I was sitting at a formal round table with about 40 others here in Manila at the Philippine Health and Wellness Tourism Summit yesterday. Unlike medical conferences where you see mostly doctors, or spa conferences where you see mostly spa professionals, there seems to be a nice mixture of both at this venue. My guess is about 50/50. I found out later that this was the first time the Philippine Tourism Council brought both together. They call one “medical or health” and the other “spa or wellness.”
It was really heartening to see all of us dialogue together with mutual respect for each other and what we do.
Here are some things that grabbed my attention on the first day of the Summit:
1. There is a definition debate regarding the term “medical tourism.” Some people do not like the term because it is somewhat misleading. After all there isn’t a lot of tourism going on. It’s really more about people traveling outside their borders for a medical procedure. The idea of touring before or after surgery is more of an ideal rather than reality. Despite some clever marketing (think Surgery and Safari in South Africa), very few people feel like going sightseeing before or after a medical procedure. And how can you even think of going on a Safari if you need to stay totally out of the sun?
Some people are suggesting that a better term to use would be “medical traveler.” While this may be in fact be a more accurate description, my feeling is that this horse is already out of the barn.
I had to chuckle because we have had so many similar discussions in the spa industry about the term “spa.” I have encountered dozens of very fine establishments who insist emphatically that “we are not a spa.” (Canyon Ranch, Sanoviv, Clinique La Prairie to name a few). However my feelings are the same – this horse is out of the barn also.
It is simply too late to make the change in terminology for both spa and medical tourism because the consumer and media have already embraced them. Spending millions of dollars to “re-brand”would be a waste of money in my opinion. We would be better off educating people regarding some of the various options underneath these top-line brand words.
2. There are benefits for both the rich and the poor in countries who have a robust medical tourism industry. A country such as India or the Philippines, both which have great medical doctors, knows that many of its doctors will end up working overseas because of the greater income opportunities there. If good paying jobs existed in their own country, these doctors would more likely stay home. A medical tourism industry allows exactly that and has helped many poor countries retain excellent medical staff who can in turn assist the local community. In addition, a medical tourism industry can bring in millions of dollars to a country which can then be used to help their poor.
3. There really is something to the widely held notion that the best nurses around the world are Filipino nurses. Everyone talks about it and simply accepts this reality. Filipino nurses are the best. They are unusually caring and compassionate and they speak excellent English. This is a major competitive advantage for the Philippine medical tourism industry.
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