Well-Being Travel Conference 2012
Travel agents may already be working with clients who are traveling abroad for medical or dental procedures – they just don’t realize it. And that's costing agents lots of potential revenue from a fast-growth market.
At the Well-Being Travel Conference 2012, co-sponsored by Travel Market Report and Well-Being Travel, agents will gain the information, tools and skills they need to tap the lucrative health, wellness and medical travel markets.
A key part of that education is understanding the forces coming together to expand opportunities for agents in medical travel, said David Boucher, MPH, FACHE, president and chief operating officer of Companion Global Healthcare, a medical travel facilitator owned by Blue Cross Blue Shield South Carolina.
Boucher, a presenter at the Well Being Conference 2012, sat down with Travel Market Report to discuss these and other important issues that will be explored during the Well-Being Travel Conference.
The agent-focused conference is set for the Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., on June 19 to 21. (For details, see sidebar.)
You see medical travel as an important untapped market for agents that will only get stronger.
Boucher: Just how fast medical travel is growing is hard to substantiate through statistics. But when we talk with people at our network hospitals, we get impressive information. One told us they had treated more North Americans in the first two months of 2011 then in all of 2010.
How will you help agents expand their understanding of medical travel at the Well-Being Travel Conference?
Boucher: Some of what I will talk about at the conference has to do with the factors driving North Americans to travel abroad for medical and dental care. For Americans, cost is the big driver – it’s easy for an American to save up to 80% or 90% on medical care. For Canadians, (the driver) is reducing wait times for procedures.
I will discuss the water cooler factor. So much of this growth has been through word-of-mouth. People are coming back from trips and telling their colleagues about how much money they saved on a medical procedure – while having a great travel experience.
What might surprise agents who listen to your presentation at the Well-Being Conference?
Boucher: One is that many agents are already helping people with medical travel – they just don’t know it. And so they aren’t able to make the most of the situation. Often people will do their own research on hospitals and then ask a travel agent to handle the travel arrangements.
How will knowledge gained at the conference help agents grow this side of the business?
Boucher: If I were an agent, I would want to have talking points so that I can reach out to this market, including my existing customers. I can then say, ‘Here’s a growing trend you might have thought of. Did you realize you can save 60% to 80% percent on a medical procedure by traveling to Costa Rica?’
It’s a way for agents to learn to be proactive about the benefits of medical and dental travel. I would want to know what type of information my customers may need.
Why should agents partner with a medical travel facilitator rather than do everything themselves?
Boucher: We save agents a lot of time in researching accredited hospitals, plus we have the expertise to know what to look for. I’m an ex-hospital CEO.
In addition to our requiring all the facilities we work with to be accredited, we conduct onsite due diligence. We take the time to hop on a plane to check these hospitals and clinics out. It’s a buyer-beware atmosphere out there, so you really have to know what to look for.
We think travel agents would want to partner with a trusted colleague who has vetted a hospital.
What makes a hospital appropriate for travelers?
Boucher: There are a lot of seemingly small things that are very important. Is there signage in English? Is the food good? Do they offer Western cuisine? Do they have proper creature comforts such as TV channels that Americans like to watch? Is there Wi-Fi? These things are important if you’re lying in bed for several days after a knee replacement.
We also look at whether or not a travel companion can stay with the patient in the room. A growing number of facilities have suites or are building hotels on the hospital campus, partnering with companies like Marriott to do so.
Why do medical travel facilitators want to partner with travel agents?
Boucher: In our case, we’re experts on hospitals and health benefits, but we don’t know the travel business. We don’t have volume discounts with travel suppliers. We don’t go on hotel fam trips. We need travel agent partners to provide what we don’t have.
How important is the travel side in medical travel? Can it actually be a vacation?
Boucher: Depending on the procedure, some people will want to spend time enjoying the destination before it.
Dental travel especially lends itself to the tourism side. It’s not uncommon for the person to have the initial work done on the first or second day, such as getting temporary crowns, and then do some sightseeing until the permanent crowns are ready. There’s no reason why they can’t go snorkeling, zip lining or on a tour.
Also, there is often a traveling companion involved. They may want to explore the destination while the patient is recuperating.
What are some other things agents will learn at the Well-Being Travel Conference?
Boucher: The agents will learn where the popular medical destinations are and where people are traveling.
They will also learn about potential pitfalls to avoid. For example, a client may want to travel for procedures that are not sanctioned by the FDA. You need to know which types of procedure are conducive to medical travel and which are not.
To register or to learn more about the Well-Being Travel Conference 2012, visit www.well-beingtravelconference.com.