More than 130 nations have announced intentions to focus concerted efforts to attract health tourism visitors to their key tourism destinations.
More than 130 nations have announced intentions to focus concerted efforts to attract health tourism visitors to their key tourism destinations. Many have already abandoned their efforts upon the realization that the development of a health tourism destination program is much more than pairing hospitals, doctors, and hotels as featured assets and marketing them as a “product”.
That’s tantamount to taking a pile of raw unformed steel, a pile of rubber, and various liquids (transmission, brake, water, and windshield wiper fluids) and selling it as a “car”. Of course, it has the potential to become any kind of a car, but it is not yet a car. One cannot drive it away from the sales lot and transport to any destination in the current state of the raw materials. Nor is there a strategy and design to determine what the end product will look like, the price point it can command in the market, whom its rival competitors will be, and to whom it will appeal and for what reason.
Health tourism product design is complicated. Health tourism destination development is far more complex than the logistics of patient arrivals, ground management, and departure coordination.
What is health tourism, really?
Depending on whom you ask, health tourism can be defined in many subjective ways, all of them may be correct, even though each definition given may be somewhat incomplete. There are several categories of health tourism:
• Surgical health tourism (people that travel to a destination specifically to undergo a surgical procedure, whether as an admitted inpatient to a hospital or on an outpatient (ambulatory) basis).
• Rehabilitation health tourism (e.g., arrivals for an extended period substance abuse rehab, cardiac and orthopedic rehab).
• Wellness tourism (people travel to a resort that is centered on maintaining good health or a state of wellness). In Eastern Europe this term is closely associated with thermal spas and resorts that feature the use of sea water (Thalassotherapy) or mineral waters (Balneotherapy) and muds laden with minerals and nutrients.
• Medical tourism (e.g., people plan a vacation or holiday, and add a minor procedure such as a preventive checkup or a minor cosmetic procedure (dermal fillers, massages, etc.,) or even a golf swing analysis interpreted by a sports medicine or exercise physiologist to their agenda.
• Cultural Healings (e.g., people seek relaxation or self-improvement through cultural and indigenous experiences such as Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Yoga Retreats, Shamanic Retreats, or cleansing fasts and sweat lodge meditations, etc.)
There have been many consultants that have advised these 130 destinations (and others). Many have approached health tourism development without the necessary acumen in medical, hospitality, logistics, economic development, capacity building, and marketing implications that make up the complex infrastructure. As a result, they have failed to deliver the right sustainable plans and guidance to develop, implement and launch a strategy to compete, deliver revenue, manage growth, protect destination brand image, and activate all the component suppliers that can benefit from a sound health tourism economic development and branding strategy. That actually takes public policy, a framework law that can be enforced, and clear cut safety and quality standards, measurement and evaluation tools, and credentialing criteria for tour operators and others that want to market the product properly.
Why is public policy a necessity for health tourism business development?
Public policy involves a dynamic, complex, and interactive system through which public problems are identified and countered by creating new public policy or by reforming existing public policy. It entails many feedback loops. These public problems when one takes a handful of regulated industries such as:
• health delivery by physicians, nurses and therapists of a number of varieties
• health facilities commissioning
• travel ticketing sales
• airport operations and traveler’s rights
• public and hired transportation
• medical device and treatment registration for certain procedures and materials (e.g., stem cells, in vitro fertilization, maternal surrogacy, etc.)
• physician licensure and privileging (competency to perform certain procedures)
• professional liability and dispute resolution matters
• public education institutions that produce skilled labor resources, and
• other activities that might generate taxable income but could easily be corrupted by grey market practices by unregulated, unmonitored suppliers
For health tourism, public policy development helps a destination to create regulations, subsidies for development, and laws at a local or national level that can help to shape and grow the market with an organized strategy, guided implementation, and a feedback loop of measurement and evaluation.