Will Patients Come To Your Medical Travel Destination, Post COVID-19?

The natural reaction for countries, healthcare providers and medical tourism businesses is to wait out events, until they return to normal.

But expecting the flow of medical travellers to return to where it was before may be a major strategic and tactical mistake.

How much your country was affected, what your government did or did not do, and the post COVID-19 view of risk may heavily influence the potential medical tourist’s view of your country for the next few years.

For example, will people still want to fly long distances or will they prefer shorter trips? Will they want to leave their country at all?

Plan for the future now

This is now the time to plan for the future. You could do nothing and lock down the hatches and when things get back to normal, carry on as before. Or you could take time out, away from daily life, to make plans for how you can encourage your country, organisation, agency, or healthcare provider to get medical travellers to come to you in 2021/22, both new and existing customers.

WTTC proposals

Coronavirus puts up to 50 million tourism jobs at risk says the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). When the time is right, WTTC and the global private sector will be ready to help and support governments and countries to recover.

WTTC is calling for a series of measures to be taken, to enable the swift recovery of the sector once COVID-19 is under control. It will offer its support to all governments, and has made some suggestions:

  1. Improve travel facilitation. Remove or simplify visas wherever possible, reduce the cost and improve processing times where practical, accept other visas when appropriate and introduce more efficient technologies for seamless and secure travel.
  2. Remove barriers.  Ensure that unnecessary barriers are removed or relaxed to alleviate pressure at ports and airports and implement flexible working visas for the industry in some countries with existing limitations, especially in hospitality and tour operation. 
  3. Ease fiscal policies. Reduce and remove travellers’ taxes, which increase the cost of travel, e.g. air passenger duty and airport, port, and hospitality taxes around the world.
  4. Introduce incentives. Introduce relief and incentives to support business continuity for companies, which have been most negatively impacted by the virus. SMEs, in particular, will take longer to recover. 
  5. Support destinations. Increase budgets and assign resources for promotion, marketing and product development purposes in destinations when they are ready to welcome visitors again.

WTTC reinforces the importance of strong public-private partnerships and greater international cooperation to respond and overcome the challenges faced by the sector during the recovery from COVID-19.

The tourism sector has a proven track record of resilience in the face of crises and this ability to bounce back has improved significantly in recent years.

Medical tourism planning

Unlike the more short-term problems for travel caused by politics, terrorism, weather events or strikes, the COVID-19 problem is a medical one. It will be harder for medical tourism to recover than other tourism sectors.

Hospitals, clinics and agents may be able to use modern marketing techniques to help encourage new and returning customers. But they can only do that if customers feel safe travelling to the country.

Governments and national/regional medical tourism promotional organisations will have to work hard and spend money on tackling the following issues:

  • Smaller global market :  The medical travel market is expected to be smaller in 2020 and 2021 , so what medical tourism customers there are will have a wide choice of destination. Organisations will need to work out how to maximise the effect of their marketing spend to make sure they get a share of the medical tourism ‘cake’.
  • A permanent change? The big unknown is if any change in the behaviour of medical tourism customers will be permanent or temporary. Will they look to travel domestically or to nearby countries rather than go on long-haul flights?  Any plan you make must include allowances for different longer-term results.
  • Maximise spend : The medical tourism industry has many examples of spending marketing money in the wrong places (e.g. scatter-gun promotion tactics ; exhibition stands or attending unknown “international health” conferences ). But is that spending reaching the end consumer? Are you still using outdated websites and printed brochures, when most of the world has moved to different online options to research treatments?  Are you still blogging, when competitors have apps, Instagram pictures and remote tele-consultations?
  • Target market : Are the target markets you selected in your 2020 plan the right targets now? It is easy to get locked into a habit of targeting what was the best market five years ago, rather than looking towards what will be the best markets in a year’s time. Check out opportunities by country, location, age, and a range of other factors.  
  • Your offer : Is your offer targeted, logical and realistic, or more the equivalent of trying to hit a small target with a shotgun? Is the offer now right for you and potential customers?
  • Keep informed : As well as reading IMTJ, are you using up to date research produced by your country and others? There are many ‘copy-and-paste reports’ in the market that use historic figures but offer little or no analysis for the future.
  • Accreditation : Some medical tourism accreditation organisations suggest that accreditation is the answer to attracting international patients and some governments look like they are controlling rogue medical tourism agents by bringing in accreditation.  While accreditation may help improve the standard of hospitals and clinics, there is however no proof that accreditation alone brings in international business. It is likely that the average medical traveller is less concerned about whether  their medical travel agent has or does not have a certificate, and more interested in whether they are cheap and efficient.

Beware one size fits all solutions

There is no off-the-shelf simple plan for recovery that you can follow post COVID-19. Bespoke solutions for medical travel destinations are now vital. COVID-19 will move medical tourism into the next phase, where what works and makes money for Country A, will be irrelevant for Country B to adopt.

If you want to plan for 2021 and commission your own research or specialist strategy, you must set aside enough time to work out, in detail, what you want from it.  It will then take more time for a good analyst to work out the best action plan for your destination.

Source : www.imtj.com

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Is The Medical Tourism Sector Prepared?

World events are often complex and intertwined, requiring increased preparedness, improved management and effective recovery to maintain and increase competitiveness. This is particularly important for any form of tourism when it comes to crises, given the impact of major geopolitical events and civil unrest, terrorism, epidemics and natural disasters on this sector. While it is too early to assess the lasting effect of the Coronavirus on world tourism, the immediate impact on inbound and outbound travel from China has been plain to see.

Crises Recovery

The research by WTTC, in partnership with Global Rescue, a membership organisation providing medical, security, evacuation, travel risk and crisis management services, analysed the impact of 90 crises between 2001 and 2018, at a national and city level, examining the time to recovery as well lost arrivals and lost visitor spending. 

Of the 90 crises analysed, 32% were related to terrorism/security, 13% to disease/outbreaks; 19% to political instability and 36% to natural disasters.

The key findings from the research included: 

  • The tourism sector is more resilient than ever. Average recovery times have decreased from 26 months in 2001 to 10 months in 2018. 
  • Of the four crisis categories analysed, political instability proved the most challenging, with average recovery times of 22.2 months, minimum 10 months, while terrorist or security related incidents have the shortest average recovery time of 11.5 months (minimum 2 months). 
  • The average recovery times for natural disasters and disease outbreaks were 16.2 months and 19.4 months respectively (minimum 1 and 10 months respectively). 
  • Public-private partnerships and effective, transparent communications are critical for preparedness and prevention.

The WTTC recognised that while there is still work to be done, it felt the data from this research shows that recovery times have fallen significantly over the past two decades, and that major strides have been made.

Interestingly, political instability rather than epidemics has proven to be the most challenging crisis to overcome for the tourism sector, with the longest recovery times.

Political turmoil and civil unrest can take many forms, including violence between domestic factions, large scale protest movements, as well as coups d’états and uncertainty. An example of civil unrest includes the Arab Spring, which began as a series of pro-democracy demonstrations in Tunisia in December 2010 and spread to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Political instability or civil unrest is far more damaging to a country’s tourism sector than one-off terror attacks. Unlike single terrorist attacks, manifestations of civil unrest or political instability often occur over a prolonged period of time, extending the disruption to the economy and strengthening the perception of instability at the destination. The uncertainty linked to civil unrest or political instability can impact inbound and outbound travel with people delaying their trips.

Crises Readiness and  Management

Sometimes as challenging as the crisis itself is the preparation, management and coordination of the resources needed to mount an effective response.

The report suggests that through successful public-private collaboration, effective communication and continued efforts that focus on preparedness and prevention, the global tourism industry is already making a real difference in reducing both the economic and human impact of such crises.

The report goes on to offer recommendations on how destinations can mitigate the impact of a crisis, showcasing successful examples from Kenya, Mexico, Egypt, Hawaii and Japan. It highlights the importance of tourism destinations being prepared and the need for coordinated management to ensure a successful recovery.

All-Hazards Emergency Planning

The WTTC and Global Rescue recommends that governments and private sector organisations should individually assess their own level of preparedness and have an operational “all-hazards” emergency action plan in place.

Beyond an all-hazards plan, destinations and businesses should also have a sub-set of response plans for different types of crises. Learning from any previous experience, destinations need to take stock of their capabilities and have a clear view of what will be expected of them during a crisis.

Review of these plans should be a regular, sustained activity that rigorously assesses new and previously unrecognised threats as they continue to emerge and sets out all the key information, contact details and procedures that need to be in place should an event take place.

Communication Management

Strategic communication and effective media engagement during the immediate aftermath of a crisis are critical to the sector’s timely recovery. Successful responses require proactive, honest, transparent and factually accurate communication to the extent of the crisis, with detailed information on ongoing health and safety issues. This honesty can foster trust.

The report states that it is vital for authorities to take control of the story and respond quickly, giving instructions, being consistent, open and accessible and expressing empathy. Having a proportionate response is key. It is important to be honest about the information that is known and what is still unknown; and continuously communicate to the public.

As destinations recover and rebuild their confidence, they need to re-compete for lost ground. This requires transparency and ownership of the crisis; with a clear and honest articulation of what happened, what has been done in the wake of the crisis and the promise of what a destination will do in the future.

Managing the perception of safety and security is key. This involves informing tourists when the transition from crisis management to recovery has taken place and whether they can safely travel to and around the country again.

Is The Medical Travel Sector Ready?

The medical travel sector is still an emerging market and to date has not had a strong track record in responding to crises. Governments and officials are often defensive, or do not react quickly enough, and frequently do not communicate about how the crisis is impacting healthcare organisations in the country.

However, to be taken seriously, medical travel destinations must develop ways of being ready for any crisis and dealing with it in a mature way. While medical tourism is not covered in the WTTC and Global Rescue research, this report is well worth reading as a starting point.

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