February 9, 2018 – The Zagreb medical tourism story is gathering pace. An interview with perhaps the biggest catalyst for change, Bagatin Clinic CEO Ognjen Bagatin, where we asked him about THAT client reference from the United States, which was perhaps the finest endorsement of the Croatian health tourism story so far.
- I want to start by asking you about an extraordinary story written about one of your recent patients, Carl from the States. It was probably the best promotion of health tourism in Croatia which has appeared online so far. Tell us a little more about the case from your perspective.
This truly turned out to be a big deal for us, a great story, that it is only about grateful clients who decided to demonstrate their gratitude in their original, distinctive way, by sharing their emotions, fears and the highest level of service they had experienced in Bagatin Clinic. They were treated like all other international clients. All of them deserve a truly special treatment, which is nothing less than what we provide our domestic clients as well, in order to show our gratitude for the trust they have given us and for choosing us as their beauty destination. The competition is really strong, especially among dental clinics. Zagreb is becoming a true mecca for medical travelers and we believe that all other clinics should follow the successful example of Bagatin Clinic by offering full experience along with high-quality medical services. We stay in touch with our clients even after they had left, and this is what enables us the best PR in the world and the arrival of new clients because of their recommendations.
- Is it a secret how much the overall savings were, even factoring in the two airfares for the patient and his friend?
For this case we did not question the savings, however, the client that was here last year from Atlanta, USA, managed to save up to 90.000$ with the entire travel cost, accommodation cost, additional sightseeing tours and a weekend getaway on the Croatian shore. The dental work itself would take a year and a half, even up to two years in the USA. The aforementioned story told by our client gives us an insight into how bad the American health care really is, which only means that the potential for us is enormous. It is necessary to brand the destination, which is a long process, but we are aware of this and we stay persistent. If we include a number of 1.200.00 Croatians who live in the USA, we are sure that this market will open to us because the diaspora is our best recommendation. I am personally going to Washington in May to a meeting with the Association of Croatian American Professionals in order to find a model for strengthening the bridges between the diaspora and Croatian clinics. I am positive that this meeting will be very successful.
- One of the impressions that comes through very strongly in the blog is Bagatin’s commitment to customer service, as well as the wider European network your clinic has (the patient found you through a contact in Berlin). Tell us more about that and how important is that network in attracting people to Zagreb.
The client always comes first! This is not a cliché, it is our vision and our approach through everyday challenges. Customer satisfaction is a precondition for development and excellence, and this is where we are the best. This is why we were nominated in four categories for the IMTJ Awards, one of which is the “Excellence in customer service”, together with nominations for best dental clinic, best cosmetic surgery and best marketing initiative. A large number of international clients are coming to us through facilitators, agencies abroad that work as intermediaries in sending clients for treatment outside their home country. They are a very important link in this chain regarding the arrival of international clients because their influence within a country is much stronger than any of our PR strategies coming from Zagreb. The testimonials of our satisfied clients, which can be found on our profile on these platforms, together with their additional engagement in the sales of our services are a winning combination. We are extremely grateful to them. They help us create these kinds of experiences and this kind of stories because the clients are never left on their own, they are accompanied through the entire customer journey process.
- Another point which shone through in the blog relates to the tourist experience which the patient enjoyed during his two week stay during Advent in Zagreb. Tell us more about the potential of combining Croatian health care with tourism, and what concrete steps are being taken to make that happen?
This is a winning combination and actually the only correct one. We cannot progress without promoting the destination and Zagreb cannot go forward without additional content. Mentioning Zagreb during the Advent period and the entire story that accompanies it was one of the triggers that additionally motivated these clients on arrival. They were amazed by both the warmth of our staff and of Zagreb. In this cold weather, they felt the warmth and friendliness, and were thrilled with the approach and stories of complete strangers. The pictures that were taken during their stay in Zagreb is something they will remember for the rest of their lives and they remain noted in this blog, which makes us very happy. The state and other institutions are now involved in the entire medical tourism story which will in the long run facilitate future presentation on foreign markets for us, private providers. Advertising budgets were determined – still not large enough but we are getting there. The amendments to the law since 1st of January 2018 allow us, the providers, to offer packages that include accommodation, travel arrangements and all other services in cooperation with our partners and will facilitate the sale of services. Up to now it was necessary to organize and charge everything separately. In these instances, the clients themselves were able to see the problems of our system.
- This year sees Hvar celebrate 150 years of the birth of organized tourism with the founding of the Hvar Health Society, so there is a long tradition of health tourism in Croatia. Are you happy with the way that health tourism is developing in Croatia, and what concrete steps would you like to see to make things happen quicker?
This tradition is really impressive, and I believe it should be an additional stimulus for positioning Croatia as a hub for health and medical tourism in the region and in Europe. We truly have exceptional private clinics, spa and health resorts, however, in order to continue this progress, we have to raise the advertising budget for this segment from 3 million kuna in 2018 to 20 million kuna. This is the best way of increasing recognizability and to attract new investments thus directly influencing the growth of GDP in Croatia. Additionally, we need to enable medical institutions to apply for EU funding and thus be more competitive with new infrastructure, equipment, digitalization etc. (from 2014 to 2020 medical institutions were not able to apply for EU funding). Since our traditional tourism produces such phenomenal results, wouldn’t it be great if each of the 18 million tourists that come to Croatia are informed of the great medical services we provide? For example, through phone messages, flyers they would receive on the Croatian highways, maybe on billboards seen when entering the country or in the airports. It is important for our tourists to receive information about the medical tourism in Croatia and our unique value proposition – what makes us different and better than others.
- Wellness used to be a big part of the Croatian tourism scene, and the Homeland War had a devastating effect on this. Tell us about the potential. There are signs of a revival, most notably in Krapinske Toplice, for example, where Villa Magdalena is leading the way, and the Chinese plan to open a 200-room 4-star hotel, but when compared to neighboring Slovenia, which saw 40% of its tourism last year in spa and wellness, Croatia seems to be far behind.
Slovenia currently has a more developed Wellness tourism, however, last year Croatia started working on the growth of this tourism branch and started implementing direct advertising methods. Croatia Full of Well Being – Wellness project was initiated accompanied by a fantastic video seen by a large number of people from Croatia and abroad:
We have to focus on cross selling towards the tourists who come to Croatia in July and August for the sun and the sea. They should be informed about the great Wellness centers, spa and health resorts in Croatia and encourage them to come and visit. Here I am referring to the aforementioned 18 million tourists that visited Croatia in 2017, and this number will definitely increase in 2018. If we make the most of these numbers, very quickly we will reach the numbers of our dear neighbors, and together we can be more competitive than other destinations in Europe.
- And finally a word about Zagreb itself. As a health tourism destination and as a destination in general. Why should people be coming to the Croatian capital to address their health needs?
The city of Zagreb is an attractive destination, both for business people and tourists, for leisure time as well as for medical tourism. It is city of international fairs, conventions and business congresses but also a city that offers unlimited possibilities for cultural uplifting and a wide range of medical services. It offers high – quality medical services based on the application of new technologies and techniques accompanied by highly specialized and educated staff with the prospect of becoming one of the most popular medical tourism destinations in Europe. It is well – known for its gastronomy and night life. Third year in a row Zagreb was voted Best Christmas Market in Europe by European Best Destinations’ online poll.
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