After reporting on the news about Croatia for a number of years now, certain things begin to follow a pattern.
I always report on the Za Krizen procession in Jelsa just before Easter, for example, and there is always a visit to Advent in Zagreb. And early November is reserved for one of my favourite – and impressive – conferences in Croatia, the Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference, or CIHT 2021.
It has a special place in my heart as it was the catalyst for probably the most unlikeliest stories of my writing career a couple of years ago, as my wife and I found ourselves on a plane to Malaysia where I picked up an award for best online international feature as the inaugural Medical Travel Media Awards in Kuala Lumpur.
Crikvenica and Malaysia may seem an unlikely combination, and I would have agreed with that had I not met one of the most energetic promoters of all things Croatia, Ognjen Bagatin.
Co-owner of the hugely successful Bagatin Clinic, Ognjen was passionate about the promotion of the medical tourism industry and realising its potential.
When I met him, I had no idea that Croatia even had a medical tourism industry. Within 10 minutes of meeting him, I was wondering why the whole world didn’t know about the excellence on offer in Croatian clinics, and at very competitive prices.
It did not take me long to learn that the biggest brand in Croatian medical tourism globally – with the possible execption of Bagatin Clinic at St Catherine’s Specialty Hospital – was not in fact Croatia itself, but something called the Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster. This was an alliance of interested stakeholders in the medical tourism industry who were doing fantastic work bringing patients for treatment in a number of specialist medical fields, from dentistry to physiotherapy.
The highlight of the Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster’s calendar was an annual conference called CIHT (Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference). Ognjen encouraged me to participate where he promised a great conference with some outstanding presentations and people to interview.
I was stunned by the high-quality of the international experts who had all made the journey to the Crikvenica Riviera for this health conference out of season in November. Keynote speakers I got to interview included Keith Pollard, Editor-in-Chief of the International Medical Travel Journal, Ilan Geva from the USA, a leading medical tourism (and other) branding specialist, and Sherene Azli, the charismatic CEO of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council.
Sherene’s presentation was one of the finest I have seen at every conference, and little did I know it, but that interview started a chain of events which would have me on that plan to Kuala Lumpur less than a year later.
A year later, I was back in Crikvenica, this time also as a (terrible) conference speaker, sharing the podium with medical tourism experts who had flown in from leading establishmnents such as Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic.
The Crikvenica was a hit, and a significant player in the global medical tourism calendar. And after the horrors of the 2020 pandemic, I shall once more be making my way down to the Crikvenica Riviera early next month, to take part in CIHT 2021.
After a brief (ok, not so brief) COVID interruption last year, Croatian medical tourism is back, and with some very useful additions to the story. The massive expansion of Ryanair (40 destinations for Zagreb alone by next summer) is opening up affordable Croatian medical tourism to more countries and destinations than ever before.
Another welcome trend is the rise in the remote work culture. Croatia is enjoying considerable success in its digital nomad story, and the excellent services of the medical tourism industry should be inserted into that initiative, to the benefit of all sides.
CIHT 2021 once more has a very strong lineup, and anyone interested in the medical tourism industry will find a night for them at this year’s event. You can see the programme of the two-day event above, and you can get more details and register on the official website.
I can’t promise you a trip to Malaysia if you do attend, but it is definitely one of the best organised, most social, and content-rich conferences on the Croatian conference scene.