Kisumu Kenya and its Medical Tourism Hub Aspirations

Someone Has Filled the Local Economic Development and Tourism Authorities With a Vision Often Sold to the Gullible for a Quick "Consulting" Fee...Again

A recently published article in the Business Daily Africa,  a Kenya news outlet, titled “What Kisumu Needs to Win Health Tourists” advances a curious idea that Kisumu actually has a chance to become a “medical tourism hub.”  I was sent the article to read and review and jot down my impressions of what I read.

They’ve been told (by an unidentified adviser) that they need more investment into privatized health services and facilities, and that the vision must “start with” buy-in to a vision and culture of excellence in healthcare delivery. Really, you don’t say?  What brilliant genius! Did they tell you how to prepare for that? Or, like some of my previous clients in Africa, did you think that a phone call to the AFDB would produce the cash to make that happen?  Or did you think that A&K Global Health (now Agile Global Health) will start to attract medical tourism patients to your location and fill your new private hospital overnight?

And they’ve also been told that an easy starting point is to target medical conferences to win business away from Mombasa, a leader in African continent scientific conventions.  Where have we heard this before? From conference companies posing as consultancies who will line their own pockets for both consulting fees and for event organizing fees. Even if the outcome changes nothing whatsoever.

The Hotel and Guest Accommodations outside the inpatient setting

High-end hotels and boutique accommodations must be appropriate for patients. They must also invite the medical tourism business. Many hoteliers in the USA and 117 countrirs have told me in no uncertain terms that they don’t want their hotel lobbies to look like (or smell like) a hospital lobby.  Buy-in will be a challenge. Not to mention that many high-end hotels and boutique accommodations were never planned, designed nor operate as a patient-appropriate setting. Electrical outlets, floor coverings, live plants and organic matter, menus and staff training and development must all be adapted for medical respite care use before a high-end hotel or boutique accommodation can be declared “appropriate” for medical tourism. 

Infrastructure Must be Evaluated in the Context of Medical Tourism

I’ve taken urban and regional planners, architects and other consultant experts with me on projects to conduct destination audits and gap analyses in Africa, the Caribbean, and other remote and unlikely destinations hopeful or misinformed that they can thrive as medical tourism hubs. The first thing they examine is clean, pipe-borne water to feed a hospital a minimum of 300 gallons of water, per-bed-per day. Another consideration they often raise is that land acquisition often displaces people making a living with subsistence farming. Where will they go if the land is acquired to build a private hospital or diagnostic center in their community? How will they earn a living while construction occurs? Where will they farm? Because when the farming disappears, it isn’t as if they have the required skills to work at the hospital instead. That requires specialized training and education. 

Roads must be maintained so that ambulance rides are smooth and bumps and potholes don’t injure patients on the road to the hospital.  Alternative routes must be accessible at all times in the event of a blockage due to an accident or natural disaster such as flooding or landslides or rockslides. Not that Kisumu has these potential risks, but the checklist must address risks and workarounds regardless. Bridges and drainage are critical, not just having roads.

A Niche is Great. But Medical Tourism Hub as a Niche?

And if the community is seeking a niche, why in heaven’s name, without a brand, a cadre of internationally-renowned specialists, consultants and surgeons and devoid of key, international-recognized research institutes (not those who paid for a license to put up a sign that they are now “affiliated” with MD Anderson,  Harvard International, or some other foreign brand outlet) would you pick “medical tourism hub development” as your chosen niche?

Malaria, HIV and Sickle Cell Anemia and Tropical Diseases as a medical tourism hub? 

People hear Malaria and HIV and Tropical Diseases and they want to be on the other side of the earth from that. These are feared, dreaded maladies. Who in their right mind would advertise to consumers, given what is known about the neuroscience of the amygdala in marketing and plaster that on the front page as an attraction differentiator. It would probably kill whatever tourism, sports and culture tourism they’ve already developed.  Plus, those maladies are public health issues that would attract people with these diseases to the region. Did they speak with their Public Health officials before deciding that this was a feasible and viable approach? Or are these simply words that a consultant recited without the clinical wherewithal to grasp the impact of their recommendation?  Ask Turkey how that’s gone with the Russians bring in Tuberculosis unchecked into Turkish Medical Tourism outlets! 

The two local universities may produce intellectual capital, but first curriculum in hospitality management, tourism marketing, destination development and healthcare business administration must be evaluated in the context of building a medical tourism hub. The article gives me the impression that the only assessed medical training and little else.

Attracting Private Health Facilities Investment

For the uninitiated, I want to share just how difficult it is to raise volumes as a medical tourism startup. In Africa, in every nation where I’ve been called upon to consult, someone has gone before me and talked up the idea that if they build it, the masses will come and the investors and operators will be buried in boatloads of cash. That’s just not real or true. Not throughout Africa. Not in the USA or points in between. It’s a great sounding talking point by someone with an ulterior motive like selling conferences and taking your money and patting themselves on the back for the revenues they cart away in wheelbarrows to their bank, but conferences and FDI don’t mean you’ll fill those beds. Take the Shetty project in the Cayman Islands. Talk is cheap about 2000 beds, but they haven’t yet built out 2000 beds and can’t fill what they already have which is about 1/10th of the project. And the local private hospitals are not really pleased about how it cannibalized their market share but the Shetty project negotiated a tax holiday for several years. 

Investors loan money but they want it back as soon as possible so they can go invest in new projects.  Investors who underwrite loans of millions of dollars won’t bring their checkbooks to a place where they cannot pencil out their ROI and exit strategy forthwith.  Even then, a “jumpstart” of a medical tourism hub isn’t done by the long and arduous process of attracting investors, designing and constructing a hospital (not an overnight endeavor and therefore not “jumpstart” in the usual sense of the word.)

Conventions and MICE? Fine. That’s a different industry.

That’s not medical tourism and it certainly isn’t a medical tourism “hub” qualifier. It is a separate industry. You want that? By all means, go for it. It isn’t, as many have learned before you, a means to medical tourism destination development. I can name 25 locations that have tried it without inhaling and exhaling in between. Don’t be so easily beguiled. Or, alternatively, implore the reporter who wrote this piece to research and fact find more and apply critical thinking, not simply parrot the propaganda of some consultants who walk away with cash and leave you without the results you dream of. Demand they explain their recommendations in detail and support it with facts, statistics and results they achieved in building fully-functional, thriving medical tourism “hubs” because so far, I cannot truly define any “hub hopeful” as successful, thriving, leading edge, or sustainable by any stretch of the imagination. Not in Africa, Europe, Asia, LATAM or even the USA.  And if you don’t agree, I am totally receptive and invite you to name some and let’s chat about them.