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Marketing Wellness Tourism in Las Vegas: AquaStretch-A New Wellness & Spa Service for the World

Destination Spotlight

Staff at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) Wellness Center has developed an exceptional new wellness program and spa service that creates a remarkable opportunity for both health and medical tourism around the world. And with that opportunity comes the challenge of marketing this breakthrough technology, both to increase wellness and medical tourism to Las Vegas and to disseminate its existence internationally.

AquaStretch represents an outstanding opportunity for Las Vegas because it may benefit hundreds of thousands of tourists that already visit Las Vegas resort spas, who may then decide to come back to Las Vegas in part because they would like to experience another AquaStretch session that is probably not yet available in their home town.

In a December 2010 email to a former lieutenant governor of Nevada, the CEO of Nevada’s largest bio-technology consortium said AquaStretch “could really be the cornerstone of health and wellness tourism to Las Vegas.”

The purpose of this article is to describe AquaStretch and its potential wellness and medical applications and to describe AquaStretch’s current marketing plans using relatively low cost strategies. Our objective is to provide practical ideas about how to improve the marketing of wellness and medical tourism no matter what the location or service.

AquaStretch: The Opportunity

AquaStretch is a significant new wellness program and spa service that immediately and dramatically reduces chronic  aches and pains, including many idiopathic pain problems not resolved by other modalities. A/S is often much more effective than massage and other forms of bodywork and may last three to four times longer.

AquaStretch also helps restore flexibility, relieves pain due to sports injuries and may help enhance recreational sports performance. For example, golfers may drive balls 20 to 30 yards further, and runners may improve their half-marathon times by five minutes.

A/S also helps reduce muscle soreness from over-training, both the intensity of that soreness and its speed of recovery, i.e. from 48 hours to 12 hours. This may result in the ability to compress training and in a significant quality of life improvement for serious athletes.

The medical tourism value of AquaStretch was summarized in a letter to UNLV’s Vice-President for Student Wellness by the Medical Director of the Nevada Clinic, whose physicians and advanced practitioners have referred over 600 patients to the UNLV AquaStretch Wellness program since it began in January of 2008.

Dr. Fuller Royal, also the President of Nevada’s Board of Homeopathic Medical Examiners for over 25 years, said AquaStretch is a “breakthrough in pain management and preventive medicine.” Royal also said, “The vast majority of these patients have reported immediate and dramatic pain relief, profound relaxation, and/or improvements in sleep and physical functionality.”

AquaStretch’s medical tourism potential is also being recognized by physical therapists, after the UNLV Wellness Center staff trained three doctors of physical therapy. Jessica Huss, DPT, recently presented data suggesting A/S was twice as effective (10 degrees per day versus five degrees per day) as land based p.t. procedures to increase flexion in total knee replacement (TKR) patients.

Huss’s TKR data also found A/S was subjectively 80 percent less painful. Her further affirmed replicating the significant benefits of AquaStretch for patients with fibromyalgia, scoliosis pain and lower back pain (purportedly due to MRI confirmed disk degeneration) reported by patients at the UNLV Wellness Center.

Huss, who has been doing aquatic therapy since 2003, says she now uses AquaStretch 80 percent of the time, and all the traditional aquatic therapy she learned about 20 percent of the time. She is now developing pre-surgical AquaStretch applications that may reduce post surgical pain, improve post-surgical sleep and decrease total rehabilitation time.

What is AquaStretch?

AquaStretch is like being stretched by an athletic trainer and is similar to Thai massage, only with movement in three to four feet of water preferably >88° F, and with 2- to 15-pound weights attached to your body. A/S theoretically works by resolving excessive calcifications in your connective tissue (fascial adhesions) that form from improper healing.

For example, if you injure your ankle and it needs four weeks to heal properly, many people excessively use that ankle after only a week or two, which results in improper healing, causing a loss of flexibility and/or pain on movement.

One of the most important ways in how AquaStretch is unique is that A/S creates significant pain relief and restoration of flexibility immediately. Most clients get 60 percent to 100 percent relief in their first session. In general, if you answer yes to either of the following questions, it is worthwhile for you to try AquaStretch once:

  1. Do you have chronic pain more than three months after an injury or surgery?
  2. Do pain drugs, chiropractic adjustments, or massage only provide short term relief?

The basic AquaStretch Wellness service can be learned in about 12 hours, of which 10 hours is in the pool developing A/S skills, followed by 20 to 30 hours of real client practice. AquaStretch is primarily being taught to massage therapists, athletic trainers, physical therapists and their assistants and aquatic therapists who have “good” hands.

The UNLV’s Wellness Center’s “AquaStretch Basics” course has been approved for continuing education credit by the National Certification Board since November of 2008. Similar courses are now being taught by several nationally recognized aquatic therapy instructors who trained at UNLV.

AquaStretch Marketing

Summary: We live in a world where everything is advertised or described as the “best” to the point where superlative claims are often ignored even when they may be true. And the AquaStretch process of being stretched in the water does not look or logically sound like it could produce results significantly better than other alternatives.

AquaStretch must usually be experienced for this phenomenal modality to be understood. Therefore, our marketing focus has been to get key people to try AquaStretch once so those people will tell others, using a “First Session Free,” or “First Session Free – Unless it Works” strategy.

Word-of-Mouth Marketing: In Las Vegas, many hotel/casino resorts offer extensive concierge services and/or have casino VIP hosts who routinely refer guests to community resources. Until those resorts build their own indoor AquaStretch pools, they may refer people, and even provide limo service, to the non-competing university facility offering A/S. Accordingly, concierge staff and VIP hosts are offered A/S First Session Free.

Also in Las Vegas, casino floor personnel, casino dealers, cocktail waitresses, bartenders and limo drivers have frequent guest interactions in which AquaStretch would be exciting to speak about and suggest. And many of these employees have occupationally aggravated back, neck, shoulder and foot pain problems relieved by AquaStretch. These workers are offered A/S First Session Free – Unless it Works.

In Las Vegas and other tourist communities, hotel front desk staff and hair stylists who work on tourists and constantly talk to their clients should be considered for First Session Free for their referral potentials. For all these word-of-mouth referrers, it is important to provide a “rack card” or a flyer with the AquaStretch Wellness program information.

Online Marketing: Many people decide to take action on an idea after they do online research. Therefore, it is important to have information about the program or service online for them to review, with links to that base information in many other websites.

In our case, the AquaStretch Wellness program is described on the UNLV website in the Aquatics section of the UNLV Wellness Center. AquaStretch will also be listed in the Medical Tourism Destination Guide sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. At minimum, we hope to establish links with the State of Nevada Commission on Tourism and the non-profit Southern Nevada Medical Industry Coalition.

We’ve also had success in online marketing with MeetUp. com groups because they seem to be attended by people who are highly motivated. We attend or offer free A/S session “meet-ups” to people interested in alternative medicine, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, etc, while focusing on massage therapy meet-up groups.

Because of the economic downturn, and because of professional burnout, massage therapists see AquaStretch as a way to supplement their income with their “good hands,” using a modality that is less taxing and equally profitable and is often more effective than table massage work. Massage therapists have also proven to be an excellent source of referrals to AquaStretch.

Referrals by massage therapists have resulted in two exceptional opportunities to market AquaStretch. First, two massage therapists working at the Bellagio Hotel who learned of A/S suggested to their Director of Spa Operations that the Bellagio Spa should offer A/S.

This recommendation led to our training of 14 Bellagio massage therapists, including both lead massage therapists, and the Bellagio Spa offering AquaStretch as a “World Therapy” in October 2008. A/S training is now done in-house by lead massage therapist Julie Bevel whose A/S spa service focuses on the profound relaxation and meditative qualities of A/S rather than its wellness, fitness or chronic pain reduction properties.

Second, another massage therapist we trained working at the J.W. Marriott Las Vegas resort referred its then general manager, Jim Rose, to AquaStretch for a sports injury he sustained as a serious amateur marathon runner. After Rose’s A/S session, he reported complete resolution of his pain and the ability to “run effortlessly.”

Rose has since been promoted to be the general manager of the prestigious Marriot Camelback Inn in Phoenix and recently offered to fly us to Arizona and stay at his property so we could demonstrate AquaStretch to a Marriott regional vice-president.

Governmental Marketing: In December 2010, former Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt (R-NV) formed an ad hoc committee that is now called the SNMIC Nevada Health & Wellness Tourism Task Force. This group met monthly and created an excellent opportunity for many different parties involved in Nevada wellness and medical tourism to interact and become aware of their mutual interests and diverse backgrounds.

These meetings included physicians and office managers, physical therapists, program administrators, university staff, hospital marketing heads, governmental agencies and entrepreneurs.

One of the most interesting observations of these meetings was how almost completely unaware these parties were of other medical tourism activities. Almost none of them were knowledgeable about the UNLV Wellness Center, let alone its remarkable AquaStretch Wellness program.

And we were not aware of the Cleveland Clinic’s Ruvo Brain Center or the internationally known Sher Institute for Reproductive Medicine that already attracts many of its patients from outside Las Vegas.

Nor were we aware of outstanding physicians in Las Vegas who actively participate in medical tourism marketing. For example, Ken Osgood, MD, MPH is President of Medical Scientific Resources, an organization that has been providing health screening services at Las Vegas conventions for years.

As another example, Mike Crovetti, D.O. created the Coronado Surgical Suites for non-hospital total knee replacement surgery, an environment that, based on data to July, 2011, has not yet had post-surgical infections.

Nor were we aware of a facilitator who routinely brings groups of Russian executives to Las Vegas for executive physicals and medical procedures. This person agreed to try AquaStretch after a recommendation to include A/S in his medical services offerings by a Las Vegas CEO he knows, who is a member of the NV Health Tourism committee.

The Nevada Health Tourism committee meetings were also attended by directors or senior staff members from several state of Nevada agencies involved in medical tourism. This included people from Governor Sandoval’s office, the Director of Operations and Workforce Initiatives for Diversify Nevada and the Nevada Commission on Tourism.

The State of Nevada’s interest in health and wellness tourism was not only because of its impact on tourism, but also because the creation of health care jobs is a state priority. For example, it has been estimated that AquaStretch may create over 1,000 high paying jobs.

Some of the Health Tourism committee meetings were also attended by a Vice-President of the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. This individual was instrumental in establishing the LVCVA’s relationship with the Medical Tourism Association and with the publication of the Medical Tourism Destination Guide for Las Vegas.

In November 2010, shortly after the elections, the Nevada State Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, sponsored a “meet the state legislators” conference, in part to present new technology developed at UNLV that was ready for commercial development.

At this meeting, AquaStretch was explained one-on-one to over a dozen state assemblymen and several state senators for about five minutes each. After describing A/S’s potential to create over 1,000 new jobs and to stimulate medical tourism to Nevada, each legislator was offered a free A/S session for themselves or anyone on their staff or their loved ones who suffered from chronic pain.

We hope that knowledge by governmental agencies and state legislators of AquaStretch and its potential to generate tourism and create health care jobs will lead to support for the inclusion of an AquaStretch Research & Training Center at whatever new sports stadium complex is selected to be built in Las Vegas.

The A/S Center would use the stadium’s parking facilities and would create a unique architectural photo opportunity because of the A/S Center’s use of solar power. The A/S Research & Training Center would potentially become the model for an international AquaStretch franchise system.

Local Marketing: Many people who live in Las Vegas know people who work in the tourism industry and/or have friends who visit them with problems that may be resolved by AquaStretch. Therefore, we also market AquaStretch locally to three target groups: the university community, local health care providers and the general public.

AquaStretch is promoted at the UNLV Wellness Center itself with 8.5-by-11 posters located in several locations, with one 2’-by-3’ poster adjacent to where A/S is provided and where tour groups are brought to view the pool and in listings of the RebelX flyer that describes exercise, yoga and other fitness classes at the Center. Both the RebelX offerings and AquaStretch Wellness program information are also posted online on the UNLV website.

Easily visible at the Center’s front desk are copies of an AquaStretch Information & Instructions handout available in racks. These handouts are also given out by physicians and advanced practitioners in Student Health Center, also located in the Wellness Center building, to students referred to the AquaStretch Wellness program. UNLV students are given free A/S sessions but may be treated by A/S facilitators in training.

In the spring semester of 2011, a campus-wide email campaign was sent in two emails describing the wellness benefits of AquaStretch and offering their first A/S session free to all faculty and staff with a very poor response.

Word-of-mouth has proven to be the best method to make the university community aware of AquaStretch, so we assertively ask administrators, staff, faculty, and students who experience A/S to “spread the word” and to encourage their friends and loved ones with pain to “try AquaStretch once.”

Based on word-of-mouth referrals, knowledge of AquaStretch spread quickly to the UNLV dance department, where students frequently injure themselves and compulsively continue to rehearse, audition and perform prematurely, causing the fascial adhesions that result from improper healing.

This led to a local choreographer, who also taught yoga classes at the Wellness Center, to train as a Wellness Center AquaStretch facilitator. A/S’s reputation spread to the dance professors, who have invited that choreographer and A/S’s creator to speak about AquaStretch for dance injuries at several dance classes.

A/S’s reputation in the dance community was further enhanced when a physical therapist from one of the Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas, Luc Fecteau, started bringing eight to 10 Cirque performers to UNLV weekly as part of his A/S training. Luc became aware of AquaStretch after a Wellness Center lifeguard observed his Cirque acrobat wife, Lynn, swimming awkwardly because of a loss in shoulder functionality due to several surgeries.

Despite over eight months of extensive physical therapy by Fecteau and others in the Cirque Performance Medicine department, Lynn still had about a 60 percent loss of shoulder mobility. After three AquaStretch sessions, she had only a 10 percent loss remaining, and a month later, she had less than a 2 percent loss. This motivated him to learn A/S, and he has been promoted to Director of Performance Medicine for the new Cirque show in Los Angeles.

Over a dozen local physicians (M.D. and D.O.), numerous advanced practitioners (APN, APH – Nursing or Homeopathy, and other health care providers refer patients to the UNLV AquaStretch Wellness program, including staff from the Student Health Center.

The first physician to evaluate AquaStretch for its health and wellness potentials was Fuller Royal, M.D, Medical Director of the Nevada Clinic since 1982. Royal was chosen because of his reputation in the state of Nevada as an open-minded, objective physician actively involved in alternative medicine both in his practice and as the President of the Nevada’s Board of Homeopathic Medical Examiners for over 25 years. In August 2007, he watched an AquaStretch session. A few weeks after that demonstration, he accepted our invitation to personally try AquaStretch.

Shortly thereafter, Royal suggested AquaStretch to another M.D. in his clinic for his back pains, who did so with great, immediate success. Because of their personal experiences, these two doctors immediately started referring to the AquaStretch Wellness program when it was first offered at the UNLV Wellness Center in January 2008.

As a result, the clinic’s nursing and front desk staff and its advanced practitioners were knowledgeable about AquaStretch and were highly motivated to encourage patients to also try AquaStretch, while being able to explain why A/S might benefit those patients from their personal knowledge and experience. The Nevada Clinic continues to refer its patients to the UNLV AquaStretch Wellness program enthusiastically.

Royal’s assistance also led to passage by the State of Nevada’s Legislative Council Bureau changes to the Nevada Administrative Code (N.A.C. 630A.014) specifically defining that AquaStretch exercising may also be used as a form of aquatic therapy, legalizing A/S for insurance purposes on December 16, 2008.

During Christmas break of 2008, we met for the first time with Sal Biazzo, D.O., and the chief physician for the UNLV Student Health Center. After Biazzo personally experienced an A/S session, he routinely started to refer student health center patients in February 2009.

Because the Student Health service limits the number of osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT) sessions a student may receive each year, Biazzo was impressed how A/S served as a soft tissue preparation tool that consistently allowed his OMT to be gentler and yet be more effective and longer lasting.

A year later in February 2009, Biazzo invited us to speak about AquaStretch to the entire Student Health staff including all their APN. Student Health continues to refer patients for AquaStretch Wellness, especially by those physicians and APN who had A/S.

However, the majority of physicians and advanced practitioners who refer patients for AquaStretch Wellness did so because one of their patients told them about A/S. If the doctor, P.A., APN, or APH expressed interest in learning more about the A/S program, we would contact them and offer to meet with them at their office, unless they wanted to experience a “free” AquaStretch session as a professional courtesy. Without exception, those healthcare providers who personally experienced A/S have referred the most patients and patients who more likely had fascial adhesion problems A/S helps relieve.

Because the Wellness Center and its pools were closed for construction repairs in the summer of 2011, we had the opportunity to establish an AquaStretch Wellness program at Sun City Anthem, a 7,000 home planned community in Henderson, Nevada. To create word of mouth referrals, we offered free A/S sessions to Anthem residents, Anthem monitors (i.e. the people who work at the front desks of Anthem’s 3 recreational centers), and Anthem fitness staff, as part of their AquaStretch training program.

Anthem itself marketed its new AquaStretch service by producing an excellent five-minute television report that appeared on the July 11, 2011 edition of their Anthem Alive show that was broadcast repeatedly on their public access cable station. Anthem also announced the availability of AquaStretch and its wellness benefits in the July and August 2011 monthly editions of Anthem’s Spirit Magazine.

In the fall of 2011 and spring of 2012, we plan to do more local public marketing after the UNLV Wellness Center re-opens. We intend to invite local TV and newspaper health reporters to come experience AquaStretch, so they may write about AquaStretch from personal experience.

We also intend to ask writers and editors for What’s On and other magazines published for Las Vegas tourists to try AquaStretch and to recommend the UNLV Wellness Center and AquaStretch as something worthwhile to do in Vegas.

We may also investigate the cost and test market 4-by-8.5 rack cards and consider training A/S facilitators to work on cruise ships. Also, after the Wellness Center reopens, we plan to ask individuals involved met via the Health Tourism committee to try AquaStretch.

Insurance Marketing:

AquaStretch’s Cost Savings Potential

In June 2011, Jonathan Edelheit, President of the Medical Tourism Association, made an excellent presentation to the SNMIC Health and Wellness Tourism Task Force at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

One of the most important understandings we acquired from his well-organized program was that some U.S. health insurance companies are legally encouraging and economically supporting their insured patients to use medical tourism as a way to cut health care costs. Medical tourism may allow both the total cost to the insurance company and the insured co-pay to be less – Win/Win.

This situation may create an exceptional opportunity to market AquaStretch because of the significant healthcare cost savings routinely reported after A/S. To summarize, post-AquaStretch people often report needing fewer office visits, needing fewer prescription drugs, less physical therapy, less osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT) or chiropractic care and massage less frequently.

In Las Vegas, we plan to ask self-insured companies and corporations with existing wellness programs to document and do research on the cost savings generated by an AquaStretch Wellness program. With that data, we may be able to approach insurance companies already supporting health tourism to recommend some of their insured travel to Las Vegas for AquaStretch services, knowing the benefit of this extra-ordinary modality is almost always experienced in the first A/S session.

About the Author

George Eversaul is the creator and developer of the AquaStretch Wellness program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Wellness Center, considered a major breakthrough in preventive medicine and fitness training. AquaStretch is an aquatic form of myo-fascial release that is usually more effective than massage and lasts much longer. George teaches “AquaStretch Basics” to massage therapists, approved by the National Certification Board, and “AquaStretch for Fitness Trainers”, approved by the American Council on Exercise, in part because AquaStretch may also improve recreational sports performance.

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