Constantine Constantinides from healthcare Cybernetics raises concerns about the state of the medical tourism market and suggests that the medical tourism industry is too busy “blowing its own trumpet” to spend time on cultivating a sustainable market. It’s time for the industry to move on says Dr Constantinides.
Making the bottom line the top line
One of the shortcomings of the medical tourism industry is that many players are concentrating on developing and promoting the industry (and their business) rather than cultivating and developing the market. What is being done to broaden medical tourism, increase its attractiveness and ultimately to increase its popularity?
The medical tourism industry “Associations” claim that their role is to protect and lobby for the interests of their members – and even to promote individual members within the market. But much of what we hear from them and the individual members is “come to me - I am better and cheaper”.
This creates confusion, mistrust, and does little to develop the market.
The way to cultivate (and expand) the market is through a coherent and convincing “disinterested” message that says:
“Health tourism (or medical tourism if you prefer) is a diverse (in terms of purpose and choice), credible, reliable and trustworthy industry.”
But, we need to provide the evidence for this. We must ensure that more people feel that they too can and want to be health or medical tourists or travellers if the industry is to develop and grow.
Existing industry representative bodies (for the most part, in the form of “Associations”) that are one day extolling the virtues of one destination and the next day lavishly showcasing the peerless offerings of another, do not best serve the interests of the industry as a whole. Imagine the uproar if a professional association in healthcare promoted one group of its members one week and a completely different (and competing) group of members the next.
Promotion of a specific member, product or service (in the case of medical tourism, a destination) is not the role of an industry association; this is the role of the destinations themselves, or their agents or the facilities and services that make the destination attractive.
Market cultivation is all about promoting the concept of medical tourism, and making it more attractive to as broad a market as possible, rather than promoting specific providers and destinations.
If the existing associations do not adopt this role, then another body needs to step in and fill the gap.
Time to move on
The industry needs to move forward. It has created a great deal of noise without creating enthusiasm in the marketplace. The industry has been driven by internally generated “ triumphalism”and more recently, bravado (in the face of a worldwide recession), but has seen very little new enthusiasm from the market. Many devote time, effort and money to “convert” prospects to customers, but this is not the same as “cultivating” the market.
The market has not been growing as fast as many have predicted (or they hoped) and it is not just a matter of the impact of the recession. Lack of underlying market growth has to be a concern, and one that the industry needs to urgently address.
Do we need more legislation, regulation and standards?
Contrary to the hysteria of some who want to say something (and have very little to say), the health tourism industry does not need additional legislation, regulation or standards.
Each of the eight health-related tourism segments, including medical tourism, already has standards. And health tourism is not a melting pot. Each segment wants to and is entitled to retain its unique identity and independence.
Where perhaps there is no objection to the introduction of legislation, regulation and standards is to the role of the medical facilitator or medical travel agency, which is relatively new (although some, mainly in Europe, will quite correctly point out, it is anything but new).
Whether it is new or not, the fact remains that the facilitation role has developed with little coherence and without the framework and extensive regulation that surrounds the traditional travel and tourism agency sector.
Dr Constantine Constantinides runs healthcare Cybernetics, a “think and do” tank that specializes in medical tourism and healthcare consultancy and planning. He lives on the island of Samos in Greece.
Comments provided below do not represent the views of IMTJ. Comments will be published "as is" and will not be edited by IMTJ staff. IMTJ is hosting these comments, and is not undertaking an editorial role in the content of these comments. However, it is editorial policy not to publish comments which have been submitted anonymously.