Medical travel is the up-and-coming way for people to access affordable medical care, and that’s why Imperial Travel American Express is seeking to develop a niche market in medical travel. "We like to stay ahead of the curve," said David Miller, president of the Montreal agency.
For the 53-year-old boutique consolidator, the medical travel niche is an outgrowth of its primary business selling first class and business air and land arrangements to an upscale international clientele of leisure travelers and small corporate accounts, Miller said.
“While we have regular clients who travel abroad for medical reasons, including for cosmetic procedures, dentistry, back operations, the whole gamut, people don’t call us specifically for medical travel,” Miller told Travel Market Report.
Instead, they contact the agency for air and hotel arrangements, then mention that they are traveling for a medical procedure.
Johannesburg, Israel, Singapore and India are popular medical travel destinations among his agency’s upscale international clients, Miller said. Some clients combine a trip for cosmetic surgery with leisure travel – a safari in South Africa’s Kreuger National Park near Johannesburg, for example.
Miller said he sees a budding opportunity, especially with his clientele, in arranging air transportation and leisure activities for clients traveling to have medical procedures. He plans to steer clear of making arrangements for the medical portion of their trips.
Promoting, but not promoting
The home page of Imperial Travel’s website includes a prominent blurb about medical travel. The information is there to inform web visitors about medical travel options – not to promote medical travel bookings via the agency, Miller said.
“We will not recommend any specific medical travel destination, because then you open yourself up to all sorts of liability issues,” he said.
For agents thinking about medical travel, Miller had this advice: 1) focus on travel and touring arrangements only; 2) know the special needs of your clients when booking transportation and accommodations, and 3) “be very careful” about making any medical recommendations, because doing so opens up liability issues.
Rooted in relationships
Miller also recommended that agents develop good relationships with airline medical departments in order to ensure that clients’ special needs will be accommodated on aircraft and when transferring between flights.
Imperial Travel’s interest in developing a medical travel niche was spurred by its deep personal relationships with its clients – relationships that date to a time when “social media” involved shoe leather and handshakes.
“During a recession about 20 years ago, when our business was tanking, we did an analysis of our clients and found that we had always had high-end clients abroad, so we started to concentrate on that.
“We took out ads in the International Herald Tribune and in magazines in Europe and Asia and would follow up on leads from these ads with personal visits.”
Miller traveled to Europe and Asia, spending three or four days personally calling on leads. “People in Europe and Asia were impressed with that. I would ask, ‘Who else do you know that travels?’” Based on those personal referrals, he developed additional business.
“Europeans in those days did business with people they knew, not the way we do it today – online. However, our business has grown because of the Internet.”