Billion Euro Annual Potential of Health Tourism in Croatia

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Main obstacles for further development include legal regulations

Croatia today earns around 300 million Euro from health tourism, with potential for over a billion annually, a panel discussion on the development of this branch concluded in Daruvar on Wednesday, reports on June 8, 2016. Main obstacles include legal regulations, as explained by Marcel Medak, director of Daruvar spa and President of the Trade Association of Croatian Health Sanatoriums.

“Most specialized hospitals are public institutions, preventing them from turning toward the market more. Offering commercial services is near impossible without the approval of the Health Ministry. So all looking to sustain their market presence are working in a grey zone,” Medak said.

Branko Matošević, Health Tourism Services Coordinator with the Tourism Ministry notes the discrepancies of the two ministries. “The legal department of the Health Ministry insists they are not responsible for commercial services, unable to provide consent. The Tourism Ministry gladly does so, but when the institution attempts to reregister their service from exclusively health to one with additional commercial services, compliance from both ministries is required,” Matošević details. Institutions who registered a wider range of services in the beginning have a somewhat better position. All panel participants are aware this bureaucratic process will be long arduous. Much money is being lost due to the inability of hospitals to provide additional commercial services besides their public ones. An example was given by Sanela Vrkljan, assistant director of the Tourism Sector of Croatian Chamber of Commerce.

“An Arab national who enrolled as a student in Zagreb, needed a procedure in a hospital in Zagreb. He asked for quote, but they could not provide one as their services are completely linked to the state insurance system,” Vrkljan explains. Although in terms of commercial operation of hospitals, the best solution would be complete or partial privatisation of institutions such as spas, this would also cause trouble.

“It would be difficult to explain to citizens the privatisation of something generations poured their money into. The question of sale price would be presented and who it would go to. Also, what would be the price of medical services in such a privatised system,” Matošević asked. However, without privatisation, no large investments are possible to make this sector competitive. “EU regulation states that public institutions, as today the specialized hospitals are, cannot withdraw money from EU funds. This decreases their options of financing new investments. Slovenia went about solving the legal questions and then privatising almost all of their spas. Large investment mostly form EU funds then followed,” Vrkljan added.

For Croatian tourism to be more competitive, market players must connect and tourism destinations must be created. Such a tourism region should include, besides the spas, a range of other tourism, cultural and natural sights.


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