European countries developing health tourism niches: Iceland, Cyprus, Malta, Estonia


While never able to compete with major medical tourism countries on choice of destinations and treatments, several small European countries are developing their own niches for particular target markets.

The Asbru Health Village in Iceland has recently seen a boost in health tourists from Norway and the Faroe Islands who enjoy health treatment at the Icelandic Health Hotel. The hotel offers detox treatment, as Ragnar Saer Ragnarsson explains, “Our new marketing strategy is based on current customers recommending the hotel to their friends. Hotel guests are encouraging their friends to come to the place where they themselves are renewing their energy.” The Iceland health hotel offers two-week treatments where guests relax and receive guidelines on how to abolish bad habits and start a new life. The main focus has been on Norwegian and Faroese people, but the health hotel is looking to branch out and attract people from all over Europe.

Opening in July, Laugarvatn Fontana spa offers the latest in Icelandic relaxation. The new spa sits on the steamy waters of Lake Laugarvatn that is brimming with beneficial geothermal energy. With interconnecting open-air baths, a sauna and a stream room all heated geothermally, travellers can relax in the warm waters and steam heated naturally to between 40°C - 50°C. The spa is a one hour drive from Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik. Several local companies founded the owner Gufa in 2005. They have been joined by other investors in Gufa from the tourism industry, who share an interest in re-developing a geothermal bath and increasing wellness tourism in the Laugarvatn area. There are now over 20 shareholders in Gufa, including Icelandair Hotels, Iceland’s premier hotel chain. The company’s goals are to operate a wellness centre and nature bath that is based on the region’s long tradition of hot spring bathing and respects Laugarvatn’s nature and history.

The Cyprus Tourism Organization has a co-funded incentive scheme for investments in the enrichment of the tourist product and modernization of the tourist enterprises. Cyprus’s tourism minister Antonis Paschalides says new medical and wellness tourism projects will attract more healthcare travelers and notable examples who are doing this include the American Heart Institute and the Ayii Anargyri Natural Healing Spa Resort. The government plans support to promote Cyprus as a medical tourist destination.

Malta Tourism Authority has used many innovative means and marketing tools to increase the islands’ visibility, including the use of modern technology for promotional purposes. The German office has created a Smartphone application for Apple iPhones and will eventually offer it Europe-wide. According to Steve Jobs from Apple, the use of Smartphones is set to increase exponentially in the next 5 years. The destination application offers users a comprehensive destination guide and attractive images. The vast majority of Smartphone users fall within the 30 to 50 age bracket and are relatively affluent and keen travellers. The first three languages available are German, English and Italian, reflecting the nationalities of most of the visitors. Health and medical tourism is part of the promotion.

REI Holding Group, a South Korean global property developer, is planning to build a luxury hospital in Estonia to attract wealthy patients from abroad. The medical tourism project will combine a hospital with a luxury hotel. The Estonian government is an enthusiastic supporter of a project which for a country of only 1.5 million people, will provide a large number of jobs for local people, and help encourage nurses and doctors to stay rather than emigrate in search of a career.



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