As part of the ITB Convention at ITB Berlin NOW 2021, the organizational partner HTI offered a roundtable on the Future of Medical Tourism, held on 10 March 2021. It gathered medical travel professionals with expertise in diverse backgrounds and global destinations: wellness hotels, travel agencies, clinics, facilitation services, and angel funding. The panelists were Christian Fadi El-Khouri, Managing Partner at MESC International Patient Service from Wiesbaden (Germany); Ivana Kolar, CEO of Julius Rose from Croatia and Slovenia; Dr. Sherif Hassan MD, CEO & Founder of Tripsetc Travel Company based in Maryland (USA); and Sandeep Vohra, Chief Executive for Technology Investments at Roseview Enterprises in Dubai (UAE). Leila Kresic-Juric, Managing Director & Partner at HTI Conference (Croatia), moderated the panel.
Rebound of international tourism expected in 2023/24
The 2020 started full of glory after the best tourist year ever and full of hope about reaching fantastic results out of the most courageous business plans ever made. Instead, we faced, and we are still facing, the most challenging year in our lives. Like never before, health tourism depends on external factors such as travel restrictions. The Covid-19 pandemic brought new buzz words such as Social distancing and New Normal. At the same time, the UNWTO recorded an unprecedented decrease of 74% worldwide and a loss of 1 billion international tourist arrivals in 2020. Shortly after the pandemic took off, two institutions took the leadership role. One is the UNWTO: namely, the 2020 statistics confirmed the loss of USD 1.3 trillion in export revenues globally, while 100 to 120 direct tourism jobs remain at risk, mainly in small and medium-sized enterprises. Unlike previous predictions that projected a rebound in international tourism demand in Q4 2021, the recent recovery outlook has worsened the prospects, and the rebound may take place in 2023/24. Another important organization is the World Travel & Tourism Council representing the global private sector (its members contribute to 30% of global turnover). Travel & Tourism has historically been one of the fastest-growing sectors in the global economy. Therefore, in May 2020, the WTTC developed a series of “Safe Travels” protocols tailor-made for hotels, tour operators, airports, attractions, events, short-term rental, car rental, insurance, adventure tourism…
Trends for 2021
The New Normal speeded up certain changes and brought new paradigms! Just have a look at the new old greeting “Stay Healthy”! The new paradigms include health prevention and promoting wellbeing to all but not only to the privileged ones. Also, medical services are becoming more personalized, and treatments are less invasive and most preventative. Healthcare is patient-centered but not providers-centered, while digital tools are becoming “a must-have” and not just “an option.”
Nevertheless, when discussing the news for 2021, they can be summarized as follows:
- There is a growing demand for open-air and nature-based tourism activities
- Domestic tourism and “slow travel” experiences gain increasing interest
- Many countries are introducing stricter travel restrictions (according to UNWTO, 32% of all tourism destinations are closed for international travel).
- The Covid-19 vaccine is expected to restore consumer confidence
- Destinations’ health and safety certificates are becoming the top priority
On top of that, the European Tourism Manifesto, an initiative of the leading professional organizations led by the European Travel Commission, calls for a harmonized approach for tourism recovery and asks European governments to chart the restart plan.
Digital, sustainable and safe medical travel
Today’s medical tourism calls to discuss backlogs in healthcare, Covid-certificates, telemedicine services, and vaccination, being the ultimate question “is there any winner”? Besides presenting current trends in Europe, the USA, and GCC countries, the Roundtable discussed the role of digital health and new technologies in medical travel, sustainable development strategies in health tourism, and hospitals’ mistakes when entering and staying in the International patient business arena. The conclusions imply that the digital era is here to stay while tourists no longer seek mass tourism but safety protocols in destinations. Hygiene and safety have become the priority which consequently has a positive impact on sustainability. Finally, all medical travel stakeholders need to adopt digital transformation and develop sustainable strategies for health-related products and services.