Tourism and destination development are defined as the strategic planning and advancement of defined (geographical) areas to support the evolution of desirable destinations for travelers.
One of the many lessons learned during our tenure in the industry is, that quality medical services alone are not sufficient to draw international patients towards a hospital and region.
An intertwined network of stakeholders from various sectors, i.e. health-care, hospitality, mobility services, leisure providers, retailers, and gastronomy, jointly operating towards a mutually agreed on the goal, provides your city or municipality with a competitive edge over other health tourism destinations.
"We don't need marketing and tourism development. We are a great hospital"
This is something I hear quite regularly. However, it could not be further from the truth. While a few hospitals around the globe do indeed benefit from their expertise preceding them and being known even without promoting activities, this is not the rule. Few hospitals around the world manage to attract international patients without being part of a larger destination building strategy. The reason being, that they have outstanding medical expertise and a history of excellence. In most cases, they even are the only option for certain types of treatment. Being at the forefront of medical innovations is a useful tool to attract foreign patients.
However, most hospitals do not have proprietary and proven treatment techniques that serve as USP/UVP.
Other hospitals that seek to be active in medical tourism need to work with what’s around them. This includes the region itself, tourism stakeholders, and yes, even other hospitals. It is far more enticing for patients to travel to a destination, where multiple ailments can be taken care of if needed. At the same time, they want to be assured, that their environment will be welcoming and supporting. This should be mirrored in other tourism stakeholders understanding why people are traveling to the region and not just treating them as tourists, but medical travelers.
In terms of operational measures, this can translate into mutual participation in the services offered to travelers. There should not be a hard separation between the hotel stay and hospital arrangements. There are successful examples of the actual integration of clinical services in hotels and resorts. For sure this doesn’t go for every medical specialty. I am not talking about having cardiothoracic surgery next to the ballroom. But offering supporting activities like medicine deliveries, pick-ups, and appointment reminders can add to the patient and guest experience.
It’s a given that all this can be offered to the patient but should be requested by him. It also puts a higher demand on privacy solutions throughout all participants, adhering to governing laws.
Now after I have managed to successfully digress into details, let us get back to the big picture.
Tasked with projects of destination development we always start with a thorough stakeholder analysis. What services are available and who is willing to participate in what degree. Experience has shown, that not all stakeholders are willing to participate in the common effort or cannot.
The stakeholder analysis identifies the parties who should participate in the strategy. Based on that analysis we usually suggest the formation of a committee that includes the parties in the decision-making process. This also assures that nothing gets agreed upon, that the stakeholders can’t implement. This committee also allows us to structure finances transparently, thus making things easier in matters where financial contributions are required.
With the extensive data of the stakeholder analysis at our disposal, we begin to identify USPs/UVPs. If there aren’t any factors standing out, this usually is the time where we begin to craft them. The result of that work is what lays the groundwork and basis for the entire strategy. It is the reason why people chose your destination and hospitals over another destination. It also will be the most important building block for branding and marketing. I would like to elaborate further on it, but it is of such individual nature, that I could only describe it in abstracts, which would be of little benefit.
Should the initiator be a region or municipality we usually get engaged during traditional tourism development projects as the responsible party for the medical and health tourism sector.
If the project is initiated by a network of hospitals and health care providers, we also tap on experts in the tourism industry to form an all-around attractive package.
Independently of who initiated the project we always emphasize the need for collaborating to reach the common goal, within the framework that is created. Having all relevant stakeholders work towards the common goal and investing their efforts into one channel yields higher recognition and presents a unified message that captures travelers' attention.
A single hospital trying to attract international patients on its own will not have the same success as a network working together, combining their range of services and building upon them with the help of the nonmedical participants.
One of the most common concerns expressed is that hospitals will have to compete within the region and are, frankly speaking, afraid that patients will choose another hospital over theirs.
There are multiple ways to approach this concern, the main point being: Competition is good. If the legal infrastructure offers a framework to support the ethicality of the competition (which in the medical service industry is not always a given), good. If not, the committee should set rules, which is advisable either way. Medical requests can be passed to all fitting providers, they will send in their cost estimations and a description of how they plan to handle the case. This can then be presented to travelers.
In closing I want to say one last thing:
Not every destination can or should be a medical travel destination. There is a trend, promoting every city on the globe as a medical travel destination if they have half a clinic and English speaking personnel. This is not in any way meant to sound derogative, but promoting destinations as medical travel hubs, whether or not they have the capacity to be one, does not serve anyone, least of all patients.
Many destinations offer various advantages even health-related advantages. If they do, they should promote themselves accordingly.