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Health Hotels - Logical Progression in Medical Tourism?
by Barry Napier, May 2007

There are hotels that cater to disabled people, usually run by qualified nurses. And nursing homes that take in post-surgery patients for recuperation, but who are far from elderly. There are supervised apartments for those with minimal health problems, and managed apartments for those with worse problems. There are also private hospitals with excellent facilities.

In my last employed position managing an health facility, the owner took a gamble and built a large block of high specification apartments, complete with 24 hour concierge, shop, café, restaurant, church and leisure space… as close to being an hotel as you can get. It was facing the health facility opposite that treats a wide range of conditions from dementia to cancer and post-surgery recuperation. So far it is the only facility of its kind in the UK.

The apartments were for people with minimal or no health problems, but who felt they might require more help in the future. Therefore, the building also had a permanent doctor’s surgery, visiting care workers, community nurses and cleaning staff, all as extras. And, the owner hopes, it will be a ‘feeder’ for the health facility opposite. And anyone who has an operation can stay for a short while in the facility, to be looked after by nurses until they can return to their apartment.

Some Mediterranean countries are now coming to grips with ‘wellness centres’; it is certainly a foundation for Istria’s well-formulated tourism plan. Is Istria, or anyone else, to bridge the gap between hotel and health? The potential is enormous… we have already seen that anti-allergenic hotels are doing a roaring trade. Why not take it that step farther and develop chains of health hotels? The expertise is already out there. The private health field is awash with highly-qualified nurses and other medical staff. All you need is to add good hotel management skills.

Mintel, market analysts, tell us that £60 million is spent on overseas treatment by UK citizens alone – such as cosmetic surgery, operations and post-surgical care. They say, “Why not combine a holiday and treatment?” Mintel predict that medical tourism will increase by up to 150% by 2011.

Of course, some UK folks would not be streaming abroad in such large numbers if there were provisions in the UK offering combined hotel and treatment services. They would prefer a combined establishment, especially with the very real threat of death or serious infection by MRSA and other ‘super bugs’. For them private hospitals are too clinical.

For now, then, they go abroad. That is why India, Costa Rica and other ‘poor’ countries now rate as the best health facilities in the world. Investors have discovered the vast potential and are going for it big-time. Not only do they have superb buildings, latest equipment and the best-trained staff, but they are also much cheaper and have next to no waiting lists!

The Indian Raja Rani Health Alliance suggests that tourist operators ought to get their act together and link up with hospitals, to earn fee-based agreement incomes…. But why not simply build health hotels? 

By 2010 they expect the industry in India to earn a staggering $1.5 billion! (Other estimates go higher, to $4 billion). This is why the Indian authorities are already developing a strategy to present India as a strong medical tourism centre. Medical tourism receives as much attention as monsoon and eco-tourism, especially in the Kerala state. In the first eight months of 2006 medical tourists accounted for a third of all tourism growth in the region.

Meanwhile, Croatia is acknowledged to be the major medical tourism centre for dentistry. Already, patients from Britain, Sweden, Germany and Norway combine vacations with dental work. One dentist says that over half of his patients come from abroad. This is because prices in Croatia are very much lower than elsewhere in Europe. So, when patients travel for a few days holiday with treatment, it comes out at less cost than treatment alone in their own countries!

In Costa Rica, medical treatment is a huge one-tenth the cost of home treatment, yet the facilities and staff quality are very high. Though I do not wish to admit it, hospitals in the UK are far from suitable for operations and care… as a professional formerly in the field I should know. There are reasons why this is so, but they are irrelevant to someone on the verge of an operation. A spokesman for Costa Rica Land (CVL) says that the country is now a Mecca for medical tourists. With a 90% cost-saving I am not surprised!

Though hot countries in the Far East and South America are currently winning hands-down, the Mediterranean area has a lot to offer. Istria is giving a strong lead in providing wellness centres, so maybe it should include health hotels in its plans? Especially as Mediterranean diet could help prevention of asthma in children (Report by Thorax: study of 700 Cretan children). It seems that asthma and severe breathing allergies are helped by eating local fruits and vegetables, olive oil, whole grains and grapes. I have noted UK people with these problems return home fitter from Mediterranean holidays.

Thailand and the Philippines are hot contenders, too. Investors who attended a Thai seminar on the subject of medical tourism have money in their pockets, and there is plenty of scope for expansion by enterprising hotel chains. Thailand boasts of next-day appointments! In the UK you even have to book well in advance for an appointment to die!

These far-off destinations are seeing a fast-growing upward trend in medical tourism since air-fares have started to go down, so perhaps even airlines can merge a part of their activities with health hotels. Of course, it need not be a one-way affair. If the UK and USA had similar facilities (with the cheapness) they might see a reverse trend, where people overseas come to them instead. Maybe, though the weather will put them off.

People from the UK in particular go abroad because they have lost faith in the National Health Service, with good reason. Whilst the current government tell the media that the NHS is better under them, the statement hides the truth. The NHS is definitely not well! And with MRSA rampant, who wants to risk life? So, Brits go abroad for their operations. Many with, say, heart problems or cancer, cannot wait the years of waiting in the UK.

Abacus International say that 1.3 million people travel to Thailand, Singapore, India and Malaysia for medical treatment.  Just a few Far East countries! The trade is now so lucrative that these countries have joined together to form the International Medical Travel Association (IMTA), to merge the concerns and needs of providers and clients. This will be an important organisation, because too many people travel abroad basing their choice of medical facility merely on the information given on provider-websites.

It seems clear that if an hotel chain took on the idea of ‘health hotel’ they could earn substantial sums, because treatment costs would be on top of accommodation costs. Plus, people trust hotel chains of note, and hotels could ensure that treatment is given by their own personnel in facilities attached to the hotel. Thus there would be quality assurance. Of course, private hospitals could also get in on the act by adding-on hotels.

Even if chains are not quite ready for the full types of treatment such as major surgery, surely they can see profit and potential in entry-level services such as laser eye surgery, dentistry, and minor surgery? I know from past experience that patients would much prefer to recoup and be treated at home. So, an holiday destination plus treatment would be the next best thing, because a stay at an hotel is psychologically nicer and associated with wellness.

As I know, managing a residential health facility involves a great deal of hotel and hospitality expertise. It is but a simple step to harness this to create an health hotel that combines both.

© Barry Napier

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Contact:

Barry Napier
barry.napier@ntlworld.com

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Also See: Exorbitant Surgical Costs in the United States the Derivation of Growing Medical Tourism in Thailand, India and Malaysia / September 2006
India's Medical Tourism Segment Enjoying Brisk Growth; Nearly 1,180,000 Patients from Around the World Visited India for Treatment in 2004 / July 2005
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