In two weeks, Vienna will host the 6th HTI Conference of Health Tourism Industry. According to Lejla Krešić-Jurić, director of the Tourism Department of the Croatian Chamber of Economy, one of the co-organizers of this largest international conference on health tourism – the Croatian company Wellness Dalmatia headed by the director of HTI Conference Zdeslav Radovčić and American Medical Tourism Association (MTA) led by Jonathan Edelheit are also co-organizers – this is the first real export oriented Croatian project in the sector of health tourism. In the last five years, the HTI Conference has positioned itself as one of the most important and largest global events in health tourism which connects the key players in health tourism in the EU, reports Vecernji List on February 20, 2016.
"By taking over the role of the European leader in networking, sharing of knowledge and the latest trends in the health tourism market, we have proven that even a small EU member state such as Croatia can export its knowhow and significantly contribute to the internationalization and promotion of the tourist offer of EU member states to third countries", says Zdeslav Radovčić.
One of the first cities which has recognized this potential of Croatian knowhow is the largest and the richest Arab "global centre" – Dubai. According to Linda Abdullah, director of the local Medical Tourism Dubai Health Authority (DHA), Dubai has a big problem how to attract European patients to the new Dubai Healthcare City which is being constructed. Therefore, her keynote lecture on the subject of the Middle East Market at the opening of the HTI Conference in Vienna will be quite interesting, since she was among the first to recognize the potential of the Croatian "HTI Knowhow" export project with a goal of attracting the influx of patients from the EU. On the other hand, Croatian providers of health services and hotel accommodation will try to attract to Croatia some of the international health tourists.
"HTI conference is an excellent platform for Dubai Health Authority to connect with prominent representatives of the world's leading organizations and businesses from the health tourism industry. DHA seeks to establish long-term cooperative relations with other participants in the region and globally", says Abdullah.
Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) project is worth half a billion dollars and is unique in the world. When completed, it will cover more than 5 million square metres and contain a wellness cluster the size of 16 football fields.
When asked what is the significance of the HTI Conference in Vienna for health tourism industry in Dubai, Abdullah said: "This event represents an ideal platform for Dubai Health Authority to connect with prominent professionals from the world's leading organizations and businesses from the health tourism industry. It is commendable that Croatia has such a strong export product. This represents an exceptional opportunity for participants in the Croatian health tourism industry to present themselves to the key customers of health services. In fact, more than 80 percent of hospitals in Dubai have international accreditation, and we project that by 2020 the number of health workers will increase by 35 percent. Dubai is dedicated to creating the conditions for a happier and more fulfilled life of the local population and visitors."
DHA works in partnership with hospitals, health organizations and institutions, adds Abdullah, and provides medical services in the following areas: orthopaedic and sports medicine, plastic surgery, ophthalmology, dentistry, dermatology, preventive exams, wellness and assisted reproductive techniques. Dubai intends to position itself as a leading brand in the field of health tourism by launching a comprehensive and user-friendly internet portal, says Abdullah.
"The DHA strategy of health tourism intends to position Dubai as a globally recognized destination for medical and wellness treatments. A good strategic location, excellent connections through a large number of regular airline services and multi-cultural population make Dubai an attractive option for foreign patients who prefer nearby locations for short breaks. Dubai has become a health centre of the region, primarily for aesthetic, dental and orthopaedic treatments which complements the credibility of the health sector. In 2015, there was an increase in the number of health tourists which stood at 434,486 for the first nine months of last year which, according to the index of the Medical Tourism Association, ranks Dubai as the 17th largest destination in the world", says Abdullah.
On the other hand, Croatian health tourism sector is divided into medical, wellness and spa tourism. Currently, Croatia has the greatest potential in wellness tourism, which is growing by 12 percent at the global level. However, one should not ignore travel for medical treatments and therapy, because Croatia can be extremely competitive due to lower prices, in particular when we know that statistics show that nearly 80 percent of travel for medical services is associated with cost savings. When it comes to wellness tourism, many Croatian hotel companies, such as Maistra from Rovinj, are investing in wellness infrastructure and multi-day wellness programs, and are ready to become spa-hotels, instead of just being hotels with wellness services.
However, all this will require investments in the certification of services and staff in order to attract these so-called wellness guests. It will be necessary to find specialized sales and marketing channels which will position Croatia on the global map of wellness destinations.
"In order to succeed, Croatia will need help from the world's major players, and HTI is already connected with the largest global non-profit umbrella organization for medical and wellness tourism, the Medical Tourism Association (MTA) from the United States, which in cooperation with HTI last year organized the first workshops for certified employees in health tourism in the region. The next such workshop will take place on Saturday, 5 March, in Vienna. MTA also publishes special "Health & Wellness" guides which have so far covered Jordan, Taiwan, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and many other countries, so we can expect that Croatia will also recognize the importance of this marketing channel", says Zdeslav Radovčić, the director of the HTI Conference.
The resorts and hotel chains whose staff gets trained so they can be certified as wellness destinations have a great chance. Therefore, the question is who in Croatia will be the one to recognize trends and become the visionary for the new positioning of this special form of tourism. Especially now when Croatia has not yet reached the capacities it had in 1990 (according to some estimates, Croatia currently needs some 100,000 additional beds in its accommodation facilities), so its capacities are almost automatically filled with just a simple bed and breakfast offers. The high seasonality will perhaps influence the development of selective forms of tourism, such as medical and wellness tourism, which would increase the average number of days the Croatian hotels are open for tourists.