In today’s economy, consumers seem to be on the lookout for comprehensive experiences with a high feel-good factor. Offering the perfect blend of traditional day spa bliss and the medical expertise found at a doctor’s practice, medical spas are slotting nicely into this scene, taking up their place among medical tourism destinations. Under the stewardship of Dr. Frederick De Micco of the University of Delaware, members of the Association of North America Higher Education International, or ANAHEI, along with professors of hospitality and tourism and industry professionals, partook in a pilot survey to better understand this burgeoning field.
It rapidly became apparent that there was a consensus as to its relevance, with the statement “Health, Wellness & Spa are a growing and significant driver of the hospitality and travel business for tomorrow and into the future”, scoring a clear-cut mean of 4.44 on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The landscape was considered differentiated, including life care and senior healthcare, with a mean of 4.64 indicating that these areas would expand into the future, and the broader categories of medical tourism and medical travel also scoring above 4. And if a field is to be increasingly relevant, surely it will require the manpower to fuel it? Yes, the results highlighted the employment demand for hotel and hospitality management graduates in the Health, Wellness & Spa industry (4.41).
Against this backdrop and armed with further insight from the survey, Dr. De Micco and CV Wijeratne of EHL Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality (SSTH) spearheaded the Swiss Medical Spa & Hospitality Think Tank, held at SSTH Passugg on 6 June 2019. Joined by Lisa Clarke of the Destination Medical Center, Dr. Radesh Palikurthi of the University of Memphis, Dr. Ali Poorani of the University of Delaware, Dr. Peter Yesawich of Brown Legacy Group and Niklaus Notter of Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, they explored present and future avenues in the medical spa industry and medical tourism at large.
How will the global Health, Wellness & Spa, Medical & Hospitality industries be able to ride the wave of the experience economy?
Several key forces are driving change, facilitating this leap. According to the survey, consumers are seeking out the best prices for medical care and spa treatments, as well as medical excellence in specialist fields. Financial coverage, investment and fiscal incentives all play a role. As does the safety and security of global travel. Add in the usual suspects – technology, robotics and artificial intelligence – and the industry will be well on its way.
Continuing this discussion, the Think Tank experts encouraged us to see economic development from different angles. For some, it brings higher salaries, more disposable income, freeing up cash to splurge on lifestyle enhancing procedures, such as plastic surgery, or enabling patients to select high-end, bespoke medical treatments. For others, in lower income markets for instance, with far younger populations primarily concerned with meeting their basic needs, these luxuries are a distant prospect. Considering the value systems upon which different societies are built can offer a window into the market that is feasible for each one, with emerging markets and entrant countries harbouring potential fertile ground.
Beyond the macroeconomic indicators, analyzing and understanding the demographic makeup, with each segment having their own priorities and spending behaviours. Financially comfortable golden oldies increasingly understand the importance of leading a balanced life, making room for the pursuit of wellbeing, thus presenting the industry with a consumer segment in its own right. In the same vein, the panelists stressed the pushing power of emerging trends, with the wellness mindset seeping into concepts like green cities, with consumers eager to be close to nature and promote their overall health.
Opportunities on the horizon
As the industry adapts and progresses, what will be the opportunities to seize? According to the survey respondents, honing in on alternative medicines may prove fruitful, as might working with college students to reduce stress and combat mental health issues. Holistic approaches will lead the way, all the while allowing for specialism. The center of excellence concept falls neatly into this framework, with a view to establishing an outstanding domestic reputation before radiating out across borders. Respondents also emphasized the importance of analyzing current models and leveraging their strengths – take “blue zones”, for example. What contributes to the hallmark longevity of those who live there?
Social media is awash with talk of habits, rituals, dietary regimes and more. It seems “wellbeing” – a term heralded by the Think Tank panel for its all-encompassing nature – is the new “wellness”. Indeed, those surveyed see potential in treating movement and exercise as primary habits, and conceiving of health and wellness as deeply rooted in the food we consume. Redefining “aspirational”, shifting our attention from the quest for money to the journey towards good health, offering balance. And if all else fails, there’s always celebrity endorsement.
Airbnb is somewhat of a behemoth nowadays. Eager to latch on to its success, the panelists suggest lodging be considered as a business model for bridging hospitality to healthcare (H2H). There’s something about staying in someone’s home rather than a hotel that is so… homely. But why narrow one’s focus down to homes and hotels when there are entire oceans to explore? Senior citizens looking for alternative living concepts are taking to the waters to spend their retirement on cruise ships. Providing this market segment with innovative, enticing options opens up a whole new world of opportunity. And catering to those who are coming to the end of their days, enabling people to live in comfort in an environment of their choosing or to fulfill long-held dreams would surely be an honor.
Beacons of best practice
When asked what and who they deem the best practice models and leaders in the industry to study, survey respondents cited Canyon Ranch, a luxury U.S. wellness lifestyle brand, Lanserhof, the European leader in modern naturopathic medicine, and Health City Cayman Islands, a state-of-the-art tertiary care hospital in Grand Cayman, as some of the ones to watch. Switzerland’s own Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, the leading wellbeing and medical health resort in Europe also featured prominently.
Niklaus Notter, Director of Sales, reported on how the resort maintains its reputation as a 5-star exclusive retreat for relaxation and recuperation. Its spectacular location, nestled amidst the foothills of the Alps, certainly provides an exquisite backdrop for the thermal spring and wellness oasis. Notter endeavoured to rethink Bad Ragaz as a destination with appeal for all target groups, expanding its clientele beyond the older guests it had become accustomed to. Providing holistic and interdisciplinary medical expertise, paths to and opportunities for relaxation, health maintenance and healing, it has tailored its services to the individual needs of its guests, promising both indulgence and the chance to actively improve their health. To learn from this success story, students who attended the Swiss Medical Spa & Hospitality Think Tank were welcomed to the resort the following day.
Medical spa industry: Watch this space
Perhaps a few words from Mr. Michael Hartmann, SSTH Managing Director, in closing:
As we have seen at the Swiss Medical Spa & Hospitality Think Tank in Passugg this year, the medical spa and hospitality industry offers a plethora of opportunities. Analyzing the specifics of these opportunities and taking them from the drawing board to market will require a pioneering approach and skilled, talented, individuals. Individuals sensitized towards what it means to tap into dormant demand and provide a holistic experience that meets today’s consumers’ high standards. We look forward to training and supplying just these individuals. Watch this space.