Health, wellness and medical travel gained increasing recognition last year as a profitable new niche for travel agents who learn to fulfill the specialized needs of both medical travelers and healthcare providers, in the U.S. or abroad.
There will be a growing market for medical travel, spurred by increased demand for healthcare services from the aging baby boomer, coupled with rising costs due to the declining supply of physicians and nurses in the U.S., David Boucher, president of Companion Global Healthcare, Columbia, S.C., told Travel Market Report in an April article.
Media continues to report favorably on medical travel, he said, and the more Americans hear about medical travel, the more attractive it becomes as a choice for healthcare, especially as out of pocket expenses increase.
The travel agent industry is recognizing the potential for growth. Two key indicators: ASTA conducted a webinar on how agents can engage in medical travel last spring, and the 2012 Well-Being Travel Conference, the first-ever medical travel conference designed for agents, was announced for June 19 to 21 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Here’s a look at these and other top stories about health, well-being and medical travel that were covered in Travel Market Report in 2011.
PepsiCo Med Travel Benefit Expands Market for Agents (Dec. 22)
News that PepsiCo will cover certain medical travel costs for nearly 250,000 domestic employees led experts to conclude that travel agents can expect opportunities to serve medical travelers to increase. PepsiCo will now cover medical and travel costs for employees and dependents who elect to have certain surgeries at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
PepsiCo’s well-publicized decision is one more indicator that opportunities for both corporate and leisure agents in medical travel are growing quickly, said Anne Marie Moebes, executive vice president of Well-Being Travel.
The move will raise awareness and generate momentum for other companies to offer medical travel benefits, other experts said.
Wellness Travel Is a Road to Health – and Profits (Oct. 31)
Wellness travel is emerging as an important and increasingly lucrative travel market – one that is growing in size and scope. Today, wellness tourism is a $106 billion global industry, according to “Spas and the Global Wellness Market,” a 2010 study by the nonprofit research and consulting firm SRI International.
The SRI study described wellness tourism as one of nine sectors in a larger “wellness industry” that also encompasses medical tourism, which it estimates to be a $50 billion industry globally.
Spa stays associated with medical travel are an emerging trend that travel agents should keep their eye on, Susie Ellis, SpaFinder president, told Travel Market Report.
Agency Distribution a Key Focus of Med Travel Conference (Oct. 6)
The announcement of plans to hold the Well-Being Travel Conference 2012, the first-ever medical travel conference designed for the travel industry, was another major development in 2011.
Opportunities for travel agents in the medical travel field, along with education and training on how to serve medical travel clients, will be the focus of the conference, June 21 to 23, 2012, at the Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. The conference also will provide travel agents with information on how to present medical travel as a benefit to their corporate clients.
More than 1,000 travel agents, suppliers and destination marketing organizations are expected at the event, which is co-sponsored by Well-Being Travel and Travel Market Report.
University’s Tourism School Plans Medical Travel Program (Aug. 11)
The Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management said it planned to implement a medical travel curriculum, including courses leading to certification for travel agents who want to develop a niche in medical travel. The school is responding to clear signs that medical tourism is an emerging opportunity for growth in the global travel industry, Mike Hampton, dean of the Chapin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, told Travel Market Report. The curriculum’s emphasis will be on the travel marketing and accommodation aspects of medical travel, with a heavy focus on practical training through internships.
Major U.S. Destinations Look to Medical Travel
Houston, Orlando and Las Vegas were among major U.S. tourist destinations that in 2011 actively promoted medical travel, providing new opportunities for agents.
Houston is home to the Texas Medical Center, which serves 6 million patients a year, including numerous medical travelers from the U.S. and abroad. For travel sellers who want to develop this niche market, educating the medical travel industry about the services and value agents provide is key, Jorge Franz, vice president of tourism and international marketing of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, told Travel Market Report. (See Houston CVB Positioned to Help Agents Serve Medical Travelers, Aug. 1.)
Visit Orlando president and CEO Gary Sain discussed plans to leverage Orlando’s growing Medical City at Lake Nona, together with its leading position in the medical meetings market, to promote medical training. (See Orlando Eyes Niche in Travel for Medical Training, June 23.)
And Las Vegas is just starting to promote medical travel, keying on the Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. (See Las Vegas Places Its Bets on Medical Tourism, Nov. 17.)
ASTA Webinar Discusses Medical Travel and Agents (Feb. 24)
An ASTA webinar in February explored opportunities for the agency distribution channel to serve the growing medical travel industry. The fundamentals of medical travel, its potential for agents, and key issues were discussed by two medical travel experts.
Among the recommendations: a triangular model that includes a medical travel facilitator, a medical records custodian and a travel agency.
Travel professionals have to be aware of the special needs of medical travelers before, during and after a medical procedure performed at medical facilities in the U.S. and abroad, the experts said.
The presenters were – Dr. Arlen Myers, co-founder and Chief Medical Officer for MedVoy Inc., a global healthcare medical tourism company, and Anne Marie Moebes, executive vice president of Well-Being Travel, a travel industry company that brings together the travel and medical travel industries.