The definition of medical and wellness tourism
By Raoul Andrews Sudre
The practice of traveling for recreation is the Webster’s definition of Tourism. By this definition, only wellness can be associated to tourism! And as far as Medical Tourism is concerned, well, we can probably define it as: the practice of traveling to find better or more affordable medical care! The Tourism Industry has many variations, depending on the interests of those who practice it: the Tourists. There are Cultural Tourism, Golf Tourism, Ski Tourism etc. each associated with an objective whether it is sightseeing and discovering different cultures and countries or for specific educational purposes.
The latest specialties are Wellness and Medical tourisms. As it is often the case when something hot comes up many apprentice sorcerers seem to emerge and try to capitalize on a new opportunity! Some have some background and expertise in the subject, most just wing it! This is quite evident with what is happening worldwide.
All concerns try to fit the new demand in one of their boxes! In this case: Medical professionals, Tourism specialists, Spa operators, Ministries of Tourism of countries interested in adding this new niche market to their already in place offerings.
To better understand how this all works out we will first identify what it is that we are talking about? Wellness tourism is fundamentally associated with traveling to locations that offer health and wellness services, often found in spas or in Wellness centers located in hotels, but also in some cases in stand alone centers. Tourists today do not wish to simply get a tan while on vacation! Some have decided to take care of their health while on vacation, improve their wellbeing, they are the Wellness tourists. Some of these will stay in their own country to satisfy their demand, choosing a destination that will offer spa services, others will travel abroad. The latter do so for different reasons: to find better services or services not offered in their own country and/or for financial reasons: services in some countries are 1/10th of the cost of what can be found at home?
Medical Tourism is predominantly an out of country experiences, motivated by “Cost “or the availability of procedures not offered in their country of origin like live cell rejuvenation injections. As health Care debates rage in the Western countries, the cost of any medical intervention has become astronomically high! Many who have a choice not to be part of a governmental system or some health insurance program choose to travel to countries where they will find the same quality medical expertise, sometimes even better than what they have at home but at a far lesser cost: as much as 10 times less! Financially the savings more than pay the cost of travel ( a complete check-up in Germany will cost 2000 euros while the same in far better installations in Bangkok will cost 200 euros.)
So, how should those attracted by this new source of tourism revenue, proceed to take advantage of this New Demand?
First and foremost begin by understanding clearly the expectations of these future clients, so as not to serve them what they are running away from! Then address the issue as a totally new challenge requiring to think out of the box. Most countries that have a significant tourist activity are now trying to capitalize on this new niche market. Unfortunately most Tourism Ministries have directed their queries to Consulting firms that do not understand what the new markets are seeking and they are suggesting to serve leftovers from the past: Thermalism, Thalassotherapy and the very basic American type of pampering spas! Even if there is an existing market for these they do not correspond to what the savvy spa goers look for today. Two and a half million Germans traveled to South East Asia last year, many seeking what they could not find at home: service with a smile, spas that not run as clinics and treatments at a reasonable price ( 5 to 10 times less expensive!). Many French are now traveling to Morocco to find the kind of exotic spas that fit into their idea of fun and pleasurable experiences, in the US and Canada many travel to some islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific to take advantage of a better service if not better quality treatments. So understanding these countries that are interested in becoming wellness tourism destination have to invest not just in marketing but in the Back of the House technical skills required to serve a top notch service.
Most of those countries do not have training facilities or schools that will prepare their staffs to meet the expectations of this international clientele. Some have understood that, like Nicaragua and Morocco who are in the process of creating Spa Academies. These schools not only will teach young people the technical skills required to perform treatments but also learn what Western schools do not teach: a warm compassionate service oriented attitude. The countries to copy are certainly not in Europe, America, Australia but the Far East. Yes the spa savvy client today is more likely to appreciate warm service with a smile than the pretended medical skills of therapists! Those who understand this basic fact will be outrageously successful the others will be in the category of the: “also ran”!
When it comes to Medical Tourism it is all about cost and the quality of the facilities offering them, and mostly the after surgical care. Orthopedic surgery, Cosmetic surgery, and even Cardiac surgery are the leaders in that category. Anyone who has gone to a hospital in Europe or in North America, have the feeling they are being treated as cattle by technicians of dubious technical knowledge. Surgeons in these hospitals are absolutely excellent, but their intervention lasts only a couple of hours! The patient then has to endure a very painful after surgery period of a few days to a week or more and this is what they will remember from their hospital stay. This is where countries wishing to enter the competition for Medical tourists will have to pay attention to and concentrate their efforts and very much like for Wellness tourism that will mean to spend time, money and energy to educate their staffs in that direction which in most cases will be much easier than in so-called developed countries that have developed a superiority complex which forbid them to be nice and of service! The cost factor is of course the main concern.
Those emerging economies are not plagued by liability suits, abusive labor legislations and greedy insurance companies so they can offer services of quality at 1/10th the cost found elsewhere. There are many senior citizens in North America that have chosen to retire in Central and South America, also in South East Asia for that particular reason.
Few Consulting firms exist today that have both the Service industry and the hands on technical knowledge to guide those in need of help, Aspen Spa Management through their international experience internationally at both the Hospitality Industry level and the Health and wellness sector might even be the only ones right now, but there will be dozens in the years to come, because that is where the Future of Wellness and Medical tourism will lie and many will seize the opportunity to provide that type of service. And yes they will have to go back to learning what they do not know now! .
© MEDICALTOURISM MAGAZINE