Medical tourism clusters are not in the right league


For quite some time, I have seen a trend to label a collection of health tourism providers in either an established or emerging destination as a ‘cluster’.

Those behind this labelling and promotion may not have read up on industry clusters, as introduced and popularised by the well-known Harvard Business school academic Michael Porter. Also known as ‘Porterian’ clusters, these were described by Porter in "The Competitive Advantage of Nations" (1990), and their definition is to do with geographical economics. The importance of geographical economics was also brought to our attention in the same decade by Paul Krugman in "Geography and Trade".

According to these established views, an industry cluster is a geographical location (i.e. place) where there are enough resources and competencies to reach a critical threshold.  Threshold achieved, the location then has an advantageous position over other geographic places in a given economic sector (think, for example, of Hollywood and Silicon Valley in the US).

A Porterian cluster is therefore a place, and not a group of ‘same’ businesses. So in the case of medical tourism, a collection of hospitals or dental clinics can’t justifiably be an effective cluster.

‘Ersatz’ clusters

I’ve long had an interest in clusters and Michael Porter’s models. I’ve accumulated enough supporting arguments to persuade me of the merits and superiority of applying this approach in the context of health tourism.

But with the passage of time and the evolution of the health and medical tourism sector, clusters have begun to lose their practical relevance, lustre and credibility. This was not least because, for the most part, they were inappropriately conceived, structured, purposed and led.  They have been, in my mind, ‘ersatz’ clusters – in other words inferior imitations of the real Porterian thing.

Furthermore, there has been a blurred line (or indeed no line) between what it is to be a medical tourism association, council or cluster.  And to compound the problem, these ersatz groups have generally not been led by ‘real leadership’ (essentially providing direction and setting an example for others to follow; something I have written quite a bit about).

Systematic creation of a destination

No matter how good the providers or facilities are, the health tourism or medical tourism selection process starts with the choice of destination.

In the absence of an integrated, efficient, well-known, attractive, credible and trusted health tourism destination, providers (even the very best) should not expect much in the way of international patient business.

Too often, I find those leading ‘destination level’ initiatives limit their efforts to broad-brush promotion.  They forget about (or are oblivious of) the other required parallel concerted actions (i.e., segmentation, integration, administration and development) required to systemically create a destination.

This realisation has led me to encourage the creation of health tourism destinations, organised according to a systematic “Health Tourism Pentad” approach and administered by what I call ‘Destination Management Organisations’.

Essentially, this is about shifting medical tourism clusters from amateurism to professionalism.

In the second in his series of articles coming soon, Constantine Constantinides will provide further views on Destination Management Organisations.


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Articles, 01 March, 2017

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Industry Representative Bodies

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The raison d'être of Health Tourism Industry Representative Bodies

Health tourism improvements

Articles, 21 September, 2016

Making health tourism “truly” sustainable and resilient – for all

The rise of domestic medical tourism

Articles, 10 December, 2015

Why more and more medical tourism business is becoming “domestic”

Insurance funded treatment abroad

Articles, 15 October, 2015

The future of “Health-Plan-Funded” treatment abroad

A fortune in pyramids

Articles, 12 June, 2015

Is there a fortune at the bottom of the medical tourism pyramid?

Saying NO

Articles, 24 November, 2014

Why some countries are turning their back on medical tourism.

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Articles, 07 August, 2014

Hosted "Buyers" fail to live up to expectations

Who leads "Health Tourism Destinations"?

Articles, 22 May, 2014

Are there leaders, or does he who pays, speaks?

The Russian Patient

Articles, 22 April, 2014

Russia is the new focus for medical tourist companies.

Why "Google Health" failed

Articles, 09 January, 2014

Examining the electronic health record "Death Trap"

Greece as a destination

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Times are changing as Greece tries to become a major destination.

Luxury and Medicine

Articles, 07 October, 2013

If medical tourism is all about cost, why so many luxury destinations?

Conventional bankruptcy

Articles, 27 August, 2013

The old models have failed, but what replaces them?

State and Government

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The role of governments in developing health tourism

Haves and wants

Articles, 12 April, 2013

How have to travel is being replaced by wanting to travel

Changing motivations

Articles, 01 February, 2013

Is medical tourism experiencing a shift from 'have to' to 'want to'

Discovering medical tourism

Articles, 22 October, 2012

Despite the recession, there's still growth in medical tourism

Tourism "free zones"

Articles, 01 June, 2012

What are the goals and benefits?

International medical children

Articles, 18 May, 2012

How the EU directive may stimulate an increase in child care

On ice?

Articles, 23 April, 2012

Dr Constantine Constantinides talks on the EU directive on Cross Border Healthcare

Short/long term

Articles, 06 March, 2012

Which should we focus on in medical tourism

Survivor bias

Articles, 23 January, 2012

Past success is no predictor of future eminence

Healthcare standards

Articles, 21 October, 2011

Do standards need to have a regional flavour?

Is it enough?

Articles, 28 September, 2011

Can medical tourism on its own be sustainable?

Understanding the market

Articles, 03 June, 2011

Why would you want to get into the medical tourism market?

Exploring the health tourism market

Articles, 28 January, 2011

Constantine Constantinides provides advice as to understanding the health tourism market

Government incentives for health tourism

Articles, 29 November, 2010

Constantine Constantinides speaks on the role of government in medical travel


Articles, 26 August, 2010

Constantine Constantinides talks on why medical tourism businesses fail

Should accreditation be sold

Articles, 29 July, 2010

Constantine Constantinides talks on how should handle Destination Marketing

Blowing their own trumpet

Articles, 26 February, 2010

Is there any noise from the market, or is it all in the industry?

Brightest Africa

Articles, 20 January, 2010

Is Africa always a exporter, or can it be a healthcare destination?

Cross-border opposition

Articles, 10 December, 2009

Spain and other nations blocked the draft proposal, we ask the experts why

The resentment factor

Articles, 15 October, 2009

Health tourism is often resented by countries, but can it have positive effects?

Free and open debate

Articles, 22 September, 2009

Constantine Constantinides voices concern over the expression of opinions in the industry

Medical tourism in denial

Articles, 30 July, 2009

Supply is exceeding demand in medical tourism, but the industry is in denial



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