Laszlo Puczko, Co-Founder, Wellness Tourism Worldwide
High-End Medical Travel
As in every form of travel, many medical travelers can also enjoy the various amenities available only for the selected few. The labels for these services are numerous: luxury, high- or top-end, exclusive, personal, etc.
Luxury as we tend to know it has very identical qualities: rare, different, better quality and certainly more expensive than the ordinary. Medical travel is not different.
High-end medical travelers look for special amenities and qualities. They want the best physician or consultant (with the best reputation and medical qualifications); the most personal and tailor-made services (personal chef, butler, car and driver, and nurses); and luxury accommodations (which can be translated as the equivalent to a five-star hotel).
It should be noticed, however, that the meaning of luxury has been changing, especially in the developed “Western” countries. Furthermore, most of ’standard’ high-end qualities are very subjective and very much depend upon the country and culture we are talking about. While luxury still means the same for most of the Arabic and Asian countries, we can see significant shifts elsewhere. High-end Arabic and Asian medical travelers look for the tangible elements of luxury: number of staff available for them, expensive or designer furnishing in the room (or more like an apartment or suite), etc.
More and more Western top-end medical travelers, however, start to be interested in the intangible elements of luxury. They are satisfied with minimalist or “Zen” environments, which since the materials, finishes or furnishings used are still high-end, provide them with the feeling of exclusivity. The luxury in this case stems more from the services they receive: from the organic food and personalized diet, the additional services (for example, for the accompanying partner) or from the tranquil location.
The label of the medical provider applies to its services and premises — and is not independent from the high-end (perceived) market position they want to express. To many, the term “hospital” is a compromise. Therefore, they use the term “clinic” or ’medical centre’ or even ’sanatorium’. To make it more obvious, for example, in German speaking countries, the term “schloss klinik,” i.e. “palace clinic” is not uncommon, highlighting the unique location of the hospital.
Medical travel, interestingly, has special qualities in terms of luxury. First of all, “time” becomes a luxury item. Time to do something we like or we even need to do. Medical travel requires time. More time than having the same treatment at home or nearby the patient’s residence. Medical travelers often have to do special arrangements, i.e., unpaid leave to make the trip happen.
We also observe the commoditization of international medical travel. For years, international medical services were accessible for only those with significant disposable income. By now, many medical travel services have become more accessible to the middle class, e.g. it is almost “normal” for an Austrian client to have his or her teeth done in the neighboring Hungary.
Conversely, since one of the main motivations of international medical travel is the favorable price of the treatment, saving money while having a treatment abroad has also become a form of luxury.
It is interesting to see how the “traditional” luxury suppliers or brands address the challenges created by international medical travel. In the hospitality industry, we can see the arrival of some big names, e.g. Armani, giving its name to luxury hotels or famous designers creating luxury facilities in hotels belonging to the art’otel chain. Besides, luxury spa brands should probably also think about how to find cooperation with high-end plastic surgeons, for example, thinking about post-operative treatments for better and faster results.
In medical travel, certain professors or consultants enjoy similar fame, as for example, luxury fashion brands. If they give their name to a clinic, it can mean a huge difference to both the clinic and to the patients it can attract.
Creating and providing luxury in medical travel is challenging. The market changers and providers should consider these characteristics of both – creating and providing.
One may wonder will we see Armani clinics anytime soon.