Editor’s note: Guest contributor Elizabeth Ziemba, JD MPH, is president of Medical Tourism Training.
Are you curious about the medical tourism sector? Considering expanding your services to include international health travel but don’t know how to get started? Here are some ideas to set you on the right course.
Step #1. Start with health and wellness
To get started, focus on the health and wellness part of the industry as a natural extension of travel. Adding health and wellness options to your travel offering can help you increase the amount of money existing clients spend and attract new clients.
To tap the market, connect with your local health spa or weight loss programs such as Jenny Craig. Find some great yoga retreats and alternative medicine programs. Then consider marketing in partnership with them. Perhaps you can collaborate to put together a group of people who want to exercise while exploring a destination like Mexico’s Chichen Itza, for instance.
Keep in mind other local businesses like yours who are looking for new ways to grow. By cooperating and promoting each other’s services, you build name recognition in your neighborhood and a relationship with another member of the business community, surely a win-win.
Step. #2. Think dental
Dental services represent the largest volume of medical tourism in the world, so there is plenty of opportunity and money to be made in this category of health care. Destinations like Cancun, Costa Rica and Hungary have excellent English-speaking dentists who offer world class services to international visitors at prices far below those in the U.S.
If you want to include dental services in your offering, keep in mind that you’ll need to do thorough research, so you can assure clients they will receive quality services.
Be sure to check out the credentials of the dentists and dental specialists with whom you form business relationships. Where were they educated? Licensed? Have they received specialty training? Does the dental practice have English-speaking staff?
Check out what competitors are doing to see which dental services are being offered to international travelers. That will tell you what is most popular and most likely to sell. Learn as much as you can about each type of dental service.
Step. #3. Try it yourself
For an insider view of how medical tourism works, put yourself in the shoes of your clients and give it a try. Go to Cancun and have your teeth cleaned and whitened. Have veneers made while on vacation in Costa Rica. While you are enjoying Budapest, schedule a routine dental examination.
Conduct your research firsthand – assessing the issues, obstacles and benefits – so you can share the experience with your clients.
Step. #4. Learn the medical language
Familiarize yourself with basic medical terminology. For dental treatments, for instance, you'll want to become familiar with common procedures, so you can speak knowledgeably and authoritatively with clients and dental professionals.
Understanding what is involved in each procedure will help you determine what is appropriate to book in terms of length of trip; recuperation time; return trips, if more than one session is required, and so forth.
Step #5. Differentiate your product
Offering medical tourism in addition to your current travel services can be an effective way to differentiate yourself from the competition.
If you are a smaller agency, your customers may appreciate a personal touch from an agent who knows what they like and want. Offer them the new options of vacations with a health and wellness component in an exotic location. A trip to India that includes Ayurveda treatment may be the perfect suggestion for an adventurous client, for instance.
If you are part of a large travel agency, your organization may be able to compete more effectively on price. An affordable, quality health and wellness vacation that includes routine dental care or a day spa can be an appealing package for groups, as an example.
Step #6. Spread the word
You can use health and wellness travel to differentiate your agency in the marketplace through the traditional means of advertising or get more creative.
Consider teaching a class about medical tourism at the local adult education center – a nice way to promote your business and your new health and wellness packages. Give a presentation at a local gym and engage your audience of potential new clients in a discussion about international health and wellness travel. You will learn very quickly what is of interest to people.
Step #7. Understand the liability issues
The one major caution for travel agents new to the medical tourism business is potential liability. If you book travel for someone and there is malpractice involved, could you be held liable?
That question has not yet been answered in the courts but, in practice, the answer is a clear “maybe.” The more complicated the medical procedure and the more involved you are with selecting or recommending the provider, the more likely you are to be held liable.
To make sure you understand the liability issues and protect yourself, invest in good legal advice and basic legal documents to use in your business transactions. Your business lawyer can explain the issues and draft waivers and other disclaimer language. Make sure to use them.
Step #8. Have a plan
When moving into the medical tourism business, take it slow. Start with the simpler end of the health spectrum – health and wellness services and routine dental care. Then work your way into the more lucrative parts of the business, including more complex dental procedures, cosmetic surgery and more invasive medical treatments.
Medical tourism is a great way to expand travel services, but you need to think about which services will appeal to your clients and then learn about the sector, educate yourself about specific procedures, learn the language of the industry and explore the legal issues.
Once your education is complete, now comes the fun part – getting creative with packages and experiences that will benefit both your clients and your business.
Medical Tourism Training is an online and on-site training and consulting company in Brookline, Mass., that focuses on improving international health travel for individuals and organizations.