Agents seeking to develop a niche in medical tourism will find a willing partner in Visit Orlando, which is marketing its growing healthcare infrastructure as an asset to rival its famous theme parks.
Part of Orlando’s outreach to travel agents will be representation from Medical City, Orlando’s evolving, state-of-the-art medical complex at Lake Nona, at the Well-Being Travel Conference on June 19-21 in Scottsdale, Ariz. (See sidebar.)
Gary Sain, CEO of Visit Orlando, spoke with Travel Market Report about what agents and meeting planners can expect in education and support from Visit Orlando, as medical tourism and healthcare meetings grow in importance.
He also addressed why destination information is an important starting point for travel sellers who want to develop the niche.
Why is the development of Medical City a boon for medical tourism to Orlando?
Sain: We opened Medical City a couple of years ago. The only other one is in Dubai, and ours will be the largest in the world. It’s a new entity focused solely on healthcare, with an emphasis on research and training.
It’s a great opportunity for us because during the last decade we’ve done more medical conferences than any other destination. So there is already interest in Orlando for medical tradeshows and events.
What is Medical City doing for your already-strong healthcare meeting segment?
Sain: We’re optimistic about increased demand from the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare associations who want to meet here.
Medical City is great for meetings content. We have a huge resource of world class researchers who have relocated to Orlando and are available to speak at meetings. There are also expanded opportunities for on-site touring of the facilities.
What appeal does Medical City hold for the leisure travel agent?
Sain: A meeting attendee can also be a leisure traveler. People who come to Orlando for meetings often bring their families, and they stay on for days afterward to enjoy our many attractions.
In addition, there are already many people traveling to Orlando for our outstanding medical procedures. So it’s relevant for the individual traveler as well.
Is destination information important for agents seeking to develop expertise in medical tourism?
Sain: Destination knowledge is a great starting point. In particular, you need knowledge of the healthcare facilities and the value they provide the city.
The best thing to do is to come down here and see what we have. You can’t sell a cruise unless you go on one. The same thing is true with knowing medical destinations.
In the case of meeting planners, many are already involved in handling healthcare meetings and events. Being in tune with what we’re doing gives them ideas to present to their clients.
What kind of education is Visit Orlando providing for agents?
Sain: We currently have an accreditation program, where you become an Orlando specialist. Right now it emphasizes leisure, but there is no reason why we couldn’t add a medical care component for agents who are interested. We’re considering this.
We will include Medical City in Orlando fam trips, but those will be specialty fams for those who are pre-qualified in that they want to learn more about medical tourism.
If an agent calls Visit Orlando today, we can get you the information. We hope to have structured programs in place as interest grows and we continue to work with our strategic partners at Medical City.
How are you getting the word out about Medical City to agents?
Sain: We hope to have a representative from Medical City give a presentation at the Well-Being Travel Conference. Agents are encouraged to learn more about Medical City, including coming down here for a tour.
If we see that kind of interest, we will do fams. We are hoping that agents at the (Well-Being Travel) conference will be inspired to get into medical tourism. (See sidebar.)
As a destination, we want to spark that interest, make it easy for the agent to raise a hand and say, ‘I want to know more.’ Based on demand and interest, we will find a way to help them. If it starts to increase, we can start to put dedicated programming in place.
What makes a destination suitable for medical tourism?
Sain: In our case, we’ve long had great tourism infrastructure – the hotels, convention center, attractions and air accessibility and good airfares. Now we’re getting the medical infrastructure to go along with it. You need both the leisure and healthcare components.
Along with infrastructure, you have to have collaboration between the tourism and healthcare side. We feel we have this.
Orlando is a great leisure brand – the No. 1 family leisure destination. Now we will be known as a great destination for medical training and research.
For more on Orlando’s Medical City and its plans for medical tourism, please see “Orlando Eyes Niche in Travel for Medical Training,” June 23, 2011.
Orlando Travel Academy: Information and education for travel agents on selling Orlando.
Well-Being Travel Conference 2012: Three-day educational conference bringing together travel sellers; the medical and wellness industries, and travel providers.