Hoteliers seeking new business opportunities should look at medical tourism, particularly now that healthcare reform is changing the landscape of medical care as we know it.

While most of the hospitality industry is struggling to regain health, hotels associated with medical tourism seem to be thriving. And, according to a recent study by Deloitte, the medical tourism industry is expected to achieve 35-percent annual growth in coming years.

The reasons, according to Deloitte, are increases in:

• Demand for outpatient and cosmetic surgery;

• Globalization of the U.S. workforce;

• Access to low-cost global transportation;

• A higher profile of medical tourism offerings through employers and health plans struggling to live with tighter margins resulting from healthcare reform. Several insurers have launched medical tourism pilot programs within their health benefits plans.
• Government support from host countries that see medical tourism as a growth industry.

Abbe Bendell, senior vice president and chief executive officer of Jackson International Hospital in Miami, defines medical tourism as “traveling across borders for effective healthcare, either abroad or from state to state.” It involves “normally effective procedures and/or emergencies,” she adds.

Bendell notes tourism ministries consider medical tourism a good way to bring people and money into their countries; at the same time, “We have a lot of medical tourism coming in from Central and South America and the Caribbean.”

Her hospital recommends appropriate local hotels and has a department dedicated to supporting families of patients. Among the criteria a hotel must meet: transportation facilities, reasonable rates, cleanliness, a good neighborhood and positive guest feedback.

The ultimate impact of healthcare reform remains to be seen, but at least one health official suggests it will result in more business for hospitals—and by extension, hotels—abroad.

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