BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Gabor Kuntner had been planning to install a hot tub in his garden in a Budapest suburb for years but never got around to it until the pandemic prompted him to rush out and buy one to give his family some respite during lockdown.
As well as slamming the door on Hungarians' seaside holiday plans abroad, COVID-19 forced the closure of the country's famed spas and thermal baths, depriving its citizens of one of their favourite pastimes.
"Last year when the pandemic started and we read the reports about the troubles and lockdowns in China, I thought we would spend the whole year holed up in our house and the garden," said Kuntner, a 43-year-old father of two children aged 12 and three.
"So I thought the time has come to buy a hot tub," he said, adding that it set him back 2 million forints ($6,507.24). "Normally, we travel a lot more, even for longer periods, but now feel fairly confined. This helps to some extent."
As demand for home wellness facilities grew, Hungarian hot tub manufacturer Wellis emerged as a rare winner of the pandemic. The company, which says it is the biggest maker of garden spas and whirlpool baths in Europe, saw sales rise by 60% last year and is now investing in a new factory to meet the soaring demand, not just in Hungary.
The company makes 80% of its revenue from exports and has seen demand surge in the past year in its biggest markets the UK, Germany, Switzerland, France and the Nordic countries.
This year, Wellis aims to more than double its total sales to 30,000 units and plans to nearly double its headcount to 1,500 workers, said Chief Executive Zsolt Czafik, who co-founded the company with his brother Akos in the early 2000s.
"The pandemic forced people to stay at home, which has been a boon for the home wellness industry," said Czafik.
Jumping in the garden hot tub is a trend that is here to stay, he says.
"Our main clients are families, the European middle class, and we expect these products to become so popular in Europe and globally that this strong demand will prevail even after the pandemic."
($1 = 307.35 forints)
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Fenyo; Editing by Susan Fenton)