Cherie Bright (l.) and Kiki Bright
Two travel agents have parlayed their contacts in Thailand’s medical and travel industries into a U.S.-based medical tourism division that specializes in sending health travelers to Thailand.
International Travel Services, based in Lihue, Kaua'i, established Thailand Medical Travel and Tourism (TMTT) in 2008 as a division of the travel agency. It is co-owned by Kiki Bright and Cherie Bright, who delivered a presentation on medical tourism at ASTA’s annual trade show and conference earlier this year.
In addition to arranging and booking medical travel to Thailand and other destinations, TMTT was developed to be an information resource for other travel sellers and their health traveler clients.
“Basically, we are just like any other vendor in the travel industry, but one with a highly specialized niche, because we have a network of medical providers in Thailand,” said Kiki Bright. “We are well connected to both the medical community and the travel industry in Thailand and can make detailed arrangements customized to suit the needs of the medical traveler."
TMTT functions as a liaison between health travelers and doctors at the destination.
“Our approach is to be the conduit between the prospective traveler and the physicians in Thailand, forwarding medical records to the appropriate provider so that doctors can come back with recommendations or a treatment plan,” said Kiki. “That way, prospective patients will get recommendations from a specialist.”
Kiki, who has been involved in Thailand’s medical tourism industry for more than a decade, said the most effective way for medical travelers to get appropriate services is to communicate and obtain recommendations from the physicians in their medical tourism destination of choice -- not rely only on hospitals, as generally is the case.
“We are focused on patient-doctor relationships,” she told Travel Market Report. “We take it from a completely different paradigm – a focus that relies on patient support, emotional support and one-on-one services. And we believe that travel agents are ideal partners for our approach because they know their customers.”
Dealing With the Issues
TMTT’s approach to the market also addresses the sticky wicket of liability for U.S. travel sellers interested in medical tourism, according to Cherie Bright.
“We are not providing services but are only making appointments and providing information,” Cherie said. “We are not giving medical advice, and we are making sure that our contracts reflect that, and also that the destination country is the jurisdiction with regards to all medical services.”
The company also addresses the often-neglected issue of post-procedure recuperation and ground arrangements for both patients and those in their accompanying party.
Kiki noted that when she was taking care of international patients at a Thailand hospital a decade ago, medical travelers would often arrive in the country with no idea of how to get to the hospital and no plan for post-procedure recuperation.
In response, she used her experience in Thailand’s tourism industry (she worked for a ground operator there) to put together ground arrangements for international patients and their companions. Kiki also worked with the hospital she was affiliated with to add English-speaking nurses and staff members and English menus, and to establish a separate floor for international patients.
That experience and network of contacts is brought to all medical travel arrangements made by TMTT, she said. Cherie noted that the company also strives to make sure medical travelers get the emotional support they need, both from companions in the destination and by keeping communications open with family and friends back home.
“You have to have post-treatment services in place,” said Kiki “Otherwise you are on your own. Post-treatment is extremely important so that patients can feel comfortable and return to their routine before they repatriate.”
Good Business for Agents
Medical travel can be an excellent niche for travel sellers, according to the Brights.
“The medical traveler is a quality traveler because they stay longer and spend more, according to figures from the Tourism Authority of Thailand,” noted Kiki. “Three-quarters of medical travelers bring a companion with them and that means that travel agents will also arrange travel for their companions, who also spend time in tourism activities.”
There is significant opportunity for revenue and growth by referrals for travel agencies who develop an expertise in medical travel, said Cherie, who parlayed 40 years of arranging travel as a sideline to her business consulting company into the retail agency she established with Kiki in Hawaii in 2008.
The Brights are currently expanding their medical tourism division to South Korea and Costa Rica by developing networks of connections in both the medical and travel industries.
TMTT plans to conduct a medical tourism familiarization trip to Thailand in February 2011. Educational webinars for agents and a newsletter are also planned; one-on-one training in medical tourism is available for agents in California. For more information, visit www.thaimedtraveltourism.com and call 888-600-0125.