As previously announced on TCN, CIHT 2022 will be holding its tenth Jubilee edition later this week, the premier health tourism conference in Croatia. As with all previous years, there will be a very international field of quality expert speakers, including one of the conference’s most-loved keynote speakers, global branding expert, Ilan Geva. TCN caught up with Geva ahead of his latest visit to the Kvarner Riviera, to learn more about the industry in the wake of the pandemic, Croatia’s position, and the conference itself, a conference which has strong local support (CIHT is organised by the Crikvenica Tourist Board and Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster, with the Kvarner Region Tourist Board a key sponsor).
1. The medical tourism industry has been shaken up by the pandemic just like every other aspect of life. As things begin to get back to a semblance of normal, what has changed in the industry since pre-pandemic 2019?
A lot has changed. Number one: the consumers. Many of them want to make sure that healthcare providers understand them before they even arrive. That creates a completely different customer profile, and their expectations go together with anxieties and lower trust. Two years of having conflicting messages, different safety rules in different locations etc. contributed to hesitance and wanting to know everything in advance. The second big factor: Transportation is not the same. Airlines are not back in full force. Yes, they may have gotten the airplanes back, but they suffer from a lack of personnel, which means less flights all over the world, which means less comfortable scheduling for patients. The workforce has shrunk in hospitals, clinics, hotels etc., and with it, the level of service deteriorated.
2. You have been a strong supporter of the Croatian medical tourism industry for many years now. What are its strengths and opportunities?
The opportunities are obvious, Croatia has great medical professionals in many specialties. I know personally a few that are really excellent in what they do. So, people are the strength. Opportunities were created because of a lack of activity during the pandemic, many patients need treatment, and they need it NOW! I’m not sure about the rest since the last time I’ve been there, so things may have changed. That is why I am back, and that is why Vmarsh Healthcare, of which I’m the Director of Strategy, is present at this conference to meet with the members of the Kvarner Cluster and see how we can help them. One thing I sense from afar, Croatians are extremely patriotic and proud (as they should be), but that alone doesn’t sell anything.
3. And its threats and weaknesses?
The threats are not just in Croatia. Europe is in trouble, as well as other destinations around the world. We live in a very precarious time, very unstable. The economy is in bad shape; prices are going up all over, obviously, the geopolitical scene is changing rapidly etc. A specific weakness is in the fact that health providers are still not willing to invest in their business, and I mean building brands and doing brilliant marketing. Croatia, like many other destinations, has medical professionals who think that if they are good doctors for the domestic population, they can be successful in attracting global clientele. Not so. Learn from the biggest and the most successful, Mayo Clinic invests in marketing and never stops building its’ brand. Does a small clinic owner in Split have a chance without doing the same? (of course they need to do it with a smaller budget, and smarter…)
4. You are back again in sunny Crikvenica for the 10th edition of the Crikvenica International Healthcare Travel conference, a conference you know well. Tell us about the importance and impact of CIHT, and what are you hoping to get out of it this year?
I don’t know if you noticed, but many European medical tourism conferences have vanished…there must be a reason. CIHT has been here for 10 years because they provide a great platform to the local medical travel, hospitality and wellness industries. And they do it year round, not just in an annual conference. The location is wonderful, and the program is always good, with great speakers. The conference is an important part of the medical travel industry in Kvarner because it is part of building the brand of the destination.
All other conferences are moving around from one location to another, for them its all about the conference, not the local community. CIHT is all about the local community and the Kvarner members of the cluster, very different! this year, I want to meet the providers, get a sense of how their business plans are moving forward, and see where I can help the cluster as a whole.
5. You are a global branding expert. Tell us about the branding of Croatia as a medical tourism destination. It almost seems that the organizers of CIHT, the Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster, has a bigger brand in the industry than Croatia itself.
Shall I be politically correct, or truthful? Yes, the Kvarner cluster is doing a better job than the rest of the country. Enough said.
6. Three things the Croatian medical tourism industry should be focusing on to develop.
1. Build a brand. 2. Build a brand, 3. Build a brand. Not a new slogan, not a new logo, not a new ad campaign with a wonderful new headline. No one cares about that! Do not fracture the Croatian medical tourism brand into hundreds of little clinic brands. Last time I heard, Croatia had 250 different local tourism brands, of regions, towns, resorts, villages etc. Don’t do it in Medical tourism, build a few major regional brands and support them, while they are collaborating and not competing with each other…sounds easy, right? Most important, don’t let the doctors drive the marketing, and build the brands from the inside. Want to know more? Come to my presentation 🙂
7. Your presentation is entitled “Thoughts of market penetration strategies for healthcare and wellness operators.” Can you give us a teaser?
See above…it is much more involved around internal brand building than the expensive external stuff.
8. And finally, as a regular visitor to Croatia, tell us what makes it special for you. Your favorite place and activity while you are here.
Since I am not looking for a wife or a girlfriend, it must be the air, the sea, the trees, the food, the clean environment, the people, the wonderful history and colors of the place. It is a fantastic combination that makes all my senses sing.
To learn more about CIHT 2022, and to get your ticket, visit the official website.