widespread in Europe and Japan.
Due to the geological condition beneath the Great Rift Valley, Ethiopia contains intense geothermal activity which paved the way for the creation of hot springs. There are many hot spring spots in Ethiopia. Filwoha, Sodere, Wondo Genet, Woliso and Lake Abijatta-Shalla are some of them. Though the nation has immense natural hot spring potentials, it has not been fully utilized using modern technologies and facilities.
Addis Ababa Culture and Tourism Bureau, Communication Affairs Process Leader, Worku Mengesha told The Ethiopian Herald that spa service is flourishing in Addis and other parts of the country though quality remains at stake. He indicated that spa service is allowed only for five and four star hotels.
‘‘Massage and spa is becoming popular in Ethiopia. Currently, there are 35 hotel and spa service provider enterprises in our country. They have created job opportunity for thousands of citizens. The foreign exchange that we have been generating through these enterprises should also be hailed,” he said, adding: “we often undertake supervision and controlling works to enhance quality service.”
Worku stated that his Bureau would intensify efforts to further develop the sector so as to increase the number of tourists. There are plans to make the massage and sap services more competitive in the international market. “If we don’t provide quality service, we couldn’t attract tourists from around the world.”
Filowha, which is the pioneer spa service provider in Ethiopia, has been in remarkable progress over the last two decades. It has proven its importance to the thriving tourism sector of Addis in particular. It is used as means of leisure and medical treatment over its hundred years of existence. Since it has natural hot spring, many people prefer it to the man-made spa destinations.
According to Gebretsadikan Abay, General Director of Filwoha Spa Service Enterprise, Filowha hot springs had first been discovered by Empress Taitu Betul, the wife of Emperor Menelik II. By the time the king chose Addis Ababa as his capital, it was a winter season. The water evaporated from the hot spring catched her attention, and asked herself: "What makes the water to boil? Then, she sent her entourages to explore the matter. Eventually, they discovered that it was hot spring which could cure various health ailments. After that she visited the place and started bathing. During that time, it was giving service for the royal families. However, in 1956, during Emperor Haileslassie’s reign, the service provision was improved to include ordinary people. To meet the demands of customers, expansion works were accomplished at various times. The most notable one in this regard was carried out in 1956 by Israeli contractor. The expansion work had enabled residents of Addis and surrounding suburbs to get massage, sauna bath, and morocco bath and physiotherapy services in an affordable price.
Filwoha provides mainly hotel and spa services for its domestic and foreign customers. Regarding spa service, it has been providing bath service, family and single, massage, sauna and steam bath services. Besides, it has medium clinic which has been offering service by modern equipments and seven qualified professionals. Another service Filwoha provides is the hotel sector. Filwoha Hotel gives bed, food and drink service for local and foreign customers. Filwoha Hotel and Spa Enterprises also manages Langano spa, which is found in the Oromia state, 193 km far away from Addis.
Filwoha offers spa service for 6,000 people from Monday to Friday. The number increases as big as 7,000 people on the weekends and holidays. The writer of this article had approached customers who came from different states of the country as well as Addis. Abraham Nigusse lives in the town of Debrebirhan, 130 km north of the capital. He came from his hometown for the purpose of taking natural hot spring physiotherapy to cure his muscle problems.
“I feel pain on my muscles. The pain aggravates especially during rainy season. People who have been cured here recommended me to take spa physiotherapy. I took the service and I am feeling good now’’ he stated. Abraham added that ‘‘I have never taken such service before. My compacted muscles are becoming relaxed now and I hope I will recover fully to lead my livelihood in a healthy and happy condition.’’
Another customer named Fatuma Ali came from the city of Jimma, 351 km from Addis Ababa. She complained on the long queues and urges something should be done to resolve it, otherwise the services are good.
‘‘I came here for the second time. I am always happy when I take bath here. But the queues should be solved. The enterprise should aware the increasing number of customers and think how to serve it,’’
Having internalizing complaints and comments of its customers as input, Filwoha is striving to offer fast, modern and affordable service. As the demand for sauna bath, massage and physiotherapy is increasing from time to time, the enterprise has planned to undertake further expansion projects.
‘‘Sometimes the demand is beyond the enterprise’s capability to handle it. But we are working day and night to meet the ever-growing interest of the public. Still there are high queues and due to this there are complaints. There are plans from the government to expand Filwoha Hotel and spa service by merging with Ghion hotel. So the high queue problem will be solved when the expansion activity is completed’’ the General Director noted.
Meanwhile, Gebretsadikan has indicated the importance of Filwoha in developing the tourism industry. It is attracting customers from different parts of the world, especially from china, Russia and the Middle East. "The demand is increasing from time to time. To fulfill the interest of our customers, we have been undertaking major expansion projects. We have already built an expansion which could give service for 1500 people a day. Now we have finalized our preparation to open more massage rooms. So we can say that it has been contributing a lot for the tourism industry’’
In the last five years, Filwoha has been registering 10 percent growth consecutively. In the previous fiscal year only, its total sale was 131 million Birr and it is striving to upgrade this year to 141 million Birr. It is also playing massive role in creating job opportunities and keen to hire more skilled human force who transform the enterprise to higher level. In addition to this, it has been undertaking capacity building activities to enhance the professional skills of its employees.
Getahun said medical institutions across the country are prescribing their patients to take massage and physiotherapy in Filwoha. ‘‘We qualified massage professionals. Many people are being cured as soon as they get the natural bath and massage. People who suffered from facial palsy, muscle tension, back, and shoulder and neck pain could be cured in Filwoha spa service’’
Despite lack of human power, lack of massage rooms and lack of equipments and other constraints, Filwoha gives physiotherapy service for more than 400 people within sixteen hours. The enterprise assesses the health conditions of its customers before they use sauna bath. It checks whether they have diabetes, hypertension, and blood pressure so as to recommend them how to adjust the water.
Getahun Bitew, Physiotherapy and Sauna Bath Service Director claimed that Filwowha is curing many paralyzed people.
‘‘People come here for medical treatment and leisure. We came across Arab couple who were paralyzed for sixteen years walking healthy and happily after they took massage and sauna bath here for only sixteen days. This was an amazing scenario at that time. Since it is natural hot spring, medical institutions are prescribing Filwhoha physiotherapy treatment for their patients,’’ he said. People who suffered from facial palsy, muscle tension, back, shoulder and neck pain could be cured in Filwoha through physiotherapy, Getahun reassured.
Ethiopia’s tourism sector has shown tremendous development over the last two decades. The country has been endeavoring to develop tourist destinations. Though there are many improvements, still there are lots of limitation which should be solved by the government and non-governmental organizations. Especially, the natural hot spring spa service should be enhanced. It could one way of luring tourists from different parts of the world. Making Ethiopia as one of the top spa physiotherapy destination should be prime target for every pertinent body.
BY TSEGAY HAGOS