Friday, 9 November 2018

Safe Croatia: Understanding Chinese Perceptions of Croatian Medical Tourism

A fascinating pilot survey in China by a New York university at the 6th Crikvenica International Health Tourism Conference on November 8, 2018 opens up an intriguing possibility for Croatian medical tourism. Small steps, but ones worth following up. 

The more I get involved in the Croatian medical tourism story, the more fascinated I become. And the more I become convinced that Croatian medical tourism is the single most important sector for Croatia to be investing its time and marketing in. With so many competitive advantages, as we have previously discussed, the only thing that is holding Croatia back from this potentially billion-dollar industry, is local cohesion, a brand and a strategy and roadmap of how to get to the next level.

Yesterday, we touched on the views of various international participants of the conference, which included 18 high-quality speakers, all experts and market leaders in their medical tourism fields. You can read that article here, an article with a Malaysian feel after Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council CEO Sherene Azli's eye-opening presentation on how Malaysia became the number one medical tourism destination in the world. We will publish an interview with Sherene shortly.

Although I knew that the Kvarner health cluster was the most progressive body in the emerging Croatian medical tourism industry, I will confess to being more than stunned at the quality of the speakers - both Croatian and international - as well as some of the very niche topics which were presented. Professor Christine A. Lai, from the State University of New York Buffalo State, for example, with a presentation entitled Understanding Chinese Perceptions Toward Croatian Medical Tourism.

Niche indeed... 

And fascinating. 


The potential of the Chinese medical tourism market had already been touched upon during the Malaysian presentation, as Sherene pointed out some of the regional opportunities for Malaysia. With changes to China's infamous one-child policy, there are now apparently over 40 million Chinese women over 40 (as I understood it) interested in IVF treatment. If Malaysia could position itself as the regional leader in that industry, Malaysia's already booming health tourism industry would boom even more. But how could there be an opportunity for Croatian medical tourism with Chinese patients?

I sadly missed the opening of Professor Lai's presentation as I was interviewing Sherine, but as I understood things, Professor Lai's academic connections to China enabled a very limited modified Fishbein survey on perceptions of medical tourism destinations around the world. The sample size was small and very educated (young students), so there is no suggestion that this is a definitive study, but rather perhaps a seed worth planting to see if it could turn into something very solid indeed. As Professor Lai's slides showed, Croatia is being discovered by a greater number of Chinese each year. 


South Korea, Germany, USA, Japan and Croatia were included in the study. The most important factor in the study for Chinese respondents? Safety. One of Croatia's strengths. Croatia, Full of Safe Places. Maybe time to make more of the branding of Ivan Vucetic from Hvar, the father of dactyloscopy...  


So what are the attributes which are most important to this small educated Chinese sample? Scores above out of 5. Safety. 


And from a medical tourism point of view? The requirements were understandably more stringent. 


And then the big shock. Taking into consideration all the factors from safety to price in Japan, South Korea, Germany, USA and Croatia, there was only one clear winner - Croatia. And look how strongly Croatia performed on safety.  


A summary of the scores. 


It is too early to start building clinics in Zagreb and beyond for millions of incoming tourists to the Croatian medical tourism industry, but it is not too soon to start taking the findings of this very small sample and expanding it to see where this might lead. The perception of 'safe' in this increasingly troubled world, combined with strong medical reputation, great prices and a strong tourism offer, could well prove to be quite a bonanza for the Croatian medical tourism industry. 

The Croatian National Tourist Board opened an office in Shanghai last week.  One of the lessons from Malaysia which I will be looking at in my interview with Sherene Azli is the use of all Malaysian institutions to promote the medical tourism industry. The Malaysian Healthcare Tourism Council only has two offices abroad (from memory in Vietnam and Indonesia) - all the rest of the marketing is done through the network of offices of the Malaysian Tourist Board. 

Imagine the same happened in Shanghai. Croatia, the safe European destination full of tourism, but also a destination for high-quality, affordable medical tourism. 

Croatia could hit its goal of becoming a 12-month tourist destination quicker than planned if it plays its cards right. 

The time for a big push on Croatian medical tourism is now. 

To learn more about the Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference, click here

To follow the latest on the Croatian medical tourism industry on TCN, click here.


Thursday, 8 November 2018

Malaysia Shines at CIHT Kvarner Health Tourism Conference in Crikvenica, Croatia

November 8, 2018 - How Malaysia became the world's best medical tourism destination, lessons in branding Croatian health tourism, and much more in an outstanding first day of the Kvarner Health Cluster CIHT conference in Crikvenica.

I had known in the back of my mind somewhere that the Kvarner health cluster was doing an amazing job at promoting health tourism on the northern coast of Croatia, but it was only today that I fully appreciated quite how well they were doing. An email exchange with leading global medical travel branding expert Ilan Geva recently led me to attending his specialised workshop on how to brand Croatia as a medical tourism destination in Zagreb earlier this week, and he filled me with enough enthusiasm and curiosity that I found myself on the road at 6am this morning - destination Crikvenica for the Kvarner health cluster's 6th Crikvenica International Health Tourism Conference at Hotel Omorika overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The conference, also supported by local regional and national bodies and tourist boards, included representation from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Tourism and Croatian National Tourist Board.  


I have attended a number of conferences in recent months in Croatia, and there were so many aspects of CIHT that really caught the eye, once one had devoured all the superbly presented information on the event website, including welcome video messages from four key international speakers. There are 18 international speakers in all, experts in their field back in their native countries, and each with some expertise to share to help the Kvarner health cluster and medical tourism in Croatia learn and grow. One of my favourite details - simultaneous translate available in both English and Croatian (speakers spoke in different languages - see photo above) - although I didn't use the service, the speed with which the panelists answered questions indicated what a high-quality job the interpreters were doing. 


The high-quality nature of the international expertise was perhaps best illustrated after the introductions, as the Kvarner Health Cluster made a presentation to its six ambassadors in recognition of their work. 

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Keith Pollard, Editor in Chief of International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ), Claudia Mika, founder and CEO of Temos International in Germany, Lutz Lungwitz, President of the German Medical Wellness Association, Daniel Coulton Shaw, co-founder of Global Clinic Ranking and Smile Clinic Slovakia, Ognjen Bagatin, CEO of Bagatin Clinic in Zagreb, and Ilan Geva. Geva was put to the back of the list for the presentations, as he was given an additional gift - a Luka Modric football shirt, which he had jokingly requested previously. A nice touch. 


It was particularly pleasing seeing young Bagatin get recognised for his efforts. There is no more avid - or effective - promoter of medical tourism in Croatia today, and his tireless travelling of the globe and local lobbying to move the story forward has placed his as the key person in developing the Croatian medical tourism story. 

With such a star-studded lineup, I was expecting some great information and presentations, but I was not quite prepared for what followed. Malaysia has been named as the best in medical tourism travel for several years in a row, and Sherene Azli, CEO of the Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council was on her second visit to Croatia to explain how they did it. It was perhaps the most impressive presentation I have heard in my time in Croatia - of how to make an industry go from nothing to the world's best in just a few short years. And I was not the only one who was absolutely stunned at the Malaysian approach and cohesion of all the major stakeholders; I overheard one of Croatia's most successful clinics (I will not mention which) approach Sherene after the presentation, gushing with praise at the achievement, and lamenting the fact that such togetherness could be achieved elsewhere but not in Croatia.   

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Sherene kindly gave TCN an interview in the November Crikvenica sunshine, which I will publish in full in the coming days. It is quite a story, but I leave you for the moment with two things - the slide above listing all the major stakeholders who are all working as one, with Sherene coordinating all. About 90% of her job is managing the stakeholders, but 100% unity of the relevant institutions from marketing to arrival at the airport. A dedicated medical tourism waiting lounge is the first contact, which includes a transfer to the clinic. And the second teaser for now - take a tour of the Malaysian medical tourism experience in the official video below.  

And then perhaps the nicest moment of the morning session of the first day of this Kvarner health conference - a thank you to Croatia from Sherene not only for some thoughtful hospitality she had never encountered in 60 other countries she has visited, but hospitality which showed her how Malaysia could improve its service and hospitality thanks to her experience in Croatia. 

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I am probably the only Muslim in the room, she said, as she showed us a slide of two tiny details that made her feel truly welcome and that had never happened anywhere else. On the left, prayer mat, qibla and Koran which she found in her room, on the right Halal breakfast options. 

"I have only come across this halal option once before on my travels," she said. "At the Zagreb Hilton last year."

Well done Croatia. Those little details make a big difference.  

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Sherene was not the only fascinating speaker. The first morning session consisted of the following:

Is Kvarner health a tourism destination following the EU scenarios for health tourism development? Milena Persic, Full Professor at the Faculty of Tourism and Hospitality Management in Croatia.

Developing a medical travel strategy for a hospital or clinic. Keith Pollard of IMTJ. Keith, pictured above right, is a fellow Brit and also kindly gave an interview on the potential of Croatian medical tourism, one which I will also publish shortly. 

How to use TRUST in building the brand of your country, hospital, and people. Ilan Geva from the United States.  

Understanding Chinese perceptions towards Croatian medical tourism: a Fishbein model based on competitive analysis. Christine A. Lai, Professor at the State University of New York Buffalo State, USA. 

University Eye Hospital Svjetlost - from a single practitioner office to an international chain of eye care centers. Ivan Gabric from Eye Hosptial Svjetlost in Croatia.

A global patient stream turning online - the key ingredients to grow your patient base. Martina Viduka, Clinic Relationship Manager of Qunomedical, Germany. 

France Surgery - the key to success. Carine Briat-Hilaire, CEO and Co-Founder of France SURGERY, France.

Development of international cooperation in the Lublin Medicine Cluster in the field of scientific research and innovation in medicine, health, and education. Dariusz Matosiuk, Vice-Rector for science at the Medical University of Lublin, Poland. 

Quite an international field, with some truly fascinating topics, even for a non-medical person such as myself. 


(Ilan Geva at the Bagatin Clinic Croatian branding workshop in Zagreb earlier this week)

"Tell us a little about the branding of Croatian medical tourism from an industry perspective, and how can it be improved," I asked the first panel from the audience. 

"Croatia doesn't have a medical tourism brand. Period. I told you I am direct, but that is the truth. It has GREAT potential. It has some brilliant businesses such as Bagatin, which are doing incredible things, but private businesses cannot brand a country. The politicians need to provide the legislative framework for medical tourism to operate effectively. Then they need to set a budget. Then they need to get the hell out of the way and let the professionals deliver."

It was a theme echoed by Svjetlost's Ivan Grabic, whose frustration with the lack of national branding and promotion was not hard to detect. I asked him what he would do with a blank paper and pen and a mandate to deliver medical tourism in Croatia. He was extremely candid - and smart. Bring the clinics together to agree what they can offer. Then go to the government and involve the official stakeholders, for only the State can create a country brand, not a private company. Then agree a budget, which is where the fun begins. Gabric said that for every euro spent on marketing his eye clinic, he knows he will get 15-20 euro of business. Creating a Croatian medical tourism brand will not only take time to be successful (several years for France Surgery and the Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council), and so it will be seen as a shot in the dark with no immediate results. And that's where things break down with official cooperation and funding. 

So the current state of the Croatian medical tourism industry, which has the potential to bring in BILLIONS to Croatia is this (from this Englishman's perspective):

1. The biggest brand for health care in Croatia does not mention Croatia - it is Kvarner health.

2. The biggest advocate of Croatian medical tourism is one private clinic in Zagreb (and soon in Split) - Bagatin. 

3. Some of the best eye surgery (and probably the best for quality and price) in Europe is to be found in Zagreb and 6 other locations in the former Yugoslavia - Svjetlost.

4. There is a hospital in Zabok which is the exclusive partner of the world's best hospital, Mayo Clinic, on a new healthcare initiative - the OneOme RightMed pharmacogenetic test - which can save hundreds of thousands of lives a year and save hundreds of billions of dollars. 

5. ALL the international medical tourism experts agree on the potential of health tourism in Croatia. And ALL the experts say the next step is for all the stakeholders to work together to make that happen.

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Here is Sherene's slide on how Malaysia did it again - a reminder of how Malaysia did it. 

In the front row at today's Kvarner Health cluster conference were senior representatives of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Tourism and the Croatian National Tourist Board - all key players. 

Can Croatia do a Malaysia? Over to you, Croatia.

As for me, now I REALLY want to go and visit Malaysia... Learn more about the Malaysia Healthcare Medical Council here.


To follow the latest news regarding the Kvarner health cluster and medical tourism in Croatia in general, follow the TCN medical tourism tag.

For more on Kvarner health and the Crikvenica International Health Tourism Conference, click here.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Croatian Medical Tourism Meets Ilan Geva Branding Experience at Bagatin

November 6, 2018 - These are exciting times for the Croatian medical tourism industry, and while there seems to be little interest from the State authorities, the leading private clinics in the Croatian medical tourism industry are pushing forward, engaging the help of leading world experts in health travel to help them grow. 

Life running Total Croatia News is full of diversity, and no two days are the same. Given the growing reach of TCN these days (now the number-one-searched website in the world for news about Croatia), we tend to cover an increasing number of diverse topics. As digital nomads, the chance to work remotely gives us more freedom to cover all aspects of life in Croatia. And so while the weekend was spent picking olives in the family field and reporting on the natural way of life in Dalmatia, Monday morning brought me to Zagreb for a niche seminar organised by the Croatian medical tourism industry. 

As followers of TCN will note, the potential of the Croatian medical tourism industry is one of my big discoveries in recent years. Here, in a country which welcomes 18 million tourists a year and whose GDP includes 20% from tourism, Croatia has a world-class tourism product which is hardly being marketed at all by its tourism gurus. Examples of the world-class Croatian medical tourism product lie, for example, in Mayo Clinic's co-founded pharmacogenetic OneOme project choosing St Catherine Specialty Hospital as its European partner for its ground-breaking RightMed test; no less than three Zagreb clinics named in the top six in Europe for dermatology, including Bagatin Clinic in first place;  and Eye Clinic Svjetlost winning 'Best Live Surgery Award" at the "ophthalmology Oscars" in Milan, where a team of four expert surgeons performed 5 complicated eye surgeries in 60 minutes at the world's largest video surgeon congress, VideoCatarattaRefrattiva. If you are interested in learning more about Croatian medical tourism, here are 25 things to know.

I recently interviewed one of the big speakers on the global health travel circuit, and his global perspective of the potential of the Croatian medical tourism industry was one more piece in the jigsaw for this correspondent. You can read the thoughts of Dr. Prem Jagyasi here.

The leaders in the Croatian medical tourism industry are undoubtedly Bagatin Clinic and St Catherine Specialty Hospital, whose efforts on the international stage have done much to put Croatia on the health tourism map worldwide, and the potential for growth in this sector is enormous, an obvious area for Croatia to expand its stated aim to become a 12-month destination. 

 And yet... 


Croatian Medical Tourism: Are the Tourism Chiefs Interested at All?

Yesterday's Croatian medical tourism seminar in Zagreb was organised by Bagatin Clinic, bringing together the key elements in the industry for a workshop with health travel branding guru, Ilan Geva. I was delighted to be invited to cover the event. It is one thing writing about the potential of a sector of Croatian tourism, but it is quite another to get an open and honest appraisal of Croatia's potential from one of the world authorities. 

Despite being invited, not one person from the Ministry of Tourism attended. 

Despite being invited, not one person from the Croatian National Tourist Board attended.

This lack of attendance was in stark contrast to another conference I attended recently - Days of Croatian Tourism on Hvar - where I would be surprised if anyone from thise two State bodies did NOT attend. Two days of fun travelling down to a beautiful island is a lot more appealing than a 5-minute drive to help build Croatia's future. 

In a room full of the top players in the Croatian medical travel industry, with perhaps the world's leading guru on health tourism branding leading a niche seminar on how Croatia should brand its health tourism, a niche tourism sector where Croatia has the potential to be a top 10 global player bringing billions to the economy. And not one representative from the Ministry of Tourism or Croatian National Tourist Board could attend. I am sure that the justification will be that there was an office to open in Shanghai and the World Travel Market in London, but with all the people employed, was there really nobody who could have come? 

It should be noted that there were two officials there - the Deputy Director of the Zagreb Tourist Board and an Assistant Minister of Health who, to his credit, lasted almost the whole day and not just the usual 15-minute photo op at the opening, as is usually the casewith politicians the world over. 

Geva put his engaged audience through its paces, and it was an excellent exercise for those attending to look at the strengths and weaknesses of their own brand, as well as how Croatia should looking to build its national health tourism brand. Geva said that there are about 100 countries in the world which practice medical tourism, a number he thinks will be reduced to 50 by 2050. Of these, Gera believes there will be a 'Premier League' of about 20 countries offering quality health tourism, and Croatia could be in that elite league, even in the top 10, which is the stated goal of Bagatin Clinic CEO, Ognjen Bagatin. 

"But you need to all come together to build that strategy."

Perhaps someone can pass the message on to the Ministry of Tourism and Croatian National Tourist Board. 

Croatian Medical Tourism: Can We All Work Together?

While branding was the topic of the day, it was the other things that Geva talked about that interested me even more. Which country, for example, does medical tourism best, and what are the best practices?

"Malaysia, they are brilliant. And they have one point of entry - the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council - a dedicated department in the Ministry of Health." 

There is another health conference in Croatia later this week, where Ilan Geva is also a keynote speaker - the Crkvenica International Health Conference, organised by the  Kvarner Health Cluster. 

Among the other key speakers (more than 18 international speakers in all)? Sherene Azli, CEO of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (watch her conference welcome video here). 


In case someone at the Ministry of Tourism of Croatian National Tourist Board thought listening to the boss of the best-run medical tourism industry in the world might be useful. 

The energy at yesterday's seminar was extremely positive, with some great brainstorming and idea swapping. 

"The role of the politicians is to make the legislation easier, find a budget for health tourism, and then get out of the way," said Gera, who first got involved in the Croatian medical tourism industry ten years ago with a clinic in Rovinj. 

Once all the Croatia-specific niches were taken into account, the key message came down to one thing:

"You need to work together."

"And so, with all this great energy and ideas," I asked, to nobody in particular, "what are the next steps? How do we get together to move this forward?"

How indeed, if we can't get some of the most important stakeholders to even come and listen to world experts who are trying to help. 

It will be interesting to see who shows up in Crikvenica. 

To learn more about Croatian medical tourism, follow our dedicated health tourism section



Monday, 29 October 2018

Ilan Geva Helping Croatian Health Tourism: Bagatin Workshop, Crikvenica Conference

October 29, 2018 - The Croatian medical tourism story continues with one of the leading global health travel experts Ilan Geva visiting Zagreb and Crikvenica next week.  

I am quite new to the Croatian medical tourism scene, despite having covered tourism in Croatia for a number of years, and the more I investigate, the more excited about the possibilities. I will confess that it was a surprise to find the level of excellence on offer in a number of medical fields when I did my initial research for Health Tourism is Coming Home: Why Zagreb is the Next Health Tourism Hot Spot


The one big difference between health tourism and mainstream tourism in Croatia is that the majority of players are in the private sector, and as such, tend to be more driven and progressive. After just a few months of watching the Croatian health tourism sector from distance, I am a little breathless after years of the slow pace of progress of tourism in Croatia. 

Next week is another big week for the industry, with the Crikvenica International Health Conference the main event, which will have several keynote speakers, including medical travel expert, Ilan Geva, who will be combining his trip with an invitation-only workshop in Zagreb hosted by one of the pioneers of medical tourism in Croatia, Bagatin Clinic.  

Ilan Geva is a global Medical Travel expert, specializing in branding and consumer behavior who provides consulting, teaching, training and help in practicing and implementing all brand touchpoints. He develops and creates Brand platforms including brand vision, brand strategy & brand personality, using strategic business solutions for multinational, national and regional entities. His work has won over 100 industry awards around the world. Ilan assisted health ministries, medical tourism councils, destinations, hospitals clinics and doctors. Ilan Geva is a global Medical Travel expert, specializing in branding and consumer behavior who provides consulting, teaching, training and help in practicing and implementing all brand touchpoints. He develops and creates Brand platforms including brand vision, brand strategy & brand personality, using strategic business solutions for multinational, national and regional entities. His work has won over 100 industry awards around the world. Ilan assisted health ministries, medical tourism councils, destinations, hospitals clinics and doctors.


After his workshop at Bagatin Clinic in Zagreb, Ilan Geva will be heading to the Crikvenica on the Adriatic coast as a keynote speaker at the Crikvenica International Health Tourism Conference on November 8-9, with a presentation title: “How to use TRUST in building the brand of your country, hospital, and people” For more information on Ilan Geva and the rest of the conference in Crikvenica, visit the official conference website

To follow the latest in the Croatian medical tourism story, follow the dedicated TCN medical tourism channel.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

How to Get a FREE Holiday to Croatia, 12 Months a Year

October 16, 2018 - Croatia attracts about 18 million tourists a year. And you could be one of them. For free. Any month of the year. Here's how.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Croatia's St Catherine Specialty Hospital, OneOme Partner to Increase Pharmacogenetic Testing Access in Europe

October 15, 2018 - Talking medical care to a new level in Croatia and  Europe, OneOme, co-founded with Mayo Clinic, and St Catherine Specialty Hospital in Zagreb, announce a partnership to increase access to pharmacogenetic testing across Europe. 

Sunday, 14 October 2018

On NHS Waiting List in UK? Get Free Treatment Now in Croatia Before Brexit

October 14, 2018 - The 2nd Adriatic Health and Tourism Investment Forum took place earlier this week in Zagreb. It was a very international affair, offering up a host of investment opportunities and initiatives, including some surprising ones - free healthcare for NHS patients coming from the UK to Croatia, example. 

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Lessons from Slovenia: Are Croatian Officials Serious About Foreign Investment?

The 2nd Adriatic Health Tourism Investment Forum concluded in Zagreb on October 12, 2018 - a thought-provoking event on many levels for this long-term resident of Croatia.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Lifestyle Medicine in Focus of Second Day of Adriatic Health Investment Forum

“Diet is a key factor for good health.”

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