Product Characteristics of a Medical Tourism Destination
Tangible and Intangible Assets
Medical tourism destinations are made up of both tangible and intangible assets. Tangible assets could include places such as hospitals, clinics, health resorts, rehabilitation centers, dialysis treatment centers, or and geographical features such as beaches or mountains, historical sites, and attractions. Intangible assets might include culture, customs, and history. Medical tourism visitors choose a destination to find a healthcare solution coupled with heuristic tangible or intangible features that are different from those they can experience at home.
Medical tourism visitors have varying motivations for visiting a destination but increasingly, they are looking more for discovery than escape on their vacations or cheap health services. In fact, the word cheap in its many synonymous forms (cheaper, value-based, or competitive) probably don’t even enter into their thinking. This tendency influences the types of tangible and intangible assets a particular traveler seeks out. In conjunction with the preference for discovery over escape, today’s consumers are ‘aspirational’ in that they seek self-actualization in their travel choices.
For most medical and dental tourism visitors, travel is a discretionary purchase, so consumers may not travel as much when budget is scarce and buying on credit is not possible. It is not advisable for a medical tourism visitor to travel by air in an inappropriate setting such as an economy fare ticket if the seating over a long period without room to stretch out or avoid friction or pressure on recent surgical wounds can cause complications that would unravel all the good work done by the doctors and nurses at the healthcare destination. Medical tourism visitors must often remain at the destination for periods longer than the average leisure tourist or business traveler, and in selected accommodations that provide the right setting for varying recovery periods and recovery requirements at a hotel, resort or rehabilitation center.
While health tourism facilities are unique stakeholders, a destination has many stakeholder groups. The most important stakeholders include a destination’s local residents, health tourism entrepreneurs (the local businesses), and the visitors. Each of these stakeholder groups have various needs and getting them to work together can be another challenge for destination marketing authorities and destination management companies (DMCs). It is especially important to gain the cooperation of the two resident groups, locals and health tourism entrepreneurs, in order to present a unified brand message to the visitors. The government is a stakeholder in health tourism business and economic development because of the economic impact the industry brings, as well as the tax revenue. The government’s stake in health and wellness tourism affects the destination and the destination marketers are affected by government regulations and policies regarding visas, border control, taxes, health tourism badging and infrastructure standards, and promotional funding.
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Health Tourism Destination Branding
A brand is a visual representation of a health tourism destination’s unique health tourism combination product characteristics, those both functional and non-functional, which has taken on a relevant meaning to the consumer. From a health tourism visitor’s perspective, a destination’s brand could is the amalgam of all the information, feelings, and experience they have with a medical tourism destination.
Seeing or hearing the destination brand brings to mind certain associations about what will likely happen when they are there. It can also act as a heuristic for consumer decision-making. The responsibility of the government and destination marketers is to suggest feelings of trust, confidence, status and exclusivity that would make a health tourism shopper favor it over others. None of these feelings are raised when the messages of the individual stakeholder brands and the government’s destination brand messages are misaligned.
If a destination presents assets as modern, sophisticated, world-class, technologically-advanced, while the stakeholder messages play on cheap, competitive or value-based and tout meaningless and unrecognized accreditations and certifications potential patients and visitors feel confused. A confused mind does not buy; instead, it seeks out clarity elsewhere.
Medical tourism buyers want to read and hear influencer testimonials and externally validated statistics of care, reports of actual outcomes and patient delight. Destination brand awareness is important because it increases the likelihood that the destination will be part of a consumer’s consideration set for a medical tourism destination service when making a purchase decision. Health tourism destination marketers create a brand identity for their place and its assets, and brand image is what the consumer perceives of it. A health tourism destination’s brand image is made up of interconnected associations that health tourism prospective consumers hold perceptions on: destination and health provider attributes, benefits, and attitudes.