Many medical tourism hopefuls have learned that “hard way” that hiring a stand at a medical tourism industry conference (where there are no patients) doesn’t generate significant referrals or lead to satisfactory turnover to justify the time, marketing and promotional expense. Instead, the investment underperforms and they find it difficult to understand why.
The conference model is important
Your first consideration is to determine the mission of the event you plan to attend. Is it focused on people walking around exhibitor stands? Becoming familiar with a particular destination? Or networking? Or education?
Are you looking for education?
Programs that feature 10- and 20-minute panel presentations are not focused on education. There’s no real time to dive deep in these short panel presentations. Many of the key industry thought leader presenters in the industry who share insights, techniques and lessons learned find it impossible to attend all the scheduled events or to agree to travel 20-30 hours (or more) in each direction to speak for 10 minutes. Those who are truly active and experienced are working on projects. They simply cannot afford the time away from client priorities. As a result, those who are not working have the time to present 10- to 20- minute “pitch” presentations that are more like advertisements than education. This is especially true for the events where presenters must either be an exhibitor and/or pay their own air and hotel costs (and in some cases, a discounted rate for conference admission) to attend. Lately, even keynote presenters have been using the podium to hawk books on offer and websites they operate.
If you are seeking education and training, look for workshops and seminars by experienced trainers. Few if any of the certifications currently offered in the medical tourism industry are officially recognized by insurers, investors, suppliers, or the public. Most are simply commercial certifications offered by the conference organizer as a clever way to boost turnover. In some cases, courses are not taught by qualified trainers. Look for courses taught by experienced, credentialed experts with ten or more years in their domain area of expertise.
Vet the trainers. Investigate what they’ve published, and drop them a line to ascertain if what you want to learn is actually covered in depth in the course. The top training seminars and workshops are usually more than one day in duration, offer some hands-on exercises, and cost a few hundred dollars for registration. Expect a book or substantial training materials (more than just the presenter’s slides) to be included with registration. A telltale sign that the event is not education focused is the presence of exhibitor stands. Be realistic! Exhibitors want you visiting at their stand, not in a classroom!
Timing is critical
Hiring a stand at medical tourism conferences, congresses, and trade shows is an excellent second-stage strategy after the brand is recognizable, can discuss outcomes, differentiation, and the destination is ready to welcome medial tourism visitors – not as a means to build initial brand awareness and recognition. For proof of this, just look at who is missing from these current events. Established medical tourism citadels (Bumrungrad, Sime Darby, Apollo, Gleneagles, Bangkok Dusit Medical Services, among others) don’t spend money this way and have high turnover. Observe and research why they do not spend money this way after a certain point in their business development.
Check in with the exhibitors who have hired stands in the past.
- Will they exhibit or attend again?
- What results did they realize for their investment?
When you are first starting out, go to the event and simply mingle, listen and learn, connect, observe your competitors, meet people and have fun. If you were planning to attend the event, consider your expense for travel, hotel and conference admission as budget neutral. See if there is a compelling reason to invest in the next one. So many conferences fail to deliver the kind of results exhibitors are seeking: patient turnover. If you are looking to connect with consumer prospects, you’ll be disappointed, because most of these events don’t attract consumers.
…instead, spend some of the money you would have spent on printing and shipping materials, paying customs tariffs, and stand rentals, furniture rentals, flowers, rugs, catering, staff travel, projection screens and audio visual materials on hosting a round of drinks at the bar, coffee dates, taking people to dinner, and getting to know the most influential people at the event. Set a goal for what you want to achieve and from whom you want to learn.
The medical tourism conference market is over-saturated. Not everyone can afford the time and budget to attend every event, nor should they try. If the thought leaders, innovators, referral partners, investors, and experts you need to meet won’t be there, reconsider your decision to attend.
Maria K Todd, MHA PhD
Prepare and plan for medical tourism conference and event success
To fail to plan is to plan to fail.
If you are set on exhibiting at events and you’ve never done it before, learn how to prepare to get the most out of your exhibitor stand at a medical tourism trade show or congress. Learn who will be in attendance, study their culture, language fluency, and how they conduct business.
We’ve all seen exhibit stand staff who sit behind the counter talking on their phones, checking emails, and staffers who spend more time talking to their colleagues and the booth staff across the aisle than they do the attendees walking the aisles. We’ve all been to medical tourism conferences where the materials were full of typographical and idiomatic errors. These errors and planning failures can be avoided or mitigated with good planning and an effective and well-prepared medical tourism conference & event strategy.
Often, conference promotional materials are too cumbersome to transport home (information should be on a CD/DVD or a USB drive). Typically, all that print material from exhibitor stands really falls short on the necessary information required to give further consideration to most medical tourism suppliers. As a result, they have little value to potential referral partners.
Airlines charge for baggage and weight. Many conference stand visitors will take your brochures and booklets out of courtesy and respect and a genuine desire to avoid the risk of offending you. Some of these collateral cost a lot of money to produce, print and pay customs tariffs to get them to the event venue. Passersby often have no genuine interest or intention to follow up, but they would rather simply accept the materials and move on. For some painful insights, watch the housekeeping staff carts each day at the event hotel and look closely at what is being tossed in the rubbish each morning from the day before.
Instead, ask visitors to your stand if they would like to receive materials about your clinic, hospital, resort, spa, or medical practice in electronic form. Give them an interest card to complete, capture their contact details, obtain their permission to send them materials with a statement and check-box on the interest card and follow up the week after the show. When you get back to the office, research the people you encountered, connect with them on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and vet their value to your business. You’ll find that many have no website, some are not really in the role they described, often their role or title is overstated, and it is highly likely that you’ll never hear from them again. On the other hand, for those that show real potential, consider inviting them for a hosted fam tour and plan time for them to get to know your organization, the doctors, the destination, and your operations.
If you’ve never exhibited at a trade show before, there are marketing consultants and public relations experts that can assist you. They charge a fee for their time and their experience. Another option is to seek out shows where free training for exhibitors is provided, because it pays for itself in preventing attrition. Smart trade show managers consider this training a marketing expense for successive shows. For them, success each year means return business. Successful exhibitors return. Disgruntled and disappointed exhibitors who don’t meet or exceed their objectives look for the next event put on by someone else to spend their money. Exhibitors who feel that the exhibitor prospectus was full of false claims (fraud) and empty promises (hyperbole) tell others and can effectively blockade a trade show organizer’s chances for success at their subsequent industry events.
To avoid this shameful fraud and hyperbole, do your own due diligence and confirm attendance directly with those listed as registrants. At the same time, set an appointment to have coffee, tea, or a cocktail or meal, and chat with them. Go offsite if you can so you can avoid interruptions. Then, strip out those names from any organizer-arranged “speed-dating” B2B marathon sessions. Most of those B2B meetings allow 3-5 minutes per introduction, barely enough time to properly exchange pleasantries and contact information. One rudely rang a bell at the 3-minute interval and everyone got up and changed seats. Nothing was accomplished and everyone was upset and felt rushed.
At many medical tourism events, people don’t attend the B2B meetings, even if they are required. Some cancel their attendance altogether, leaving the other party with wasted time and no way to schedule something else in its place. Something comes up at the last minute or in some cases, organizers set up appointments for meetings with the wrong people for which no real opportunity exists. Other times, the schedule meeting slots with imposters.
I have had more than one conference organizer in the last six years ask me to participate in facilitator B2B meetings for the sake of appearances because they didn’t get enough facilitators to attend. That doesn’t make exhibitors happy. They end up feeling resentful and disrespected and they won’t return or book a stand the following year. Exhibitors’ time is too valuable for that – and so is mine!
Maria K Todd, MHA PhD
Organizing Fam Tours
One last consideration: if your clinic or resort is lucky enough to be in the same city or region as the event, organize a fam tour to take delegates to visit one or more local clinics, hospitals or spa resorts. Share the cost with the other local suppliers and stakeholders or the local DMCs, travel agencies, tour operators, and government tourism offices. Make sure that your bus and driver are insured, have some light refreshment at the tour destination and plan on having key leadership available to answer questions on the spot about your organization, its technology, key opinion leader and renowned surgeons, amenities, admission procedures, medical records transfers, and clinical outcomes. Group tours should be planned for no more than 90 minutes from arrival to departure.