I’ve learned over the years, from working with over 15 destinations, that small marketing hits can get similar or better results than big, expensive marketing hits. As medical tourism and global healthcare continue to grow and become more sophisticated, the competition increases.
Countries, hospitals, clinics, insurance companies, tourism agencies, government agencies and individuals that relied on circumstance in the past, are now researching more targeted marketing campaigns in order to increase their revenue and/or decrease their costs and assessing their ability to gain a competitive edge for their products and services.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the factors that influence the current medical tourism marketplace so that the context for the information can be clear.
- The global medical travel market is in the mature stages of its life cycle
- Patients seeking healthcare in countries other than the ones they are a resident of, has been occurring for many years. Either to access better healthcare, to access a more affordable healthcare system, or to access a specific type of healthcare.
- The U.S. medical travel market is in the early stages of its product life cycle
- Compared to its population, the U.S. has not reached the patient travel levels of other developed countries. This is the case for both inbound and outbound patient travel. By the nature of its size, location and neighbors, the U.S. lacks some of the motivating factors such as short travel times, easy immigration access, and accommodating regulatory environments, that other developed countries possess.
- Let’s assume that destinations are marketing based on price
- For the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on the medical travel that’s motivated by patients seeking more affordable healthcare than that which is available in their domestic country.
The implications of the background factors mentioned previously are also very important for the context of this article. For each factor the implications are as follows:
- Life cycle position of the medical tourism industry
- For mature life cycle environments, price pays a very critical role in the competitive landscape as competitors try to steal market share from each other. Destinations can gain very fast competitive edges by instituting price saving measures. These can be achieved through lowering travel costs, lowering accommodation costs or reducing the costs of the procedures themselves so that the hospital care costs come down.
- For early life cycle environments, education and awareness building are very important marketing goals. Patients are more or less waiting to be persuaded to engage in medical travel to reduce their healthcare costs. The marketing has to address their questions and make it more acceptable for them to consider medical travel.
- Healthcare is more affordable in destination country
- For destinations that are marketing cost advantages, it’s important to realize that potential patients tend to regard such an opportunity as a destination based one, rather than an individual clinic or hospital one. In other words, patients will look at the country to which they are traveling when they are being marketed to based on cost.
Clusters and Associations
Destinations seeking to attract foreign patients should form clusters and associations of their healthcare organizations. It is very difficult for patients to consider a particular hospital or doctor without considering the overall destination and its attributes. By forming a cluster of hospitals and clinics, a destination is better able to market its destination’s capabilities.
In addition to hospitals and clinics, the cluster should also include some service providers such as hotels and concierge services. The presence of government agencies such as tourism departments and ministries of health also serve to assure potential travelers and employers that the destination is organized and its capabilities are strong and safe.
The use of familiarization tours to expose a destination to potential markets is a very effective tool. However, the proper construction of a FAM tour is of considerable importance. Not only are these tours very costly but, more importantly, FAM tours offer the destination a once-only opportunity to impress the potential clients.
In my opinion, the larger the FAM tour the more difficult it is to manage it completely error free. So, there is some logic to keeping the size of a FAM tour small and manageable. I would recommend that limited budget markets should consider reducing the size to one individual. In such a case, a destination is able to roll out the red carpet for the FAM tour recipient and really make the trip memorable.
In addition, if this results in there being some remaining resources, they can be used to extend some complimentary healthcare services to the client so that they may gain firsthand knowledge of the service.
If, in fact, the individual is a VIP, the FAM tour can be expanded to include a personal assistant. At the end of the tour, the destination would not only have managed its budget wisely, but it would also have influenced a VIP from the target market, which is priceless.
I am yet to see a market where relationships were not important in the marketing landscape. No matter how creative and ingenious a marketing campaign is, one that is created and maintained by forming relationships with the target market and its gatekeepers, is always one that has a great chance to succeed.
Building and/or maintaining physical presences in markets can be very costly. Brick and mortar office space is never cheap, no matter where the location. I always propose that a destination rely more on building relationships in a market instead of or, in addition to building a physical presence.
Maintaining relationships with facilitators in the target market is an affordable way to maintain a marketing presence. The facilitators are familiar with the local market and the healthcare environment. They can operate more efficiently in a local market than a foreigner can. This relationship will be a boost to the marketing campaign.
Benefit from cost advantage
All things equal, the cost of healthcare and other related services are less costly in the destination country than in the target market. Dollar for dollar, it’s better on the balance sheet to extend complimentary or reduced cost services in the destination country than in the target market. Items like complimentary lodging, travel and healthcare are attractive to potential patients.
They also enable the destination to jump start the relationship and attract the first patients. These patients will provide testimonials that will be very effective in attracting future patients from the same target market.
Websites are an affordable and cost effective marketing tool if used properly. The design, appearance and content of websites are very important. However, website owners should be clear that websites alone do not make a marketing campaign. I have seen many nice looking websites remain practically unused, because the marketing campaign did not include a plan to attract users to the website.
Of course, the temperament of the user must be taken into account. In some countries, websites are very useful to communicate information to users, but not very effective in completing purchases. Users prefer to purchase in person, not via a website. Therefore, the content of the website must take that into account and provide the website visitors with ample opportunity to continue their purchasing process independently of the website.
Well designed websites are definitely an affordable marketing tool when compared to the alternatives.
The telephone is re-emerging as a marketing hit. Service providers have taken notice that retail users are hooked to their cell phones. They are providing very effective telephone services that enable destinations to spread the word of their healthcare services, offer promotions and communicate with the phone users very effectively.
In addition, website and phone technology can be integrated to deliver a very affordable marketing tool for the marketing owners.
This article has presented some marketing winners that, if used properly, can offer small budget destinations solutions for penetrating markets as well or better than their large budget competitors. All destinations share the fact that they possess one or more excellent healthcare services that they want visitors to use.
Healthcare is one of those unique services that demands and depends on the human touch. It is here that a destination can win the marketing war, by using its marketing budget to create a high level of trust, competence, safety and warmth with its target market. The honors are not ONLY going to those with huge marketing budgets. Small players are also able to compete quite favorably with the big players and gain big wins in their medical tourism campaigns.
About the Author
Alex Piper is the president of OneWorld Global Healthcare Solutions, a consulting company committed to creating a worldwide healthcare solution.
With over 17 years experience in insurance, marketing and employee benefits management and as an insurance executive at a top Fortune 50 U.S. company, he spent eight years designing employee and customer benefits programs including healthcare programs for the large supplier and distribution partner companies of his employer.
He was responsible for creating a benefits program that had over U.S.$140 million in assets and had over 1300 companies enrolled. His latest program grew from zero to $40 million in insurance premiums in less than two years! www.oneworldglobalhealthcaresolutions.com / Alex@oneworldglobalhealthcaresolutions.com