October 23, 2019 – The 3rd Adriatic Health, Sport and Tourism Investment Forum concluded yesterday. TCN caught up with one of the keynote speakers, Dr Prem Jagyasi, to learn more about his thoughts on the direction of Croatia’s medical tourism industry.
Tell us firstly about your relationship with Croatia as you seem to be more and more of a regular visitor here.
It is a good thing that Croatia wants to develop medical tourism in a structured way. I see that the ministries of health, tourism and economy are becoming engaged to develop a strategy for health tourism, and that is what brings me here – to help that process along.
We know that there are many challenges and obstacles to be overcome, but I really think Croatia has great potential. They can be a leader in Europe, and they can also attract the American retiree market. There are over 100 million pensioners in the United States. A proportion of them could come to Croatia and bring up to 2.5 billion dollars of business to Croatia.
It was interesting yesterday to see the Pasman project, for example, where they are planning to put in the facilities and content to offer to these senior citizens from abroad. There are challenges ahead, but things are moving in the right direction. So my interest is in working with both the potential and the challenges here in Croatia.
I would like to add that this has been a really excellent conference – some great speakers and panelists from all over the world. It has been a pleasure to participate once again.
There was a phrase used in the conference that the region could become the ‘Adriatic Florida.’ Do you think that this is a realistic aspiration?
I don’t see the need to repeat Florida, first of all, or call it that. I loved the phrase by Vlasta Brozicevic of Terme Selce, who suggested ‘the Pearl of Europe.’ A pearl for sports, wellness and healthcare, I really liked that term.
Croatia really has everything – resources, infrastructure, technology. All the components are in place, but it is still not easy for them to bring all the stakeholders together.
You travel all over the medical tourism world. Where should Croatia be looking to learn from to improve its medical tourism industry?
Every country gives us something different and beautiful to learn. So we have Malaysia, Thailand, Jordan, Turkey, some parts of India, how they have developed their industries.
Malaysia has developed the best structure of how public and private hospitals should work together to develop the brand, activities and strategy. Having said that, Malaysia gets most of its patients from one country – neighbouring Indonesia – so it is not truly a global destination yet, but things are changing.
Then we look at Turkey. Turkey has invested heavily and has major stakeholders such as Turkish Airlines. They have also had huge private investment. Turkey, by the way, has more patient to bed ratio than anywhere in the world. They have done a great job on promotion but you do not see the internal conflicts as there is no body which deals with everything, as you have in Malaysia. So Malaysia is a great example of one central body, but Turkey has some great promotional activities, as well as much bigger investment.
Then you look at Jordan, and see how well the private hospital association is working. They are very strong, and they are defining the prices. Jordan is also very well-known for bringing all its talent back to the country. Most of the medical professionals who study abroad return home to practice.
So I think we have separate things to learn from different countries. From Thailand we can learn about managing the political and diplomatic relationships, for example. They have a lot of business through the diplomatic embassies. And then look at Mexico, which has built an entire industry servicing the American market. It is a great example of building an industry based on the target market. So I don’t think there is one destination which gives all the answers but there are many bits to cherry-pick from different destinations.
How strong is the brand of Croatia as a medical tourism destination within the industry? I was in Kuala Lumpur recently and the brand of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council is just so focused. It is fantastic. And then here you have the excellent Kvarner Health Cluster, Losinj, Island of Vitality, Zagreb, even Bagatin Clinic on its own at various international fairs, but rarely under the umbrella of Croatia.
Yes, this is a very big issue which Croatia needs to address. If you look at Malaysia, they have built a one-brand name. Having a different cluster under one brand name might be a beautiful idea, but having a different brand and promoting the two separately will not work or be good for Croatia. There is respect for Croatian medical excellence within the industry, but there is almost no brand recognition of Croatia as of now. So while the respect is there, the popularity, usability and reachability are not.
Because of the lack of visibility, Croatia is missing out on some of its potential target markets. I see very little activity here from the Gulf, for example, which is a US$ 5 billion industry, much of which is spent in Europe.
This idea of regional clusters could work, but only under a national Croatian umbrella.
So how visible is Croatia at the main international medical tourism fairs?
There is very little visibility from the Croatian government side. There are private clinics, in particular Bagatin Clinic, which is very visible in many conferences and fairs. The Croatian government should do more PPP projects, as was done in places like Turkey. There they took 10-15 clinics and hospitals and took them to participate in fairs. This is something I have not seen much of from Croatia. There are some segmented examples, but nothing coordinated.
Speaking of Bagatin Clinic, CEO Ognjen Bagatin recently announced that his clinic was hosting the first ever patient experience conference in Europe, in Dubrovnik in March, including presentation from Cleveland Clinic. One private clinic doing so much for the national industry. What are your thoughts?
Not only that but Bagatin Clinic has put so much investment into capacity building, improving their own team and others around them, as well as bringing the patient experience conference to Dubrovnik with Cleveland Clinic involved. It clearly shows that a private clinic can bring so much value to the brand of Croatia. They have won so many awards, not only in the marketing. I have personally visited their clinic and it is excellent on all levels. The quality, the focus, the design – it is all incredible. That could be a beautiful case study for other private hospitals and clinics.
You can connect with Dr Prem Jagyasi via his website.
To learn more about the Adriatic Health, Sport and Tourism Investment Forum, click here.
To learn more about the forum organisers, including their other initiatives to develop medical tourism in the Adriatic, visit the Medical Group Ltd website.
To follow the latest from the Croatian medical tourism story, follow the dedicated TCN section.