42 seasoned experts comprise the faculty of experts at the Center for Health Tourism Strategy and the Mercury Advisory Group, a non-governmental, consultancy founded in 1983 by Dr Maria Todd in the United States of America. Together they work on medical tourism technical assistance assignments in the spheres of health tourism, thermal waters, health tourism administration, urban and regional planning, vocational training, and professional capacity development.
Mercury Advisory Group's comprehensive activities are devoted to study of sustainable health tourism destination and business development in the USA, Latin America, Europe, Middle East, Maghreb, Asia, Turkey, CIS, Ukraine, Georgia and Caucasus, Africa, Caribbean, and Australasia. The group provides destinations research, recommendations and technical assistance for health, thermal waters and spa tourism destination branding and marketing campaigns, vocational and adult education directed to health tourism management and operations, strategic planning, accreditation and quality management, and other areas associated with health tourism destination development at a policy and operations level. Many are published authors who have written hundreds of publications including manuals and catalogues, handbooks, framework programs and draft framework laws and regulations.
Mercury Advisory Group has 35 years of experience in promoting harmonic interaction of healthcare and tourism through implementing projects concerned with Sustainable Health and Wellness Tourism, Spa Tourism, Environmental Protection and Educational Programs to activate Sustainable Health and Wellness Tourism, thus promoting priority sectors of Cross Border Cooperation, GEF, and Healthcare Delivery and Access to Care.
From the very beginning, the priority of Mercury Advisory Group's activities and research studies have been focused on poverty alleviation through economic development and jobs creation in Sustainable Health and Wellness tourism (SHWT). Experts of Mercury Advisory Group are keynote speakers, workshop and Master Class leaders, and trainers conducting training in “International Best Practices of Health and Wellness Tourism” on six continents. Mercury Advisory Group provides technical assistance at national, regional, state and local municipalities levels, and also works with individual health, hospitality and tourism attraction providers in various pillars of health and wellness tourism development. We coach future trainers and entrepreneurs and at the same time help them to open Sustainable Health and Wellness Tourism Programs where they can build new businesses that create new jobs within the health and wellness tourism sector.
We are the longest established and most widely recognized consultancy in health and wellness tourism focused upon SHWT advocacy to involve local stakeholders and future entrepreneurs in SME on the basis of capacity building though training, seminars, workshops, best practices, festivals, and MICE industry integration, etc. Mercury Advisory Group is also the follower of UNWTO Program ST-EP (Sustainable Tourism Eliminating Poverty). To this end, we have established the Center for Health Tourism Strategy website as a free global access resource for all to learn and apply lessons learned and knowledge transfer. Mercury Advisory Group also follows UNESCO Forums with Slogan “Green Skills for work and Life after 2015”. In partnership with 15 countries, we have worked on Projects in the frame of BSB CBS and EaPTC supported by EU and GIZ both by direct hire and through collaboration agreements with other colleagues.
Recently Mercury Advisory Group experts have applied for numerous health tourism destination development strategy and research assignments in Tunisia, Dubai, India, the Caribbean, Ukraine, USA, Turkey, across many states in Europe, Latin America, East and West Africa, and Asia.
Books Authored by Maria Todd
Health and wellness tourism has soared as a growth sector with the increasing ease and decreasing expense of traveling abroad. In war torn areas and throughout developing nations, for both developed and less industrialized nations alike, cross border health care and treatment abroad is a necessity in order for citizens entitled to health services but without access to scarce advanced health technologies and specialist practitioners. They seek treatment abroad fr complex, medically necessary treatments and diagnostic services paid by government funds. Consumers also elect to travel for health and wellness experiences for both elective medically necessary services and cosmetic or aesthetic treatments and surgeries. Performing artists and professional athletes also travel to specialists who can alleviate disability and limitations caused by injury and overuse of their bodies. Others travel for health and wellness services to preserve anonymity, last chance therapies and clinical investigation programs, and second opinion services. Still others travel to obtain services that may not be available or are not permitted where they reside. For both developed and less developed countries alike, health and wellness tourism is fast becoming a multi-billion dollar business and one of the leading forms of foreign exchange earnings.
Tourism benefits local residents as it leads to improved infrastructure and services, as well as the creation of numerous employment opportunities in the host countries.
There are many drawbacks and negative side effects generated by disorganized and wild growth in the health tourism industry. As experts, we conduct situation analyses and interpret the findings to provide a snapshot of the development potential and recommendations for the sector. We also identify and mitigate the development issues and constraints that impede its growth in most places that desire to grow a medical tourism product for their region. We help bring order, cohesion and integration to a health and wellness tourism destination.
Health and wellness tourism can be developed in any place that has licensed practitioners and health facilities proximate to an international airport and guest accommodations.
We identify and articulate each destination's competitive advantage. We develop both destination and individual provider brand messaging to differentiate each health and wellness tourism destination 's development and promotional strategy and connect it to the targeted market of consumers with whom the destination brand will resonate. In this approach, we start by identifying low-hanging fruit for quick wins, while developing more complex health and wellness tourism destination and service offers along a trajectory that drives sustainable growth and scalability.
Health and wellness tourism is a big industry based on many small and medium businesses, individual solopreneurs, and foreign investment.
In order for health and wellness tourism to contribute to sustainable economic development, health and wellness tourism must be a profitable enterprise, providing substantial economic benefits to the people involved in the different facets of this complex activity. In areas with fragile coastlines, limited fresh water supplies, agricultural regions, and urban centers with high pollution, the health and wellness tourism sector must be characterized by being a good citizen. Such legislation should ensure that the business of health and wellness tourism itself does not present a threat to the environment and should address issues, such as, the location and density, quarantining of communicable diseases introduced by the health tourism visitors and other matters of hygiene.
In areas where workforce training is unavailable and unemployment is high, specialized training needed to sustain health and wellness tourism growth and activity must be created and organized at low cost to the individuals seeking to improve their skills with the goals of gainful employment and business leadership and innovation.
Funding for this nascent industry are limited and should be spent conservatively until there is sustainable return on investment.
Health and wellness tourism must be developed with the understanding and expectation of limited funding and financial support from local governments. Private businesses should market themselves while the destination marketing and branding is managed and carried out by the public sector that speaks on behalf of the destination. This delicate balance often requires practicable recommendations executed at the lowest possible cost rather than undifferentiated copycat strategies that depend on generous public funds to establish and promote the sector and pay for expensive exhibitor stand rentals, MICE hosting and advertising sponsorships without measurable return on investment.
While significant major players and foreign investors offer large numbers of popular destination packages, at every destination, the small health and wellness tourism operators and entrepreneurs are the bedrock of visitors' experiences. The importance of small businesses to health and wellness tourism in both rural and urban areas of developing countries cannot be overstated.
There are, however, many drawbacks and negative side effects generated by the health and wellness tourism industry which must be mitigated to the extent possible.
Our experts' analyses and findings identify the development potential of the sector as well as the development issues and constraints that impede its growth in most places in a new health and wellness tourism destination. This is often our primary mission objective for most engagements and the initial Term of Reference (ToR). With over 35 years of international work experience in these assignments, there is no other firm with more experience or longer tenure, worldwide. Our outputs include interpretation of findings and recommendations for standards of operation, differentiation strategies for each destination and provider mix, recommendations for framework regulations and standards, economic clustering, and training needs analyses.
Tourism is a big industry based on many small businesses.
The importance of small and medium businesses to health and wellness tourism in developing countries cannot be overstated. There are overlapping areas of opportunity in senior (third age) and second home or long stay tourism, agritourism, winery tourism, thermal springs and seawater tourism, physical and mental health rehabilitation tourism, dialysis tourism, respite tourism for caregivers, eco-tourism, educational tourism, voluntourism, religious tourism, cultural and arts tourism, photography tourism, sports tourism, aquatic tourism and sailing and cruising tourism, along with cycling and hiking tourism and spiritual pilgrimages and indigenous experiences.
Health and wellness tourism can be a powerful positive force for economic development, but can sometimes give rise to several drawbacks.
In close cooperation with the tourist industry and the national tourism authorities, our experts opine and give recommendations about environmental codes of conduct and training courses in sustainable health and wellness tourism. Both for the benefit of the industry and for the benefit of the environment, health and wellness tourism must be carefully planned with a view to incorporating concerns such as those related to water supply, sewage treatment and bathing water quality, the use of natural resources and resort development into new projects from the onset. This is why we incorporate urban and regional planners and architects on our team. Our recommendations and technical assistance outputs ensure that health and wellness tourist development projects are synchronized and aligned under environment impact assessments and international building codes that follow sustainable practices and LEED gold or platinum (and similar) achievement in new construction projects whenever possible. These initiatives lower operating costs and mitigate threats to fragile environments.
Health and wellness tourism has already experienced a number of problems. On the one hand are those that derive from the international financial crisis or soft target terrorism events. On the other hand are those that generate from the intensive exploitation of tourism resources that have influenced the living standards, environment and revenues of the locals. Many health and wellness tourism project in the recent past have failed to address problems building sustainable tourism growth in the face of the effects of the international economic crisis on the entrepreneurship in general and on the purchasing power of consumers or tourism destination setbacks such as those we see in Turkey and the Middle East and throughout parts of Africa and Latin America. Other problems include: environmental disturbance, intensive building, seasonality of tourism, reduced flows of tourism, poorly designed advertising campaigns, messages about cheap healthcare, and changes in the ambiance of the locality by the influx of people and businesses, etc. that are unfamiliar with or lack respect for existing culture and charm.
Tourism in general, and more specifically, health and wellness tourism has a lot of negative aspects which must be solved. The role of SMEs in health and wellness tourism is vital as they participate in the tourism industry in large percentages.
Tourism has changed as an idea, with emerging different/new types of tourism, with a differentiation at the needs of the tourists.
The sources markets from where visitors depart and the objectives for their visit vary greatly. Differentiated health and wellness tourism products and destination development should be based on the immense existence of SMEs and consideration of near market consumer behavior and need. Often, suppliers focus on source market visitors who are difficult to attract or choose a strategy to market to "the whole world" while overlooking near market and/or domestic health tourism opportunities. Thus, SMEs must be trained to re-examine their strategies and operational mode, their entrepreneurship practices and to adapt on the new facts. In accordance with the need to recover also from the economic crisis, SMEs have to follow the tourism market trends and develop a new attitude towards health and wellness tourism services and business models within existing healthcare and hospitality businesses. We open stakeholder dialogue with workshops where potential collaborating partners can decide to cooperate and to create the health and wellness tourism destination product focusing on destination and provider differentiation for both advanced technology and traditional healing methods.
People and countries should promote their cultural heritage and tradition in order to promote wellness and to help to visitors and locals alike to live better lives.
All statistics reported show that the health and wellness tourism sector is one of the most promising and still developing ones. The consortium of partners in each health and wellness tourism destination where health and wellness tourism plays a vital role on the economic development and consequently to the standards of living and its problems has contributed to constraints in further development of these areas. All participants are organizations that are involved in both direct and indirect way with health and wellness tourism and cultural promotion and can and should influence policy-making in tourism at national and regional levels. They have an incentive to overcome the problems mentioned through collaboration, building of strong relationships and through the sharing of knowledge, good practices and experiences. The health and wellness tourism sector is an area of high potential where the coordinated exchange, sharing and transfer of policy experience, knowledge and good practices will contribute to the improvement of the effectiveness of regional development policies. This is where Mercury Advisory Group's team of experts excel as the guides for the project execution.
Entrepreneurship and tourism are two highly-interconnected fiscal elements.
Health and wellness tourism development seems new not only to local companies and local communities but also for governmental agencies and authorities. This may result in negative impacts on both the natural and social environment. Tourism sector in all participant countries includes small – medium sized businesses and provides skilled and unskilled jobs at every level. Proper entrepreneurship can be the steering wheel to a sustainable health and wellness tourism development. The creation of new jobs at a time of downsizing, or to adapt to diversified and flexible structures, or to stimulate competition and to introduce new service products are ways that community benefit is created from health and wellness tourism. SMEs from destination management, tour operators and travel agencies and the media can also be part of the output experience for the tourist through their ability to advising visitors about itineraries, providing narratives on local history, culture, folklore and landscape, as well as playing an active role in the promotion of the community. At the same time, there are a number of weaknesses that can constitute barriers to sustainable health and wellness tourism development, such as closely-held and under-capitalized family businesses, the lack of entrepreneurial drive, the limited business skills and the shortage of finance. Through our technical assistance assignments, Mercury Advisory Group's experts help to move past these constraints and provide training and skills for new entrants.
Health and wellness tourism development seems new not only to local companies and local communities but to the governmental agencies as well.
According to the data of WTO every year the quantity of tourists and travelers is increasing and 1.6 billion international tourists are forecasted to exist by 2020. Recently the number of governments requesting our assistance to help them develop unique differentiation strategies to begin promoting health and wellness tourism products and services has skyrocketed. We are a group of 42 very specialized experts working in discrete teams with different skills and experience across the health and wellness tourism universe. Despite ambitious plans, much of the health and wellness tourism development seems rather chaotic. The lack of the strategic planning slows down the health and wellness tourism development at each destination. It also causes confusion to prospective consumers and visitors. Our teams are called upon to bring clinical, administrative, legal, ICT, security, urban and regional planning and architecture, marketing and branding, specialized travel planning, and quality and safety accreditation expertise to projects of every size and scope.
There is a shortage of experts in the global talent pool with these skills and at least 15 years of professional health and wellness tourism work experience to add to our teams. We work in urban centers and small villages to help develop health and wellness tourism to improve local communities’ livelihoods.
Our small firm tends to work as technical assistants and advisers under the aegis of project management firms. We accept about twenty five new projects per year, of which many are quick, 3-5 day, narrowly focused situation assessments, interpretations and written recommendations at a moderate and affordable cost. Once our reports are delivered, clients can choose to request further assistance for training and execution or begin many projects without further assistance until it is time to scale or revisit strategies for ever-changing growth and development.
This growth, if not coordinated properly may result in the negative impacts on natural and social environment. Nowadays, medical travel and health and wellness tourism is a growth industry with primary, secondary and tertiary global economic contributions (direct, indirect and induced). The direct economic impact of the tourism industry, including accommodation, transportation, entertainment and attractions, was approximately USD 2.2 trillion per year of which health and wellness tourism is a part. A number of countries, such as India, Thailand, Malaysia, Brazil, and the United States, are consistently popular tourism destinations, but other, less well-known countries are quickly emerging in order to reap the economic benefits of the industry. The role of tourism in the development of national economies, international trade, and the social and cultural life makes sense to give high importance to health and wellness tourism. Studies and investments in this area are accelerating. Tourism has a significant role to play in the Georgia economy in terms of production of goods and services. The sector plays a major role in the creation of employment opportunities. Tourism expenditure is generated from travel spend, including international, resident households, and business and government travelers.
The growing importance of health and wellness tourism activities is based on the socio-economic developments and changing perceptions in the industrialized nations of North America, Western Europe and East Asia, from which most international tourists originate. This is driven by the following:
- Rising educational levels and expectations: People have become better educated throughout the world. They are more aware of new innovations in health and medicine, anti-aging and longevity. They are also more interested in authentic experiences, pairings of meaningful leisure activities and original health and wellness tourism products that involve maintaining and improving health, reducing stress, learning about better nutrition, and increasing their physical activity and flexibility and movement, rather than just relaxation.
- Increasing social and environmental concerns: The general increase of environmental awareness and “green consumerism” influences the way in which people choose their holidays, and leads to an increasing proportion of clients choosing environmentally attractive and sustainable health and wellness tourism products. Some tourists even seek volunteering opportunities to actively support environmental causes during their vacations.
- Expansion of long-haul flying: The increase in affordable long-haul flying has lead to an increase of international visitation of natural attractions, and other attractions in conjunction with a health or wellness tourism destination experience. It has globalized the market for any given cultural and recreational attractions, but has also globalized competition among destinations.
- Improved information access through the Internet: The internet makes it easier for tourists to find tourism products that match their individual preferences, including special interests and objectives for health and wellness tourism journeys. As a consequence, special interest tourism, including the more specialized kinds of health and wellness tourism, has become easier and more widespread. At the same time, the internet has helped spread information about attractive medical, dental, rehabilitation and wellness tourism destinations, thereby increasing their market share.
- Proliferation of special interests relevant to health and wellness tourism: Increasing wealth and education have popularized sophisticated health and wellness destinations that offer specialized advanced technologies, renowned practitioners and specialists, investigational clinical trials for new procedures and medication therapies for cancer and chronic disease management and eradication, stress management and mindfulness techniques, and natural and indigenous treatments and practices (thermal and mineral waters, yoga, Ayurveda, naturopathy, homeopathy, etc.).
On a smaller scale, similar developments as those listed above for the international tourism market are going on within each of the new health tourism destination hubs. This will lead to growing domestic demand for health and wellness tourism in the future. An example of this trend is the growing domestic visitor numbers to health and wellness tourism Centers of Excellence over the last few years. Domestic visitors demand different tourism products than international health and wellness tourists, but they are an interesting target group from both the business and the strategic point of view. Consequently, they should be considered in future health and wellness tourism planning.
The outlook for the medical travel and health and wellness tourism industry worldwide looks promising as countries with great opportunities for development penetrate the market.
Attempts by the national and regional tourism administrations and authorities to attract more visitors to their Centers of Excellence and to develop their destination image as an attractive health and wellness tourist destination are expected to show positive results. The number of inbound arrivals is forecast to keep growing and innovating and finding paths for unique differentiation. We believe that the development of the industry will create new jobs and generate higher industry income for years to come.