Ever since Friday afternoon here in Denver, I have personally felt sadness at the events that transpired in Paris. I’ve been checking on friends and their families (everyone reports back safe and sound). But I can’t help but wonder how this will impact the Health and Wellness Tourism industry.

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On any given day, I awaken with a joy that I will be working on projects that I love in my role as a healthcare industry consultant and strategist. But in the wake of the widespread terrorist attack in Paris, I can anticipate that medical tourism growth and development is bound to be affected by the aftershock.

In the wake of the tragedy, tourists have began canceling their trips to Paris, sending the stock of carrier Air France and a number of other travel providers tumbling. France’s president Francois Hollande has proposed an extended state of emergency for the next three months, which may keep international travelers away for the foreseeable future.  I’ve had calls from a number of French medical tourism providers, facilitators, and other stakeholders who were planning a launch strategy and wanted my assistance. Several in Paris, Marseille, Toulouse, Nice, and other locations in that country. I don’t know them well but I worry for their success and hopes and dreams at this point. That’s because I really enjoy helping others to innovate, kickstart and launch their medical tourism projects. I find joy in helping them meet and exceed their dreams. So what will I say to them if they call me and say “now what?”

Well, what happened in Paris, so far, could put people off going to other big cities, even other major luxury hotspots throughout the Mediterranean and Gulf regions, Turkey, CIS countries, and elsewhere. It is really too soon to tell.  It is difficult, if not impossible to predict if and and wellness tourism consumers will cancel their plans to travel for healthcare for a considerable amount of time due to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

Hospitals and clinics won’t be the only ones affected. This recent attack will undoubtedly affect tourism, airlines, hotels, restaurants, cultural sites and shopping collectively and perhaps longer than the previous incidents with uncertainty as to whether the attacks are viewed as a single event or the precursor of a larger campaign on the horizon.

Conflicts between countries, debt crises and upcoming elections could seriously deter consumers from traveling overseas and spending on health and wellness tourism – causing them to settle on care closer to home – whether the price is higher or not.  Fear is amplified when one is aware that while recuperating in a hospital or hotel, they may be more vulnerable in a weakened state, blunted to situational awareness by pain medications and other distractions related to their medical and wellness tourism experience.

Hotels, clinics and hospitals are soft targets for terrorism. They generally have some security force on duty in a hospital, but not the kind that would be trained for the likes of the events of the past week. Rarely do small, private polyclinics have any security service on duty. Hotels have some security forces on duty, and in some locations (including Las Vegas, for example), I’ve been required to go through a metal detector before entering the premises, but if a group of 4 terrorists with automatic weapons arrived, the security at the hotel would be dismantled in the first salvo of gunfire.

So back to my first question: What would I say to a caller that says “now what?”.

Here are a few musings:

Use this time an heightened awareness to survey the security around your facility. Drill on disaster preparedness and responses. Break exercises into the same market segments that you normally attend: locals, visitors with unexpected casualties, medical tourism visitors who came specifically to be treated.

Build a communications strategy and implementation plan, forms and checklists, to let patients who are scheduled to arrive in the near future know the local situation, if closures are intended how to adapt travel and other plans.

Boost security team training. Train the staff to be situationally aware and be sensitive to things that don’t appear “normal”. Develop a response plan for when a report is received. If you have one, make sure it is current. Create plan extensions that address weather and other natural disasters as well.

Many laypeople (and medical tourism facilitators)  are unaware that when a hurricane nears, for example, all elective admissions are cancelled no matter where they are coming from or if they have an alternate place to stay.  Blizzards in Colorado, for example, cause hoteliers to reserve a few rooms for staff to remain overnight and they receive a significant number of holdovers and extensions for people planning for contingencies if flights are cancelled.  Where will new arrivals stay?

If patients depend on the internet at the bedside to communicate with loved ones back home and post status updates, how will they react if internet service is cut in an attack or natural disaster? What contingency plan do you have for this?

You can’t control the market or the consumers. You can only control your organization. Use this time for introspection and continual improvement. Focus your staff’s anxiety and energy on things that enable them to feel empowered to the extent they can be by trusting their training. Provide refresher training and new skills to cope, to prepare, to observe, and to communicate.

Spend some time analyzing your data. Analyze trends, website analytics, source market information. At its most basic, health and wellness tourism visitor data encompasses geographic and demographic information, such as location, gender, and age range. But what health travel brands should really look for is behavioral and social data to confirm or inform them about the realities of their market segmentation. Behavioral data specifically looks at user interactions, for example what sites a user visits, how often they visit, how long they spend on a particular page, and at what point they leave a site.

With the right medical tourism website and systems management tool, this can be examined at a cluster-wide level for public private partnership (PPP) regional or national clusters, or by a medical tourism agency partner such as a marketing facilitator, travel agent or tour operator. It can also be studied by individual providers. Other important data elements to be examined include the amount of times a particular surgery or diagnostic or spa /wellness procedure is researched, the price point at which a purchase is booked or abandoned, and completed calls to action such as signing up for a newsletter or clicking on an ad or link to a particular provider’s individual website.

Social data (also called psychographic data) considers health and wellness travelers’ social interactions and preferences: activities, hobbies, political leanings, destination preferences, cultural and linguistic requirements, etc. Social media in the USA has given brands the ability to tap into this type of data. Social media is not as far advanced outside the USA for this,  but other sites also have a wealth of social information as well. With natural language processing, some health and wellness brands can now even glean emotions and attitudes from reviews on sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor.

Data itself says very little—it’s the correlations between data sets that health and wellness tourism brands should study. For example, if users visit at least five pages of a hospital site, are they more likely to complete a contact form? Does the likelihood of booking a four-star hotel increase for users who book restaurants on OpenTable at least once per week? If a client tends to write positive TripAdvisor reviews, are they more or less likely to book spa and medical packages?

I hope you will use this slower period to your advantage and as an opportunity to improve safety of patients, visitors and staff.  Keep your chin up, pray for peace, and take the actions you are able.  In physics, the law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant—it is said to be conserved over time. Energy can be neither created nor be destroyed, but it transforms from one form to another. This includes the energy created in response to glucose and ATP that is present in the acute stress response. Transform that extra energy to something positive with some of these ideas listed above.

In all that you do, be excellent. Be exceptional. Be successful.

If you would like to discuss how my team of experts and I can help you achieve your goals in your healthcare or health tourism business, please call me at: +1.303.823.4662 or email me today.  Let’s have fun building it together.

Maria K Todd, MHA PhD
CEO, Mercury Advisory Group
Author: The Medical Tourism Facilitator’s Handbook and five other medical tourism business improvement titles.

Websites: MedicalTourismStrategy.com and MercuryAdvisory Group.com
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Maria Todd brings the relevant expertise and know-how from more than 3 decades of professional work experience and advanced healthcare business administration to execute consulting projects to meet many healthcare and health tourism organization’s strategic and tactical needs. She and her team of experts provide consulting assistance, advice, insights and mentorship for:

  • Health and wellness tourism strategic planning
  • New product and service launches
  • Business plan development and execution
  • Branding and brand messaging
  • Customer relationship management
  • Social media and traditional marketing and advertising
  • Workflows and tactical implementation and execution of strategic plans
  • Policy and regulatory framework authorities
  • Business process development and auditing