An increasing number of destinations in countries throughout all regions of the world are tourism hot-spots for adventure, eco-travel, edu-tourism, leisure travel and medical tourism, in the health and wellness travel niche. As with any other service industry, growth in a region’s or specific country’s tourism trends directly impacts their hospitality sector’s development. Where growth is present, the hospitality sector expands and jobs are created, more services are provided and a larger volume of export dollars are earned and received by a country.
Today, inbound tourism is a major international trade category. It ranks fourth worldwide as an export category, behind fuels, chemicals and automobile products, and is the main source for foreign exchange income. These dynamics apply equally in the medical tourism sector as more and more countries develop a thriving healthcare cluster to cater to potential patients, medical travelers, and wellness seekers.
In any country looking to fully develop a medical tourism market, travel and hospitality service providers must be part of a formulated development plan. From travel agencies handling inbound and outbound flights and local on the ground transport, to hotel stays before and after procedures and companion tourist attraction services, the need to pair up service providers into a ‘seamless continuum’ is becoming crucial and integral to a country’s development of a growing medical tourism niche market. To the degree that this is done well, a destination’s earned reputation and credibility as a healthcare cluster hub is directly impacted.
Some travel agencies, airlines and hotels have already taken the lead, partnering with hospitals in order to get a share of the medical tourism pie. This trend will only continue to grow because, in essence, medical tourism is a bridge between two worlds and a link between two industries: that of health care and hospitality. Common sense dictates that more integration and merging can only increase and improve efficiencies, financial and otherwise; inter-dependence is the theme ‘du jour’.
“We should be married but separated,” Executive Vice President of Well-Being Travel Anne-Marie Moebes said. “What we do well is travel, it may not be as complicated as the medical industry but it is a complicated business.” According to Moebes, patients need face-to-face contacts but Well-Being Travel does not want its agents involved in the medical side.
“Finally, the time is right for the medical and travel industries to work together to provide consumers with a consulting service that expertly manages all of their medical travel needs around the world from one source. Currently a $20 billion market, studies have predicted that medical tourism could reach $100 billion by 2012. The market opportunity is tremendous, and now is the time to tap this trend.” said Moebes, in a recent press release.
“In that way we partnered with Companion Global,” she said. “We believe strongly that we need to partner with medical specialists and we will stay on the travel side of this business.”
Moebes suggests that the medical industry can act as a distribution side since they already have established relationships and credibility with the travelers, or potential patients. It would take place as an exchange of services between the two industries, rather than as a fusion.
“The database that the travel industry owns will turn on the medical tourism industry because the travel industry knows how to market,” She said. Therefore, the medical tourism industry could benefit from the travel industry’s marketing skills while the travel industry would extend its market offerings for medical travel services.
In Turkey, travel agencies target medical tourism clients, offering a range of diverse services: accommodations, transfers, translation services, tours and sightseeing packages before or after treatment. Travel agencies are also organizing familiarization trips for facilitators, press and media members to promote the destination, according to Emin Cakmak, Hello Tourism and Travel Inc’s founding partner and founding chairman of the Turkish Healthcare Tourism Development Council.
“Moreover, discounted prices and extra services are offered for medical tourists,” Cakmak said. In addition to these services, airlines do their part by offering 25 percent fare discounts for persons traveling from the U.S. as a departure point for medical tourism. His or her companion or attendant traveler is also offered a 20 percent discount from departure points of over 150 destinations in the world.
We will continue to see more and more combinations of packages, pricing mechanisms and process efficiencies similar to the examples discussed above as the medical services and tourism industries explore further the opportunities to be found in integrative collaboration.
About the Author
Cayla Lambier is a recent graduate of Washington State University and possesses Bachelors degrees in both Communication, with an emphasis on journalism, and English. She considers herself to be an incredibly versatile writer, with several years of professional experience ranging from reporting and magazine editing, to public relations and technical writing. Cayla is currently engaged as an editorial intern with the Seattle branch of Where Magazine and as a freelance staff writer for Medical Tourism Magazine.
Vivian Ho is President of AGHP, a 501c3 that works on global health philanthropy ventures. She also serves as Managing Director, Asia Pacific for MTA, and Co-Editor of MTA’s health tourism e-magazine. Prior to this, Vivian was President & CEO of Queens International in Honolulu, Hawaii building Hawaii’s medical travel & health tourism initiative. She currently advises on country, sector and organization initiatives in Medical & Health Tourism. She may be reached at Vivian@MedicalTourismAssociation.com.
Anne-Line Crochet is Communications Intern for Medical Tourism Association. With a Masters degree in political science, a Minor in journalism, Anne-Line provides professional expertise to our public relations and editorial functions. Previously a staff writer for French publications Fragil and Ouest-France, she is fluent in English and French; and conversant in Spanish and Russian languages. Anne-Line writes for MTA’s Medical Tourism Magazine and Health Tourism Magazine. She can be reach at AnneLine@medicaltourismassociation.com