Nevenka Kovač, SB Medico: We have a lot of stories about strategies and possibilities of health tourism, and too little is done in the field
The medical tourism market, ie its annual turnover, is estimated at more than 100 billion US dollars, with a projection of future annual growth of 15 to 20 percent, while research shows that foreign tourists in this segment spend 2,5 times more than domestic.The potential of health tourism has existed for years, growing by over 20 percent annually, and is slowly developing in Croatia as well. More and more is being written about it, various clusters and associations have been established, and most importantly, Croatia has excellent, professional and highly professional institutions, without which health tourism cannot be developed. They are the main base, but the institutions themselves do not constitute health tourism. Indeed, they are the first and main motive for coming and the most important link, but their job is not the development of a tourist destination and health tourism. Here we come to the main question: Are we developing health tourism in Croatia or is it just happening to us again, not with the help of the system and thanks to the proactivity of individuals?On the topic of the development of health tourism in Croatia, I talked to dr.sc. Nevenka Kovač, MD, director of the Medico Special Hospital from Rijeka which is one of the leaders in the development of health tourism in Croatia. “In fact, the only branch of health tourism that really exists in our country and is actively developing is dental tourism. We can say that medical wellness has also developed to some extent, although its definition is quite “fluid”; namely, we have not yet developed control mechanisms to distinguish who is really engaged in medical wellness, and who is just declaring so, because now almost all wellness is proclaimed as medical. „Points out dr.sc. Nevenka Kovač, MD from SB Medico and adds that health tourism conducted by special hospitals and spas is in its infancy.Personally, I have the impression that it all comes down to the individual efforts of individual clinics, which invest their own resources, turn out of necessity into tourist boards and DMC agencies, just to offer tourists the whole package, which is neither logical nor natural. Healthcare facilities need to be what they are and the best at it, and not worry about what the guest will be doing seven days in the destination. The director of the Medico Special Hospital, Ph.D. Nevekna Kovač, MD And this is where the biggest problem lies, which again we do not systematically and strategically deal with the development of health tourism. “The reason for this is partly a vague and vague legislative framework, so every institution in the market is struggling with administration, demand recognition, marketing and sales, not only selling ourselves, but the entire destination. “Says Kovač and points out that these are most often people who do other jobs in administrative services and who are not professional enough. “Because we do not have professional training / education for staff who understand the specifics of health and the laws of marketing and sales for the demanding commercial market of health tourism. If healthcare institutions could have professional people who would deal with the sale and marketing of their services and together with tourism professionals create additional programs – that would be a winning combination. They cannot do without each other because the tourist workers do not know the specifics of the health service, so that they can create quality patient free time. For example, a person who has had breast augmentation surgery and it is desirable for me to stay a few days near my operator, and there is no need to be constantly in the hospital, you can not offer a bathing arrangement on Opatija beach, but you can offer a tour of castles in Zagorje. That is why we need to work on the development of health tourism jointly, multidisciplinary and multisectoral, and that is in Croatia hardest” Kovac pointed out. Health tourism, as well as other forms of tourism, without the synergy of all participants in the chain and a strategic and complete tourist product cannot be developed in a quality and long-term manner. How do health tourism “live” in the Medico Special Hospital every day, I was interested in whether Croatia is recognized as a brand and whether it has value and trust in the European market for health tourism? “Croatia is not yet a brand of health tourism on the European market, but it is a brand in tourism in general. In Italy we are a brand for dental tourism, but we are certainly not in the Netherlands. Therefore, the strength of the brand that we have should be used for additional positioning in the health tourism market. Foreign tourists do not have a generally developed trust in the Croatian health care system, but they base it on individual experiences that can range from the best to the worst, and that is not nearly enough for branding. Given that Croatia is moving to conquer this new market with a strong tourism brand, the main carrier of the development of the new market is the Ministry of Tourism. They have already developed promotion and sales channels in which they only need additional new content and services that the health sector can help them develop. But in reality it works differently; when our tourist board appears at fairs and ask them to put your advertising materials on the Croatian stand – the question arises who will carry these materials there, who will take care of placing them on the stand or who will clean them up and return them if they remain unused, because they have too much “their” material and can’t take care of ours! It always comes down to “yours” and “ours”. We need to think synergistically, the sale of Croatia as a destination should be approached at the level of all available content, knowing that in the end everyone benefits from it – every tourist who comes, regardless of travel, local community and local suppliers, service providers can offer something more. “Says Kovac.It’s up to the people, we have all the resources and potentials, knowledge, experience, but again it’s all about the people. No one is to blame, neither the EU nor any third “enemy”, the biggest enemy only to ourselves. On the other hand, we deal with so many absurd problems that it’s ridiculous, especially in 21st century business. Do healthcare institutions really have to think about the problems mentioned above? The whole paradigm is set wrong, tourist boards and institutions are there for the private sector and tourism workers, not the other way around.We are constantly talking about extending the season, ie the problem of seasonality, health tourism can and must be one of the solutions to this problem. The implications are certainly multiplying in the whole chain, and the fact that Kovač points out that this is most obvious in Kvarner because the Opatija promenades are not full of foreign tourists who use the benefits provided by hotel facilities mostly speaks volumes. medical wellness, and which do not come for the sea and sunbathing but for the sake of well being. ” Health tourism absolutely compensates for seasonality and implies everything in the economic chain as well as in “seasonal” tourism. All health tourists have to eat, sleep somewhere, go to shops, buy souvenirs, go to museums… of course, if we offer them all that. It is a culture of living that is extremely strong in the territory of the countries of the former Austro-Hungarian monarchy. New services such as systematic examinations or surgeries should be slowly added to these facilities. That is why it is important to connect tourist and health facilities, which is planned in Kvarner through the Health Tourism Cluster. They still have a lot of work to do on this topic. ” Kovac points out.Unfortunately, while we have been talking about potentials for ten years, the competition is not sleeping, on the contrary, others, such as Slovenia, are moving forward at full speed, developing cycling tourism, active holidays and health tourism.In our country, the situation on the ground is in chaos again, and this is confirmed by Kovač, who points out that hotels, polyclinics and surgeries still function as “separate galaxies” and are looking for their place under the sun. “We are still all in competition with each other and there is no sincere decision / desire / realization that only together can we develop this story of health tourism faster. The shift is big back ten years because now at least we are all talking about the importance of health tourism, but for more significant development it will take 2-3 times as much. Where will the others be then? Who will overtake us all with less potential than ours? I am afraid that we will lose the advantage we have in this race as well, given our potential, and that is our beautiful country and our healthcare professionals. We should look at successful examples, such as Istria becoming a destination for top olive growing and rural tourism. This is the result when everyone blows in the same sails and then the ship moves… commitment to the goal, quality on the way to it and togetherness in achieving it is the formula for success and should be applied to the development of health tourism. “Kovač points out and adds that the competition is doing its job and is already making good use of our drowsiness, with poorer natural, cultural, historical and enogastronomic resources redirecting guests that we do not know how to bring.If we talk about tourism, apart from authenticity as the main component, the next is certainly the synergy of all tourism stakeholders that make up one rounded tourism product. We cannot develop tourism if we have excellent hotels and accommodation facilities, and we do not have quality clinics, and vice versa. Also, if we cannot offer our guests quality, diverse and authentic content, which is, among other things, a solution to the problem of seasonality, we cannot even develop tourism. The synergy of all is crucial, and yet it is most lacking. Without synergy there is no success, no matter what certain individuals pull, there is no way they can do it alone.Again, to go back to the beginning of the story, entrepreneurs need to be what they are and be the best at it, and there is a system that I need to connect it all, provide a platform and framework for development, and offer a complete tourism product. But the situation on the ground is unfortunately just the opposite. As Kovač points out, there is no real support for the system or strategic development of health tourism. “Uncoordinated, fragmented resources, and inconsistent policies are the “logistics” of health tourism. We in Croatia are talking about health tourism as a strategic branch, and in the whole country we have two accredited health institutions, of which only Medico Special Hospital has American accreditation (AACI) of clinical excellence. The impression is that there is a lot of talk about strategies and opportunities, principles, plans… and too little work in the field; the flow of information and the interconnection of tourist entities are insufficient and in practice have so far been reduced to self-initiative activities and their own “sales” motives and skills. “Also, when we talk about health services, then we are talking about trust and safety, and it is necessary to have a top and quality service, which is guaranteed by certain certificates. This is extremely important because one bad move, ie an unprofessional omission and incident, can collapse the entire market. That is why there are quality standards and various certificates that guarantee that these are highly professional services – they give trust and security. “Quality is the foundation of the service business, especially health, and accreditation is independent proof that it is a prerequisite for the development of the health tourism market. A patient will come to Croatia from another country for treatment because they may have to wait a long time for a procedure or examination in their country, which may be a cheaper procedure in our country, which will combine a vacation in a great tourist destination with health care, but only if he knows he will get quality service here. We on the ground know that we can only rely on our own strengths. There are examples of cooperation between individual health care institutions, but they are rare and local in nature; for example, a patient who comes for dental services also wants some of the aesthetic treatments. Basically, there is a fear of losing the patient, so the one who grabs him first tries to meet all his needs, which is often at the expense of quality. So today blepharoplasty, filler or botox are done by dentists, dermatologists, ophthalmologists, otorhinolaryngologists, maxillofacial surgeons and plastic surgeons. So often patients get some top-level service and some average. Today in the health tourism market it is not enough to be average, today you have to be unique, the best, innovative. So what you do you have to do the best, but it’s not enough for you to think about yourself. You have to prove it by accreditation where someone else evaluates you and assesses whether you are the best.Quality is the foundation for everything else – Nevenka KovačNot much has changed in the perception of patients, because accreditation has only given legitimacy to the top service we have been offering from the very beginning, for more than 20 years. But our options are now far wider – with international accreditation, we are becoming all the more attractive to patients, as their insurance companies approve of covering the cost of treatment. This is not the case with non-accredited institutions. ” Kovac pointed out.UNESCO has included Mediterranean cuisine in the list of cultural heritage as the healthiest cuisine in the world, can it use this fact and combine it with health tourism, Kovač points out that we can do anything and points out that everything related to health can be used for product development “health tourism” , and so is Mediterranean cuisine. ”We are reluctant to give health a commercial connotation, it is almost a heresy in our area. Health tourism needs to be addressed more by marketing experts who, with an economic perspective, can certainly contribute to the development of a quality action plan for the development of health tourism. We must not forget that the concept of health tourism is very broad: from medical wellness to medical tourism, ie from aromatherapy to the installation of an artificial hip. Therefore, each type of health tourism should be considered in its specificity and positioned in this specific market. The strengths and opportunities, competition and targeted markets of each segment of health tourism are very different and require a different approach and strategy. It should also be considered in the regional context and define a strategy for regional development of health tourism. The region of Istria and Kvarner, as well as Zagreb, given the resources at its disposal are ideal for the development of dental tourism, but not Slavonia, which as a region is more suitable for the development of rural and health tourism (Bizovačke toplice, Lipik, Daruvarske Toplice), as well as the region Zagorje (Krapinske, Tuheljske, Stubičke, Varaždinske Toplice, Jezerčica). As a region, Kvarner is suitable for the development of health (hotels, Thallassotherapy Opatija and Crikvenica), medical (SB Medico, SB Nemec, SB Veli Lošinj) and dental tourism… and in each region the strength of tourist and health capacities and resources should be networked ” concludes Kovac.HEALTH TOURISM – AN OPPORTUNITY WE MUST NOT MISSIt is ungrateful to say that nothing or nothing is being done to develop health tourism, but the fact is that it is too slow, without synergy, connections, professionalism, uncoordinated and in the end unsuccessful enough. Especially when we put in context our potentials and resources, as well as the level of today’s business.As Kovač pointed out, today it is not enough to be average on the market, today you have to be unique, the best, innovative… on average it is not enough and that is why synergy of all stakeholders of health tourism and the entire tourism sector is needed to create pressure on the system and policy. again not from political connotations but from market ones, to begin to respect the profession, professionalism and business of the 21st century. Time flies, we are lagging behind the competition more and more, the opportunity is there, we have everything and everything is up to us.According to estimates, the total revenues that are generated globally in the field of medical tourism today exceed 60 billion dollars, and in just a few years that number will exceed 100 billion dollars. The potential of health tourism has been there for years, and now Croatia has excellent, professional and highly professional institutions, but without a strategic and complete tourism product there will still not be much progress. We have too late coast and climate, top specialized health facilities, excellent connectivity, ie accessibility, as well as amazing tourist stories – we just have to pack them nicely into a rounded tourist product and tell our guests the story.Do we want to develop quality health tourism or not? If the answer is yes, then the rules of the game should be respected, which are synergy, a complete tourist product, strategic development and expertise and professionalism.. We are constantly talking about potentials, it is time to concretize those potentials. Right now and now, because when if not now – when Croatian tourism is a trend in the focus of global tourists and the media.