Business / Medical tourism

Medical tourism, the potential for expansion and growth

A two hundred years long tradition 

Croatia got its first National Association of Medical tourism in 2019, and the main goal is to put the country on a world map for travellers’ seeking health services. The Association’s members have an optimistic plan for the period of 2021-27 because the industry is fast-growing and Croatia’s potential becoming a popular health services destination is huge. 

Medical tourism in Croatia was established in the 19th century, thanks to a coastal mild climate, the island’s healing mud and inland’s thermal springs. Being close to all major European cities, Croatia was always a favourite location for post-injury rehabilitation.

The idyllic Kvarner region pioneered medical tourism, since the early beginnings of tourism in Croatia. Opatija, as its centre, features cardiovascular and physical therapies and dermatological treatments. 

Its geographical location is a unique rehabilitation location with the Adriatic Sea on the one side and mountain Učka on the other. Aromatic herbs, algae, salt in the air, and modern health and wellness centres make Opatija the number one location for vitality and beauty treatments. 

Another pearl in the area is the Island of Lošinj with its specific micro-climate. The latest technologies and treatments for respiratory, neurological, and movement systems are being introduced at a Health Resort Veli Lošinj, with multiple treatment programs and supplementary services such as organically-grown food, sustainable hotels, and cosmetic products made from locally grown herbs.  

Northern Croatia is known for rich thermal springs, widely popular for rehabilitation and wellness. Some of the most popular springs can be found in Hrvatsko Zagorje, with modern medical centres, wellness hotels, and highly educated staff. 

National Association for Medical Tourism 

Pine trees and endless lavender fields, the Adriatic Sea, and hills hiding thermal springs are what make Croatia a true gem for medical tourism. 

The National Tourist Board had a campaign ‘Croatia – Full of Health’ in 2019, alongside the founding of a National Association for Medical Tourism. 

To make sure the Association has proper guidance and resources that will be used according to the plan, they carefully selected their board members. Miljenko Bura, former Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of Health, and Primarius Vlasta Brozičević will ensure that the Association has access to immense knowledge of how to promote Croatia further in this sector. Primarius. Brozičević, a Board Member of the Thermae Selce, the best rehabilitation centre in Croatia, will use her 30-year long experience to achieve these ambitious goals. 

The main goal of the Association is to prepare projects for EU funding and a short term period 2021-27. It’s the main strategy set by the Association, as they have to fast track the sector’s reorganisation. 

The organisation will control development and market positioning providing a unified offer of the best facilities and medical services of the highest quality. All aspects of medical tourism will be divided by regions. This will be done by mapping available natural resources, clinics, and treatments.

The plan will include rural tourism as well, as they want to combine organic nutrition with medical treatments, which should provide an opportunity for organic farmers and local food producers to become a part of the project. 

Also, the key goal is to team up with hotels and private accommodation to offer all-inclusive packages. This should be kick-started through international marketing campaigns and co-operation with similar associations.

Medical tourism in the world

Demand for medical tourism is constantly growing, reaching an astronomical 37 billion USD in 2019. The availability of high-quality services and new technologies for a lower price compared to patient’s home countries increased travel for medical purposes all over the world, mainly due to economic benefit.

Some of the countries recognised as leaders in medical tourism are Canada, Japan, Singapore, Israel, Costa Rica and India. 

They are offering much lower prices but higher quality service, with state-of-the-art equipment operated by highly educated staff. 

Canada is a leader in this field, as its main advantage is being close to the US. Patients faced with long waiting lists and high medical costs discovered Canada as a destination where operations, cosmetic surgeries, treatments, and postoperative rehabilitation can be as much as 70 per cent lower than prices on the US market. Canada doesn’t have long waiting lists, and it is easily reachable to approximately 14 million Americans who book treatments every year. 

Asia is dominated by Japan’s medical tourism strategy, recognising the potential of patients arriving from mainland China. The most prominent health services are advanced cancer treatments as well as cosmetic surgeries and caring facilities, offering much lower prices while staying competitive.

Singapore follows, with medical agencies offering to book packages including hotel stay, operation, and rehabilitation. The most famous hospital is Gleneagles, with state-of-the-art facilities and specialists. The main market is the USA, mostly seeking heart surgery and hip replacement, paying up to 40% lower than at home.

Croatia has a long way to go, but thanks to natural resources and long tradition, now with proper management and organization on a national level, it has a lot of potential for expansion and development. Inspired by countries all over the world, and closely analysing their approach to medical tourism it is expected that Croatia in a short period of time will place itself high on a list of popular medical tourism destinations. 

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