Medical and wellness tourism got the much-needed momentum with the 4th Edition of Global Healthcare and Travel Forum held on October 7-10 2020. The forum organized by UAMT (Ukraine Association of Medical Tourism) and GHTC (Global Healthcare Tourism Council) adopted a unique Hybrid model, the first of its kind where leading industry leaders and stakeholders participated both in ‘Virtual’ and physical mode. After a long period of lull, GHTF 2020 was a whiff of fresh air creating great hopes of a revival.
The impressive participation from global stalwarts of medical and wellness tourism and hosted B2B buyers showed how eagerly the sector has been looking forward to such a high level meet. It was another great learning experience as experts presented their views to pull out medical and wellness tourism from this unprecedented crisis. Special credit goes to Dr. Violetta Yanyshevskaya, Igor Torskyy, Maryana Honda, Marina Radova and other prominent officials to organize such a tremendously successful event in challenging times.
The forum dwelled on specific objectives – establish partnership relations, expand opportunities and increase business efficiency. As the current crisis leads to more uncertain eventualities, it is important to revisit the objectives to prevent medical and wellness tourism fall apart. The need to explore and expand is even more. Nobody is sure of what lies ahead. 80% of experts believe the Covid-19 impact will last till 2022 but medical and wellness tourism cannot be stalled for long, the basic demand is growing.
On October 7, the GHTF took off with an excursion to Kyiv and official welcome. Participation in B2B VIP hosted buyer program in the second half was beyond expectations with buyers and suppliers joining in person from different representative countries.
The meet with global medical and wellness tourism experts was held on October 8 with welcome speeches from Maryana Honda, Deputy Head of Kyiv City State Administration, and other top level administrative officials.
Dr. Violetta Yanyshevskaya, President of the Ukrainian Association of Medical Tourism (UAMT), President of the Global Healthcare Travel Council (GHTC) in her opening presentation talked of The Global Medical Tourism Market, New Challenges and Perspectives. She said nobody was prepared to face the abrupt halt of the multi-billion medical and wellness tourism that grew by 10-20% growth in the last few years. Highlighting Ukraine’s progress in medical tourism, she mentioned the growing inbound health travelers seeking treatments in advanced dentistry, fertility problems, ophthalmology, stem cell therapies, and rehabilitation.
According to her opinion, many countries cannot tap their medical tourism potential because of a lack of knowledge of the target market and established brand and the inability to provide patient protection. A specific roadmap and more organized efforts are very important for medical tourism. She put importance on certification of medical facilities that also boosts medical tourism prospects.
It was nice to see Mr. Emin Cakmak, the founder and honorary chairman of GHTC and the founding chairman of the Turkish Healthcare Travel Council (THTC) instrumental in positioning Turkey’s medical tourism high in the global index, joining the forum from a different location.
Reiterating the GHTC slogan, Global Healthcare for all, he underscored the necessity of equitable access to healthcare. Praising Turkey’s efforts in containing the pandemic, he talked of various safety measures like RT-PCR tests for travelers and Safe Tourism Certification Programs by the Turkish Tourism Ministry that helped the country welcome patients from all countries. Talking of medical tourism amid Covid-19, he said countries must be ready for newer pandemics and thus there is a serious need for quick healthcare reforms with enhanced infrastructure, cutting-edge technology and skilled human resources.
Turkey is putting best efforts on training physicians and specialists both at home and abroad facilities. He praised the government’s visionary steps in supporting various PPP projects. The key take away from the veteran’s speech – medical tourism can achieve its 2019 numbers by 2025.
Dr. Fawzi Al Hammouri, chairman of the PHA, Jordan, and honorary President of the GHTC praised Jordan’s strict defense laws supervised by armed forces that put Covid-19 in check. Jordan went through a complete lockdown and nationwide curfew before opening for international travel in September. He talked of launching of the Salamtak platform and how it is helping medical tourists to avail required treatments from the enlisted hospitals and clinics provided.
Dr. Jia Xiao Fang, President of China International Health and Medical Tourism Association ( CIHMTA), Secretary-General of the Belt and Road Health Industry Federation, Chairman of the World Health and Medical Tourism Conference and Expo, Vice President of GHTC presented vital facts regarding China’s successful practices in Covid-19 recovery highlighting China as the healthiest country to post positive economic growth. Her insights on Global Health Tourism Transformation and Green recovery helped in spotting newer ways of tourism sustainability.
Medical and wellness tourism will not just survive but thrive, as put by Dr Prem Jagyasi, the award-winning Global speaker and medical and wellness tourism expert. Whatever may be the situation, marketing activities should not be put on hold as it would erode the brand value of the business. He explicitly pointed out specific viable strategies from his personal experience that would not only help medical and wellness tourism come out of the woods but also ensure sustainability.
The discussions took an interesting turn when Lutz Lungwitz, President of the German Medical Wellness Association and the Vice-president of GHTC presented some interesting perspectives on investment, sales and marketing for Thermal Tourism in the future. 45% of Europeans are interested in medical wellness and 89% of Germans are interested in wellness.
The post-covid wellness world is poised to see a surge in Thermal Tourism. In investment, he stressed the importance of very clear positioning, working in close cooperation with investors and creating a sustainable budget. A mix of sales and marketing strategies will be more effective. He further stressed on developing a leadership benchmark using sales and marketing tools along with providing high-quality services.
The GHTF meet also gave importance to other finer attributes contributing to medical tourism. Therefore, it was expected Laila Aljassmi, the CEO of Health Beyond Borders to talk of understanding the patient’s cultural background. Dissatisfaction in the home country’s healthcare support is one of the prime reasons that make people think of beyond the border options. Citing UAE’s reversal in outbound medical tourism, she discussed how quality healthcare service and support have won the patients’ trust and confidence.
She feels quick consultation appointment, empathetic doctors, professionalism, reduced waiting times in clinics, consultation and diagnostics under one roof, hygienic and appealing facilities are some of the factors that often impact a patient’s choice. Her suggestions in patient-attracting strategies include focused medical tourism promotions, creation of a global online medical insurance platform, identifying price sensitivities with the neighboring competitors, deploying international facilitator or coordinator, and creation of a regulatory framework with adequate patient and practitioner protection.
‘Delighters’ feels Linda Abdullah, the Healthcare and Medical Tourism strategy advisor, could take customers on top of the experience curve. Talking on Marketing in Health and Wellness Tourism Destination, she underscored ‘value destination that speaks a lot about quality’. The pillars of destination branding should rest on defining primary/ secondary target audience, identifying points of parity and differentiation with key competitors, creating a brand personality and setting proper communication goals. She suggested creating facilities like Wellpitals, Medhotels, Virtual Hospitals, Therapeutic Recreation Properties, etc. communicate better giving a different feel to customers.
Investing in medical tourism during Covid-19, to be or not to be? The most pertinent question was handled deftly by none other than Dr. Miljenko Burra, President of the Zagreb Health Tourism Cluster, CEO of the Burra Medical Group and Vice-President of the GHTC. For years, he has been putting untiring efforts to drive in investments for health tourism in Croatia. He strongly feels healthcare infrastructure needs to be more developed than it has been before the pandemic to address both chronic health burden and emergency public health crisis. Hospital architecture needs to be revisited creating provisions for advanced isolated facilities. More investment is needed in uplifting community and primary care centers.
Advanced rehabilitation treatments in Ukraine was another prime highlight of the meet where medical experts and industry leaders shared insights for better outcomes and patient experience. For the last few years, Ukraine has been much- favored for various rehabilitation treatments.
International Experience in Medical tourism
Patient experience matters in medical tourism. The session dealt with interesting perspectives of international experience as experts talked of medical tourism cooperation in South East Europe and various challenges in medical treatments and destinations. The discussion also included varied experiences of international patients in different hospitals.
Innovations in medicine
GHTF 2020 did not miss out on this important aspect of medical tourism especially when the demand for stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine is growing. The discussion panel talked about trends in regenerative medicine, advancements in placental stem cell treatments for knee osteoarthritis and oncology and successful application of affordable cutting-edge technology in orthopedic surgery.
The GHTF 2020 pointed out medical and wellness tourism trends that are likely to persist for a considerable time even when the pandemic is over giving the opportunity to medical tourism companies and other stakeholders revisit their strategies. Above all, this new model of participation broadened the scope to outreach, good for the market.