Twenty six years ago Bath won international recognition for itself by successfully bidding to be classified as a World Heritage site. The accolade from UNESCO applauded its archaeology, Georgian architecture, social history, town planning and beautiful setting but there was no mention of it being a spa resort – something it can boast it has been right from the 1st to the 21st century.
Things could change – that’s if a new association Bath is undertaking bears fruit. It’s decided to team up with 13 other spa towns across Europe to see just what it takes to be a spa and what new credentials could be added to the list. Bath is the only one in the group to be a World Heritage site. The others make no attempt to hide the fact they want that too.
Members of the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides gathered at the Pump Room last night to hear more about the new joint study. There to address them was Tony Crouch – World Heritage Manager for Bath and North East Somerset Council – and Christopher Pound who is an architect and World Heritage advisor to those seeking such an accreditation .
Tony said there were obvious benefits to having World Heritage status. It was a ‘badge of honour’ a ‘hallmark of quality’ and recognised as ‘a global brand’ internationally. It helped in trying to fight unwelcome planning applications, it was helpful in bringing more tourists and gave local businesses a ‘marketing edge.’
Tony explained that UNESCO were still only thinking about archaeology and architecture when it came to a place like Bath but he said there was more emphasis today about what went on in those buildings and spaces and how the people – residents and visitors – interacted. What you could call the cultural dimensions of the spa resort.
Christopher Pound went on to talk about the contributions all the spas had made to European medicine, culture and science.
Here at Bath’s Mineral Water Hospital – fed with thermal water – doctors had devised diagnostic medicine.
It was also important to look at other aspects of the history of a spa city. Elements of the sacred and spiritual, healing, the 18th century Enlightenment, the coming together of different groups in the public realm and erosion of class, the evolution of manners, the development of a tourist industry, a look at gambling and entertainment and the management of the city.
While it was clear to all that associating with Bath was a benefit to other spa towns looking for World Heritage status, we were not altogether sure about exactly what our city stands to gain from joining ‘the Great Spas of Europe’ group.
There was a feeling amongst guides that we didn’t want to risk losing our place on the World Heritage list in search of other reasons for being there! It was – after all – archaeology and architecture that attracted most of the four million plus tourists who come to Bath each year.
However it would be nice to have recognition as a spa town and join a sort of ‘champions league’ and it was also worth pointing out, said Tony Crouch, that on matters like ‘fracking’ in the search for natural gas supplies, that emphasising Bath’s importance as a working spa helped show Government how any such activity allowed nearby might threaten the three sources of the city’s thermal waters.
Finally the study would be looking at how Bath could develop a ‘spa quarter’ in the part of the city that had always been associated with drinking and bathing in the hot spring waters.
Exploiting the ‘well-being’ factor could bring even more businesses into our spa resort where the local economy already benefits to the tune of 380 million pounds per year and upon which 10,000 jobs depend.