The Caribbean is known for cruises and relaxing “beachy” getaways; the island provides all the fun –in- the- sun activities vacationers are looking for, along with activities for nature lovers and great restaurants and nightlife. This secluded getaway already attracts a large number of tourists each year, and now the government, tourism officials and those in the healthcare industry are realizing the even greater potential they have by attracting a different target market: the medical tourist. I was able to visit Curaçao for the Medical Tourism Nouveau Niche for Healthcare and Hospitality Workshop on August 6th which was hosted by The Ministry of Economic Development for Curaçao. The focus of this workshop was on forming a public-private Medical Tourism Cluster, which will be instrumental in developing the medical tourism industry strategy for the country.
According to the Curaçao Tourist Board, between January and May 2012, the island saw 170,742 visitors, which is a 9 percent increase from the previous year. They also noted that the number of cruise visitors increased by 13 percent in the first quarter of 2012 .
Whether these visitors are arriving by boat or plane, they will find an endless amount of activities to enjoy. Curaçao boosts their history and active tourism attractions. For a bit of history, tourists can visit the Hato Caves, which has drawings at least 1,500 years old.
For a more active vacation, visitors can take a hike in the Christoffel National Park, or go diving in one of the 40 different dive locations, including Newport and Directors Bay, where my colleague had a great diving experience with Ocean Encounters Curaçao.
He did a wall dive and saw Moray Eels, many types of tropical fish and even a Caribbean squid that started changing colors! For something a little less active, you can go shopping and dining in the capital city, Willemstad which is one of the Caribbean’s few UNESCO World Heritage cities.
This city has sherbet-colored buildings that feature the Dutch colonial style architecture. Also, a variety of languages are spoken in Curaçao. Their heritage is both European and African – representing more than 50 nationalities. They speak Dutch, Spanish, and English – as well as a local language, Papiamentu, a Creole dialect .
Curaçao’s beautiful landscape prepares your mind to be relaxed. If hiking and diving sounds too active, there are 17 different beaches to enjoy. The beaches are not the only place where you can find inner peace. Curaçao is a great place to visit for wellness of the body and mind.
There are several spa and wellness centers featuring a variety of aesthetic treatments, massages, and bath soaks in hot spring waters. Additionally, there are centers for spiritual meditation and yoga. With a growing number of companies offering wellness programs to their employees, Curaçao may be the perfect location to send an overworked CEO for some peace of mind, and with the proximity to the U.S. and easy access, it seems like a great fit!
Curaçao has been very successful in attracting and maintaining tourists each year, but like most places there is always the desire to grow. In addition to offering a variety of tourist attractions, Curaçao actually does have some great quality healthcare facilities. Part of the medical tourism strategy will be to feature these facilities as part of the healthcare cluster.
The Minister of Economic Development, Honourable Nasser El Hakim, is working towards ensuring that Curaçao is positioned as the preferred medical tourism destination in the Caribbean. The workshop on August 6th was held in collaboration with the Medical Tourism Association ® (MTA), to prepare Curaçao for what they need to claim the title of the tourist hub of medical care.
I served as keynote speaker of the event and was accompanied by Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the MTA. We gave presentations on the following topics: The Insurance Perspective -Who are the Players and What is the Game and Hospitality & Travel – New Opportunities for Tourism – Curaçao’s Roadmap: Destination Branding and Marketing.
There are a number of benefits Curaçao can reap by investing in medical tourism, including: developing more sustainable employment opportunities for medical experts, nurses, technicians and people working in the tourism sector all of which will increase the quality of public healthcare resulting in a different type and larger number of visitors that will increase revenues.
While visiting the island for the workshop, I was able to tour some of the incredible healthcare centers. While Curaçao may not be able to boast the numbers of physicians able to perform the most advanced surgeries, they have figured out a way to use the beauty of the island to develop some high- quality treatment options for specialized conditions. The facilities they feature would be appealing to anyone in need of treatment.
The Pain Clinic and Medical Center Pos Cabai offers some of the latest technology for pain management. The procedures offered here is something a traveling patient could undergo and still be able to enjoy the beauty and fun the island has to offer. The following technology is used at this facility :
- Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA, previously DEXA) is a means of measuring bone mineral density (BMD). Two X-ray beams with differing energy levels are aimed at the patient’s bones. When soft tissue absorption is subtracted out, the BMD can be determined from the absorption of each beam by bone.
- Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging (DITI) – Medical DITI is a noninvasive diagnostic technique that allows the examiner to visualize and quantify changes in skin surface temperature. An infrared scanning device is used to convert infrared radiation emitted from the skin surface into electrical impulses that are visualized in color on a monitor. The spectrums of colors indicate an increase or decrease in the amount of infrared radiation being emitted from the body surface. Since there is a high degree of thermal symmetry in the normal body, subtle abnormal temperature asymmetry’s can be easily identified.
The next place I toured was the Jellinek Retreat which has 100 years of experience in offering care to those with addiction problems, burnout, or depression. With all the years of experience, this retreat has been able to master their own style of treatment, which is a customized holistic approach based on the individual needs of the patient encompassing evidence-based medical and therapeutic treatment modalities.
The treatment team consists of internists, nurses, physicians, psychiatrists and psychotherapists. The retreat is in the resort ‘Lodge Kura Hulanda’, located on the cliffs of the northwestern edge of Curaçao. The resort offers privacy and luxury to those trying to recover; it also gives them the chance to enjoy the beauty of the island.
It features amenities such as: swimming pools, restaurants, fitness centers and a diving school. For family members that want to visit, lodging is provided for them. Again, with the proper tools already in place, this retreat provides the opportunity for patients to escape the lifestyle to which they are accustomed and find some tranquility in the natural beauty of this island. This provides the perfect setup for patients from around the world, and perhaps it would make the process a little easier for visiting family members.
One of the most impressive concepts I was able to experience was at the Curaçao Dolphin Therapy & Research Center. The concept is that connecting and interacting with dolphins stimulates and rewards patients to make progress. A dolphin can capture your attention, set you at ease and offers unique ways to motivate you.
An example: a therapist asks a child with motor difficulties to lift its arm up. As soon as it does, the dolphin reacts, and so can motivate the child to repeat the exercise. That way the child quickly and easily gains control of a new situation and builds self-confidence.
The facility has noticed that after a two-week program, their patients show significant improvements that had seemed impossible while at home . Each year they see around 400 patients from around the world. Their patients consist of people of 3 years of age and older with special needs like Autism, Asperger and Down Syndrome, or psychological conditions like depression and burnout.
They have psychologists, physical, speech and occupational therapists and four bottlenose dolphins that conduct these two-week programs in four different languages: English, Dutch, German and Spanish.
The recent workshop was one of the first initiatives to develop the medical tourism sector in Curaçao. As a way to further develop the industry, Minister Hakim will also be involved with the Caribbean Ministerial Summit that will be held at the 5th World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress.
This Summit will be focusing on the development of infrastructure for inbound medical tourism to islands, and Minister Hakim will also be addressing the group on collaborative efforts to reduce healthcare expenditures, engage the local population in healthy behavior and reduce rising health conditions and expense of local population traveling out of the country for healthcare. This Summit will focus on collaboration and providing a new roadmap forward for Island Nations in their healthcare infrastructure.
About the Author
Renee-Marie Stephano is the President of the Medical Tourism Association. Ms. Stephano is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Medical Tourism Magazine, Health Tourism Magazine and Healthcare Development Magazine. Having a background in international marketing and relations, health law and litigation, she provides a valuable service to the Medical Tourism Association™ in these fields. She may be reached at Renee@MedicalTourismAssociation.com.