Sunday, 8 December 2019

EPIC 2020 in Dubrovnik: Why Disney, Cleveland & Mayo Clinics are Coming to Croatia

December 8, 2019 - EPIC 2020, the first European Patient Experience and Innovation Conference will take place in Dubrovnik in March, with an A-list lineup of speakers.  

"A European patient experience conference in Dubrovnik," said the President of the German Wellness Association as we chatted at the Croatian stand at this week's IMTJ 2019 conference in Berlin. "That looks really cool. I will have to come."

One of things I was most curious about on this week's trip to Berlin was how Croatia's medical tourism stars were perceived on the world stage. Having followed the industry from within Croatia for two years, this was my first glimpse seeing them with their peers from Korea, Germany, and Malaysia. 


And they did more than make up the numbers, with Bagatin Clinic winning the confidence of no less than 20 expert judges to return home to Zagreb as the International Cosmetic Surgery Clinic of the Year 2019. 

Spending time with CEO Ognjen Bagatin is a fun but exhausting experience. His vision is extraordinary, his energy and determination even more so. And so when he told me a couple of months ago that he was bringing Cleveland Clinic to Dubrovnik as presentation partner for the first European Patient Experience and Innovation Conference, I just smiled. I knew it would happen, and I know it will be exceptional. But I hadn't quite anticipated just how much interest the conference would generate within the industry.  

The first inkling of the global interest came at the Crikvenica International Health Conference last month, when a speaker from Mayo Clinic expressed interest in the conference. That initial interest has been transformed into a speaking spot at EPIC 2020, as Mayo Clinic joins a growing illustrious list of speakers from Cleveland Clinic, the Disney Institute and the Editor-in-Chief of IMTJ who will be appearing in Dubrovnik at EPIC 2020 on March 19-21. From the official website:

EPIC brings together some of the most influential physicians, MedTech startups and health professionals from Europe & beyond to the table to improve how your patients will experience healthcare in the near future.

As technology continues to help us achieve previously unattainable results in healthcare, join us for an insiders’ look at which technologies, ideas & innovations are improving the patient experience with some of the leading clinics & healthcare companies of the world so that you can stay ahead. 

There are many more speakers to be added, but below you can find details on a selection of those already confirmed. It promises to be a great event, and yet one more important step to putting Croatia on the medical tourism world map. Learn more about EPIC 2020 from the official website


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To follow the latest from the medical tourism industry, follow the dedicated TCN section

Sunday, 8 December 2019

How Croatia Really Works Versus How They Say It Does

December 8, 2019 - How Croatia really works as opposed to how they want you to think it works - the latest stunning example from the medical tourism Oscars at IMTJ 2019 in Berlin. 

Whisper it quietly, but Croatia has a new tourism product which can compete at the global level of excellence and bring billions to its economy. A product which it SEEMS that Croatian officials are 100% behind and supporting intensively. 

The sector is medical tourism, and industry experts agree that Croatia has the potential (there we go with the 'P' word again) to be in the world's top 10 for this lucrative and rapidly expanding industry, if Croatian officials could unite and put together a coherent strategy, as previously discussed on TCN

And if you look on the surface, things look very good. A nice, shiny promo video called Health Spot Croatia (sadly with just 522 views on YouTube - EDIT - for clarity purposes, this video is from the Zagreb Tourist Board, not national tourist board) to accompany a shiny medical tourism conference in Zagreb earlier this year, which was attended by all the right people. But a conference which had zero impact or next phases apart from talking about the P-word at length and showing how busy officials were working on the latest gift to Croatian tourism. 

But wait - the New York Times published a glowing tribute to the potential of Croatian medical tourism on November 19, with lots of nice quotes from public officials. 

“We see the health tourism as our key product for strengthening our offer and income before and after the packed summer season as health tourists spend more than the summer holiday-makers,” said Slavija Jacan Obratov from the Croatian state tourism board HTZ.

More fine words, and ones which reached the important medium of the New York Times (the article has since been removed from the Times' website, but you can still see it here). And actually, having been very critical of the Croatian tourism chiefs and their lack of engagement in developing Croatia's medical tourism potential, I actually sensed that things were beginning to change at the recent Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference last month.

Encouraged and excited to see this new cohesion and official engagement, and on the back of the positive noises on the pages of the New York Times, and after having invested two years of my life following the story, I decided to invest further. I booked a flight to Berlin for a 3-night stay and attendance at the most important conference of them all, the International Medical Travel Journal 2019 conference and annual awards ceremony. With all this official push to support the potential of Croatia's excellent private clinics and hospitals, how would that actually look like on the world stage compared to all the other key players in the industry?

Well, it looks a little like this. 

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Some destinations are really supporting their clinics - the Balearic Islands Tourist Board had a complete stand (and very interesting approach to promoting tourism - interview soon on TCN).  

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Team Korea were focused, cohesive and overall rock stars.  

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The lovely Malaysians starred again. With a hashtag such as #TogetherWeWin, how could they fail to? Learn how Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council CEO Sherene Azli wowed the conference in Crikvenica last year.  

And Croatia? Just 12 days after those gushing words in the New York Times:

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One fat Brit, two members of a private clinic and two members of a regional health cluster. The entire Croatian presence consisted of TCN, Bagatin Clinic and Kvarner Health Cluster, 5 people in total. 

How Croatia really works v how they say it does, Part One.  

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Andrija Colak from the successful Surf'n'Fries franchise told us in a TCN interview that the best thing about doing business in Croatia is that if you can succeed in Croatia, you really can succeed anywhere in the world. 

And Croatian businesses ARE succeeding on the world stage, and succeeding big time. But not because of official help but in spite of the lack of it. 

It was with more than one tear in my eye that I recorded a truly historic moment for Bagatin Clinic and the medical tourism industry in Croatia, as 20 international expert judges voted Bagatin as the International Cosmetic Surgery Clinic of the Year in Berlin. What an achievement!

It was truly an honour to be there to witness the latest magnificent achievement of one of the most exciting business stories in Croatia after Rimac. 

And while our Croatian officials will no doubt be toasting the success at how good they are at promoting medical tourism for Croatia, my first question is - why was there no presence in Berlin? Followed by what exactly did they do to contribute to that success?

How Croatia really works v how they say it does, Part 2. Private success, independent of public support despite the empty words one reads in the media. 

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Berlin was buzzing with talk of a new medical tourism conference taking place in Europe next March. In Croatia in fact, the first of its kind in Europe and at the very cutting edge of the global industry.

The first European Patient Experience and Innovation Conference, EPIC 2020, will take place in Dubrovnik in March. 

The organiser? No, not those officials with large budgets and worthy words to develop Croatia's medical tourism industry. 

Bagatin Clinic is the organiser, with collaborative international presenter Cleveland Clinic. Additional confirmed speakers include the Mayo Clinic, the Disney Institute, and the Editor-in-Chief of IMTJ. Arguably, one of the most impressive lineups a European medical tourism conference has ever seen. 

A private initiative. 


And while I could easily turn this into a story about Bagatin Clinic and CEO Ognjen's tireless efforts to promote Croatia as well as his own clinic, his clinic's global excellence is mirrored elsewhere. Just look at one of the Leading Hospitals in the Word, St Catherine Specialty Clinic in Zabok, which recently became the first location in Europe to offer the revolutionary Mayo Clinic co-founded OneOme Rightmed pharmacogenetic test. Global excellence once more, just one of many initiatives at St Catherine. 


From medical tourism to any other industry in Croatia, the main mission is the same. Show the world how busy you are at working on Croatia's potential - actually doing something is a secondary concern. I can think of no better example than golf tourism. Golf tourism has been at the heart of Croatia's tourism strategy for TWENTY years, since 1999. In that time, a net total of just one golf course has been built. In 2013, the 7-year plan envisaged 30 new courses by 2020, and yet not only has no work begun, but the net result of this strategy has been a 500-million-dollar lawsuit against Croatia from an Israeli golf investor in Dubrovnik. And yet, as we explored in Saudi Arabian Wine or Golf Tourism in Croatia, Which is More Likely?, there have been no less than THREE Croatian golf tourism conferences this year alone, all attended by the same Assistant Minister of Tourism. 

There is a lot of potential to be discussed, after all... 

To follow the latest from the Croatian medical tourism industry, follow the dedicated TCN section

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Malaysia Healthcare Marvel Wins Big at IMTJ 2019 Berlin Medical Tourism Awards

December 5, 2019 - An exceptional medical conference in Berlin culminates with the Malaysia healthcare marvel winning big at IMTJ 2019.  

Life as a TCN journalist takes me to the most unlikely of places, something I was reflecting on as I found myself sitting on a round table dentistry panel with eminent dentists from the likes of Turkey, Hungary and Romania in Berlin this week. Fun fact from that round table - there is an unpronounceable Hungarian town close to the airports of Vienna and Bratislava which has a population of 32,000 and an astonishing 450 dentists, one for every 85 inhabitants. A powerhouse of European dental tourism.  


Having followed the Croatian medial tourism industry closely for the last two years, I was curious to see how the stars of Croatia would perform on the international stage. It is one thing hearing about how good a clinic is from within Croatia, but pitching them against the world heavyweights could be an entirely different story. I didn't have long to find out, as Bagatin Clinic from Zagreb and Split was crowned International Cosmetic Surgery Clinic of the Year. Congratulations! Having travelled up from Croatia with Ognjen and Andrea and following their journey closely for over two years, it was a moment of immense pride, and they rightly revelled in their considerable achievement. 


But when it came to naming the stars of the conference - on so many levels - there was only one winner. Malaysia.

Quite apart from the fact that the Malaysians are by far the most exotic participants to such conferences due to their delightful and varied traditional attire, who else would think of bringing a walking mascot to an event like this. 

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We will come to the awards presented in a moment, but two unacknowledged awards should also be mentioned here. The presentation which won the most applause, and the most inspiring presentation of the conference came from one of the most popular ladies on the medical tourism circuit, the energetic CEO of Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council, Sherene Azli. This was the second time I had heard Sherene present, and the effect was much the same as the first, a year ago in Crikvenica.  

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So what is the key to Malaysia's success? That is a topic for another article, but I liked one of the questions posed from the audience in the Q & A session after Sherene's presentation -  Is discipline and lack of ego the ultimate secret to Malaysia's success?

To be discussed. 

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One thing I like very much about Malaysia's approach to the industry is their willingness to share best practices and information to help others grow. There is a really fascinating story in how Malaysia is developing its medical tourism niche in China, focused specifically on fertility treatment following China's ending of its one child policy.  There was time in between the presentations to catch up with their experts on the finer details. A big feature on this on TCN soon.  

And so to the awards... Just how well did Malaysia do? I hand you over to the photos and commentary of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council Facebook page:


Put your hands together for Thomson Hospital Kota Damansara on winning the Best Quality Initiative award at the IMTJ Awards 2019! Over the past decade, Malaysia Healthcare has committed to providing a seamless end-to-end healthcare journey for all patients who seek medical treatments in Malaysia. Malaysia Healthcare is proud to have Thomson Hospital Kota Damansara as one of the many private Malaysian healthcare providers dedicated to providing Quality Care for Your Peace of Mind.

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 Congratulations to TMC Fertility on receiving the award for International Fertility Clinic of the Year at the IMTJ Awards 2019! Malaysia Healthcare’s healthcare providers have been providing world-class quality healthcare treatments, earning the trust of many healthcare travellers over the years. Gunning towards better services, Malaysia Healthcare’s member hospitals have so much more in store come 2020 for the Malaysia Year of Healthcare Travel 2020 campaign. Malaysia Healthcare is proud to have TMC Fertility as part of the many private Malaysian healthcare providers dedicated to providing Quality Care for Your Peace of Mind.

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Malaysia received a Highly Commended acknowledgement as the Destination of the Year for healthcare travel at the International Medical Travel Journal Awards 2019! Malaysia Healthcare’s unwavering dedication towards providing a seamless healthcare journey for all who seek medical treatment from us has earned the trust of many and keeps them returning to our shores. A big CONGRATULATIONS goes out to all players along the healthcare travel value chain: private Malaysian healthcare providers, ministries and government agencies, as well as private players. Malaysia Healthcare is complete with your support and tenacity for better healthcare travel service. Truly, Malaysia is the World’s Healthcare Marvel.

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With private-public partnerships as the wind in our sails, MHTC has once again claimed the title of Cluster of the Year for healthcare travel at the International Medical Travel Journal Awards 2019! Committed to streamlining public and private players along the healthcare value chain towards a concerted effort in building the industry, MHTC celebrates this victory with all players who have collaborated and supported Malaysia Healthcare’s growth. We only move forward in 2020 to make Malaysia known as the World’s Healthcare Marvel.

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All in all, it was a good night for Malaysia Healthcare at the International Medical Travel Journal - IMTJ Awards 2019. Nothing but smiles for us! Leading up to 2020, Malaysia Healthcare is gearing up to host the Malaysia Year of Healthcare Travel 2020 campaign, where we will showcase Malaysia as the World's Healthcare Marvel!

Not surprisingly, the smashing success was big news back in Kuala Lumpur and made the national news.  

A superb event overall, and an eye-opener for this Croatia-centric journalist. You can get a better feel of IMTJ 2019 in the official video of the event, just released, above. 

And to learn more about the Croatian healthcare marvel and International Cosmetic Surgery Clinic of the Year, here is TCN's report on Bagatin Clinic's success in Berlin

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Croatia's Bagatin Wins Cosmetic Surgery Clinic of the Year at IMTJ 2019 in Berlin

December 4, 2019 - Bagatin Clinic puts Croatia firmly on the global medical tourism map in Berlin after being named International Cosmetic Surgery Clinic of the Year at the prestigious IMTJ 2019 awards. 

A magnificent achievement for Croatian medical tourism last night, as the country's leading clinic, Bagatin, won big at the prestigious IMTJ 2019 awards in Berlin. Organised by the team behind International Medical Travel Journal, the annual awards are the most important in the medical tourism industry, and there was physical representation from an impressive 45 countries at last night's ceremony. 

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But while winning the title of the world's best International Cosmetic Surgery Clinic of the Year was the highlight of Bagatin's trip to IMTJ 2019, it was by no means the only one. 

Earlier in the conference, Bagatin Clinic became the first clinic in Croatia and only the 65th in the world to receive the coveted TEMOS Accreditation - in the fields of Medical Tourism Excellence and Quality of International Patient Care. CEO Ognjen Bagatin and Business Development Manager Andrea Stipanic were on hand to accept the accreditations. 

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Ognjen Bagatin also gave one of the most inspiring presentations of IMTJ 2019, telling his story of how he grew his clinic from a small operation consisting of just him and his two cosmetic surgeon brothers with a turnover of just 30,000 euro offering just aesthetic surgery in 2008, to over 100 employees in 2018 and revenues of 5.5 million euro with four departments (and 120 employees in 2019). 

I have followed the Croatian medical tourism industry closely over the last two years, but IMTJ 2019 was the first time I had seen Bagatin on the global stage, and I was curious to see how a leading Croatian clinic would compare to the global heavyweights. Not only did Bagatin rub shoulders with the best of them, but there were many learning from Bagatin and his best practices. One of the IMTJ judges even commented that the clinic is probably the best global case study for best practices of a clinic. 

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The excellent conference over, it was time for the big night - the annual awards dinner. The Croatian delegation was small, the two Bagatin heroes, Alfred Frankovic from Kvarner Health Cluster, and one fat Brit who wore Bagatin's lucky Croatian tie for the occasion. 

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And we did not have long to wait for recognition, with Bagatin Clinic a finalist in the category of Best Quality Initiative. 

No victory in that category, but the sweet taste of success was soon to come, as the winner of the International Cosmetic Surgery Clinic of the Year was announced - Bagatin Clinic! It was an honour to be sitting in the front row and to record the moment above. 

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A huge milestone for the Croatian medical tourism industry, and a huge recognition of the efforts of the entire BagaTEAM.  

A quick chat with the charismatic CEO a few minutes after the award. 

Wonderful stuff - congratulations to the entire BagaTEAM, proof that with the right leadership and plan, Croatia can compete with the very best in the global medical tourism industry. I sometimes compare Ognjen Bagatin to Luka Modric, the midfield dynamo who keeps the Croatian medical tourism industry buzzing. Unlike Modric and the heroics of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, young Ognjen left for Zagreb this morning with his World Cup firmly in his hand.  

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The award is timely for Bagatin and Croatia, as it will shift more focus on the Croatian medical tourism industry. That interest will intensify in March next year, as Bagatin Clinic, together with collaborative international presenter, Cleveland Clinic, will host Europe's first-ever European Patient Experience and Innovation Congress in Dubrovnik. You can learn more about EPIC 2020 on the official website.  

For the latest news on the Croatian medical tourism industry, follow the dedicated TCN section



Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Croatian Medical Tourism Potential Featured in New York Times

November 20, 2019 - Croatia may be famous for its sun and Adriatic Sea, but as the New York Times notes, there is a new rising star - medical tourism.

Medical tourism experts have been saying for some time that Croatia has the potential to be one of the top ten countries in the world in the industry within ten years. And it seems that the message is spreading, with the New York Times the latest international publication to talk of a new focus in tourism excellence in the Adriatic country famous for its pristine coast and more than 1,000 islands. 

Officials estimate that some 10% of tourists to Croatia come for healthcare. On average they spend almost four times more in the country than other tourists, at almost 300 euros ($332.01) a day.

"We see the health tourism as our key product for strengthening our offer and income before and after the packed summer season as health tourists spend more than the summer holiday-makers," said Slavija Jacan Obratov from the Croatian state tourism board HTZ.

While I think that 10% number is a little generous, as it would account for 2 million of the 20 million tourists this year, there are encouraging signs that Croatian medical tourism stakeholders are getting its act together. The recent Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference, CIHT 2019, was the most cohesive conference I have been to in a while (learn more in Croatian Medical Tourism Stakeholders Beginning to Gel at CIHT 2019).

You can read the New York Times article in full here

A key driving force for change and greater international visibility has been Bagatin Clinic from Zagreb and Split, the leading clinic in the region, and easily the most active Croatian medical tourism business on the international circuit. Not content with merely promoting his own clinic, CEO Ognjen Bagatin is working tirelessly to put Croatia on the global map for medical tourism. His most ambitious project yet is EPIC 2020, the first European Patient Experience and Innovation Conference, to be held in Dubrovnik in March, 2020. Organised by his own Bagatin Clinic, with collaborative international presenter, Cleveland Clinic, the conference has already has some renowned speakers confirmed, including Joe Sweet, Director of International Development and Experience at Cleveland Clinic; Lori Kondas, Executive Director for the Office of Patient Experience for the Cleveland Clinic Health System; Mario Skugar, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine CCLCM of CWRU and Director of Education- Cleveland Clinic; Keith Pollard, Editor in Chief of International Medical Travel Journal; and Irving Stackpole, President of Stackpole & Associates. To learn more about EPIC 2020, click here

To learn more about why Croatia is one of the top emerging medical tourism destinations in Europe, follow the dedicated TCN medical tourism section

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Successful Businesses Tell Success Stories: Bagatin Clinic Reaches Argentina

November 17, 2019 - Black Peel Mask treatments come to Croatia, as Bagatin Clinic extends its message to Argentina. 

The more I write about Croatia and the longer I live here, the more amazing successes and untold stories I discover. While many are emigrating and complaining of the lack of opportunity, I find that the opposite is true, but there is a reason for that disconnect. 

Very few people are telling their stories or sharing their success. 

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One exception to this is Mate Rimac, of the phenomenally successful Rimac Automobili. Pictured about at the Entrepreneurial Mindset conference in Zagreb, where many of Croatia's top entrepreneurial names shared strories of their successes - and failures - in an inspirational day for budding entrepreneurs in Croatia. Just listening to both the speakers and the participants talking about their businesses made me realise just how much positivity and success there was in Croatia. 

If only people knew about it all... 

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It is the same with the Croatian medical tourism industry. I was recently asked to speak at the Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference in Selce, with the topic of giving my reflections as a foreign resident and journalist on the potential and the reality of Croatian medical health tourism. While it was an honour to be invited, I was a little surprised. My knowledge of the medical tourism is limited, but on reflection, I realised that the pool of medical tourism journalists in general is very limited.  

And not just in Croatia, but on a global level, which is surprising for such a major - and rapidly expanding - tourism niche. It was more than a big surprise for TCN to win an award at the inaugural Medical Travel Media Awards in Kuala Lumpur, for example. 

The fact is that there are very few people focusing on writing or telling the stories - at least the positive ones. Bad news sells much better than good news, but the less good news that is told, the less people will know about it. That is why I am ultimately very positive about Croatia's future, as I can see that the seeds being planted are very positive - we just need to tell people more about it. 

And so too with the medical tourism industry. 

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The best promotion, of course, is by word of mouth from a happy client, especially testimonials which appear online in the form of a well-written story. I have written before about Carl's Story, which remains to me the absolute best advert from Croatian tourism - medical or otherwise - especially as it took place out of season. An American citizen whose life was literally transformed by a trip to Bagatin Clinic in Zagreb, where his complete new set of teeth inserted during 10 days over Advent in Zagreb not only gave him the trip of a lifetime and complete self-confidence, but also saved him about $35,000 once the trip costs for him and his friend had been paid. It is one of the best stories I have come across, and I encourage you to read it

Bagatin Clinic is not only the leading clinic in the region, but also the best at telling its story - one of the reasons it has won prestigious international marketing awards. And so it was somehow no surprise to learn from my Facebook feed this morning that Bagatin is now offering Black Peel Mask treatments in Croatia - information I learned from a health portal in Argentina.  

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Bagatin is keen to tell the world not just about its own services, but also to raise awareness of the potential of Croatian health tourism in general. A giant step for a small clinic will be taken in March, when Bagatin Clinic, with collaborative international partner, Cleveland Clinic, will host the first ever European Patient Experience and Innovation Congress, EPIC 2020, to be held in Dubrovnik in March. You can learn more from the official website

Now THAT will be quite a story to tell. 

For more on the Croatian medical tourism story, follow the dedicated TCN section

Monday, 11 November 2019

Croatian Health Tourism TOMAS 2018 Visitor Survey Presented at CIHT 2019

Neda Telisman-Kosuta gave an excellent overview of the findings of the comprehensive survey, TOMAS Croatian Health Tourism 2018: Attitudes and Expenditures of Visitors to Croatia, at the 7th Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference in Selce on November 8, 2019. 

It was a Croatian health tourism conference which had everything. Suberb coastal location in the village of Selce, near Crikvenica, excellent organisation, superb speakers, great networking, fine entertainment - and crucially, concrete signs that the key stakeholders of the Croatian health tourism industry were beginning to gel. You can learn more about CIHT 2019 in the comprehensive overview already presented on TCN.


The presentations ranged from the practical to the thought-provoking, as well as the majority which were backed up with concrete and relevant data. Nowhere was this more true than with the detailed presentation given by Neda Telisman-Kosuta from the Institute of Tourism in Zagreb. Her overview of the main findings of the TOMAS Croatian Health Tourism 2018: Attitudes and Expenditures of Visitors to Croatia survey were detailed and well-presented. 

Some highlights:

Scope: Wellness, health spa and medical segments

Instrument: Structured questionnaire

Data collection: Personal interview with users (CAPI)

Sample size: 2.540 interviews at 43 facilities

Surveying period: July - December 2018

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The study separated out three sectors of Croatian health tourism - wellness, health spa, and medical. As you can see above, the end user varies considerably between the three.

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I was surprised that price did not figure more prominently in the decision-making process, but it was encouraging to see expertise and reputation as such key factors. Croatian health tourism excels in both.

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One of the most interesting findings was in the source of information used by patients to find their health tourism solution in Croatia. Word of mouth is the best advertising one can have, and the high percentage of personal recommendation and doctor recommendation, as well as repeat business, are very good indicators for the future.

By contrast, the almost total absence of traction from advertising, media and tourism fairs points to work to be done in this field.

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 The average daily spend varied considerably between the three sectors. By way of comparison, the average daily spend in regular tourism in Croatia is 79 euro.

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And visitors were generally satisfied with the expectations of the financial costs. Overall experience satisfaction was also very high, with the only areas which rated less than excellent being shopping possiblities and local transport, as well as the innovation of the offer in the health spa sector. But very positive and encouraging overall.  

You can learn more about the work of the Institute for Tourism from the official website. The full report is available in Croatian (only, I think) from the Zagreb Tourist Board, and possibly elsewhere. 

To follow the latest from the Croatian health tourism industry, follow the dedicated TCN section

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Croatian Medical Tourism Stakeholders Beginning to Gel at CIHT 2019

CIHT 2019, the seventh edition of the Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference concluded on November 8, 2019. Outstanding from start to finish, did it contain a watershed transformation from potential to the beginnings of realisation for the Croatian medical tourism industry? 

Full disclosure - this has been the best week in the history of TCN. Two new writers hired, our first intern programme with the University of Zagreb agreed, two big contracts signed, agreement with exciting partners to start our first EU-funded project, and two outstanding conferences. G2.5, the diaspora conference in Zagreb at the beginning of the week was one of the best I have been to in Croatia in terms of contacts and business done (see the conference report here), and I really wasn't expecting a better conference for quite some time. But then, just two days later... 

CIHT 2019, the annual health tourism conference which has become a signature event for the very proactive Kvarner Health Cluster, was not only filled with an exceptional list of engaging and diverse speakers, but the levels of cooperation and joint initiatives were at a level visibly more noticeable than ever before. 

CIHT 2019 was held in the village of Selce, a very short drive from Crikvenica. The reason, I suspect, was in honour of one of the true Croatian success stories in any sector, the outstanding 30-year success of the husband and wife team, Drs Ivan and Vlasta Brozicevic and their world-renowned Terme Selce facility, which has grown both in size and quality since its inception in 1989, and which includes no less than 120 Olympic medalists among its satisfied patients. I will be returning to Selce later in the year to do some in-depth features on that 30-year journey, which continues today. The Brozicevics were presented with a special award (see above) before the conference got properly underway, and there were few dry eyes in the house as Dr Vlasta took us through her inspirational journey of excellence and constant learning. 


A very tough act to follow, but a challenge taken on with relish by the next speaker, one of the world's most in-demand tourism conference speakers, Doug Lansky. And it did not take long to realise why. His keynote session, called Successful Tourism, was laced with great tips for Croatia, both in directions to go and to avoid, and I will dedicated a later article to Lansky's presentation and the two subsequent workshops he conducted in the afternoon session. 

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One of the strengths of CIHT has always been that it aims high in terms of the quality of the speakers. And there are few higher places in the healthcare industry that Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic, the two leading medical facilities in the world. Super Mario Skugor, Director of Education at Cleveland and himself a Croat, was followed by Rahul Kashyap, Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology at Mayo Clinic. Kashyap gave a comprehensive overview of the Mayo model of care, focusing on quality education and research collaboration. 

Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic presenting together, just after one of the world's top tourism speakers, all in a little village on the Kvarner coast in early November. Pretty impressive. 

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More was to come, indeed the most - at least for me - significant and encouraging presentation of the two-day event. Not perhaps for the content after such a high-quality start, but in terms of openness, honesty and willingness to engage. For the speaker was a politician. 

Deputy Health Minister Mate Car's presentation was entitled The Interactions of Policy, Strategy and Health Tourism, but it was when he started talking about the state of Croatia's health tourism efforts, dividing them into three slides looking at the good, the bad and the ugly, that I saw for the first time (and I have been to many health conferences in the last two years) what I had heard from several in the industry - here was a senior official who was very interested in engaging with the other stakeholders, calling together meetings to hear their ideas and frustrations, even publicly publishing his official mobile number to make himself even more accessible. While 95% of ministers and deputy ministers tend to leave conferences as soon as the PR photo shoot and opening speeches are done, Car not only stayed until the end and was a very active participant, but he even found time to chat to me for over an hour on a wide range of issues concerning health tourism, the role of government and Croatia in general. It was very refreshing to see. 


Car's relationship with one of the drivers of progress in the industry, Ognjen Bagatin, CEO of Bagatin Clinic, has been key. Bagatin was also a speaker on the first day, presenting arguably the most ambitious medical tourism conference in Croatia next March - the first-ever European Patient Experience and Innovation Conference, to be held in Dubrovnik. Against a backdrop of Bagatin with Cleveland Clinic CIHT speaker Super Mario and Cleveland CEO Tom Mihaljevic, Bagatin introduced his vision of EPIC 2020, a groundbreaking conference which his Bagatin Clinic is the main organiser. 

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Having observed the Croatian medical tourism industry for two years now, Ognjen Bagatin strikes me as being akin to the Luka Modric of the Croatian medical tourism industry, a midfield dynamo pulling the strings and connecting and lifting the entire team. Here he is, fielding questions with other speakers including Cleveland and Mayo Clinics and Deputy Minister Car. 

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He is certainly aiming high with EPIC, and if we stick with the football analogy, EPIC Dubrovnik could be the perfect World Cup Final stadium for medical tourism speakers. Bagatin showed the list of invited speakers, several of whom have already confirmed. You can learn more details about the EPIC conference on the official website.  

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Doug Lansky's two workshops on Destination Development and Creative Problem Solving ended the work part of the opening day, which was then followed by a very pleasant Healthy Party, with fine local wine and blue fish specialities. And music and dancing that went on late into the night and past the bedtime of this correspondent.

All were fully awake for the following morning's opening session, which included CIHT 2019 ambassador awards for the veteran and highly experienced husband and wife team, Elizabeth Ziemba (whose opening presentation was on Accreditation: What It Can and Cannot Do for Clinics and Hospitals) and Irving Stackpole. Now 47 years in the medical tourism business, I was impressed with how Stackpole has kept abreast of the frightening pace of change in technology, and his presentation of technology and change was thought-provoking - The Future of Health Tourism Is In Your Hand; How personalization and digitization changes the patient experience?

Health talk aside, I learned a new term caused by the digital age. Kids today are digital natives, while we older folk have been forced to enter a brave new world and have been forced to become digital immigrants. I liked that description. The morning session was completed by Djurdjica Simicic of IQM talking about Integrated Quality Destination Management, followed by TCN offering a foreign resident media view of the Croatian medical tourism potentials and realities.  

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The quality of leading international speaker continued. Marc Ortmans, a brand strategist from the UK opened the late morning special, his subject matter Building Brand Futures. A particularly interesting aspect to his very illuminating talk was the story behind the campaign to launch the Champions League logo and brand back in 1992. So successful was the campaign that the very same theme music is used today, some 27 years later, and the brand is now worth 4 billion dollars. 

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There was practical website advice from Croatia's leading Google Analytics expert, Robert Petkovic, in his presentation - I know your website generates visits to your clinic, but do you?

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One of the points I made in my presentation at CIHT 2019 was that the word 'potential' was not only overused by everyone, but it was also a nice shield to hide the fact that not much progress was being made, or things worked on. Potential always points to somewhere in the future, and six years after medical tourism appeared in the 7-year strategic plan of the Ministry of Tourism in 2013, there is still no national medical tourism brand. Clusters operate individually, with Kvarner Health bigger than the brand of Croatia itself, and Zagreb investing $50,000 dollars in a questionable report - both in terms of content and whether the report might have been more useful to have been country-specific rather than just the capital city in isolation. 

And so it was encouraging to listen to TOMAS – Health Tourism 2018: Attitudes and Expenditures of Visitors to Croatia, by Neda Telisman Kosuta, Senior associate at the Institute for Tourism in Zagreb. Although I have yet to see a full copy of the report, the presented results provided much food for thought and a basis for moving forward. One more part of this new gelling process. 


There were more presentations which I did not attend due to other commitments, but a chance also to catch up with Luka Medical Tourism Modric before the long drive home.  it is more than two years now since Ognjen Bagatin introduced me to the world of Croatian medical tourism excellence, his infectious enthusiasm quickly spilling over onto me. His energy is endless, his determination relentless. And the signs are there that his efforts - and the efforts of many others - are beginning to pay off. 

There is a long way to go, but don't rule Croatia out from reaching any future medical tourism World Cup Final. 

Learn more about the CIHT 2019 conference on the official website, or check out the video report on local news below.  

To follow the latest in the Croatian medical tourism industry, follow the dedicated TCN section

Friday, 25 October 2019

Dr Prem Jagyasi: Bagatin Clinic is Case Study for Global Healthcare Excellence

October 25, 2019 - During a recent TCN interview with global medical tourism expert, Dr Prem Jagyasi, Croatia's leading Bagatin Clinic was mentioned several times. After the interview, I asked Dr Prem to tell us a little more about Bagatin and its standing on the global stage. 

It is just over two years since I became aware of Croatia's medical tourism industry. My introduction was a chap called Ognjen Bagatin, who messaged me on Facebook one evening. I had no idea who he was, but he was very polite and complimentary about my work, which has said he had been following for a number of years. 

A few days later we met at his clinic in Zagreb, a very modern and well-equipped affair, with superbly trained staff. Was I really in Croatia? He encouraged me to visit some other medical tourism facilities of excellence, which is how I came to do tours of Svjetlost Eye Clinic and St Catherine Specialty Hospital, a member of the Leading Hospitals of the World.

I was stunned. Here was a tourism industry where the very best seemingly could compete with some of the best in Europe. I got writing and Health Tourism is Coming Home: Why Zagreb is the Next Big Medical Tourism Destination was born. 

I started attending health tourism conferences, wrote a lot more and even won a medical tourism media award in Malaysia

And wherever I went, Bagatin Clinic was already there - at conferences, award ceremonies (such as Best Dermatology Clinic in Europe, above, for example). With my limited knowledge of the global market, it was hard to know just how good Bagatin was outside Croatia, and how the clinic compared with its European competition, but it was clearly doing an excellent job. 

At this week's 3rd Adriatic Health, Sport & Tourism Investment Forum, international keynote speaker Dr Prem Jagyasi was kind enough to find time for a TCN interview. During our chat, Dr Prem mentioned Bagatin several times when giving examples of excellence. I saw it as the perfect opportunity to satisfy my curiosity - how was Bagatin Clinic perceived within the industry outside Croatia? 

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(Dr Prem with Team Bagatin - Ognjen Bagatin, Tea Hitner and Andrea Stipanic)

Bagatin is bringing the first patient experience conference to Europe in March, which will be held in Dubrovnik, with Cleveland Clinic. To me this is an amazing thing that one clinic can lead like this.

Not only that but Bagatin Clinic has put so much investment into capacity building, educating their team and also many others in the industry. This patient experience conference clearly shows that a private clinic or hospital can bring so much value to the brand of Croatia. 

They have won many awards for their marketing and treatments, and I have personally visited their centre in Zagreb. The quality, the focus, the design – it is just incredible. I think they could be a perfect case study for other private hospitals and clinics on a global scale. 

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You have travelled the medical tourism world and seen many countries in action. Is there a similar example of a private clinic like Bagatin which is so far ahead and really dragging the rest of the brand along with it. 

Not one clinic like Bagatin, no. There have been some hospitals who have arranged conferences, but nothing like Bagatin. And this patient experience conference will be great. It is the Bagatin relationship with Cleveland Clinic which will also see Cleveland involved. 

One thing you will always notice about Bagatin is that they never just talk about their own clinic, but they are always talking about Croatia in general, talking about the wellbeing of patients. And they do capacity building brilliantly. I really do think that the government does need to acknowledge and support such clinics for the efforts they are making. There are perhaps some examples of larger hospitals doing similar things, but for a small clinic like Bagatin, it is unique. 

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When did you first become aware of Bagatin Clinic, and tell us about the progress you have seen since that first meeting?

I met CEO Ognjen Bagatin several years ago. I have seen the clinic participating in international conferences in places like the USA for a long time now. I have listened to Ognjen speaking at many conferences all over the world. He talks about how his clinic evolved and became a leader, and how other clinics can also become leaders. 

They are creating a beautiful case study which is a combination of three things: expertise in medicine, expertise in business, and utlising talent. I remember some members of Bagatin were in one of my workshops, and it was noticeable how engaged they were, and how eager to ask questions. They were very active, wanting to learn and improve. Bagatin has created a great working culture. 

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All this encouraged me to go and visit them in Zagreb. Ognjen was kind enough to show me every procedure room. The entire space was beautifully designed with open spaces and lots of natural light. Every single element was very well thought out. 

I later researched the clinic and could see the quality of service they provide and the code of ethics. They have developed a brilliant strategy, and when I listen to him speak, he not only talks about the services he offers, but how Bagatin can contribute to help other clinics, both inside Croatia and elsewhere. I am always happy to see them at conferences. 

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You obviously have a more global viewpoint than me. I can see that Bagatin is at the top of Croatian medical tourism healthcare, but where would you, with your knowledge and experience, put Bagatin Clinic on a European level?

Bagatin is, in my opinion, close to the very top in Europe. I have been recently to some excellent centres in Paris and Munich, and there are many excellent clinics. However, one issue which I see with clinics in more traditional European destinations is that they rarely have a great marketing strategy. 

European medical tourism destinations build up their facilities, but they are not quite as good at getting their message out there. That is one area where I would put Bagatin at the very top – they really do have the best marketing I have come across in Europe. And of course, the quality of care and service that follows is excellent. This is where Bagatin excels where many European centres failing – reaching out. They do it brilliantly. 

In terms of quality of services, they are on the level of some of the best European clinics, but in terms of packaging of the whole product – outstanding. Their support services are very impressive, including a great international patient support desk. 

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And they are setting up a great case study of excellence for other health tourism clinics to follow. The main components are quality, aesthetic design, transparency which they have, ethics and a code of conduct, international standards of customer service, an international patient desk and marketing office, and capacity building. And finally their branding and marketing, for which they have rightly won many awards. 

Such clinics are essential to build the reputation of a destination, as governments alone cannot do everything. But I really do congratulate everyone at Bagatin Clinic – they are doing a wonderful service for Croatia.


You can learn more of Dr Prem's visit to Bagatin Clinic from his blog.

To learn more about the services of Bagatin Clinic, visit the official website

To follow the latest from the Croatian medical tourism story, follow the dedicated TCN section

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Dr Prem Jagyasi Interview on the Croatian Medical Tourism Industry

October 23, 2019 - The 3rd Adriatic Health, Sport and Tourism Investment Forum concluded yesterday. TCN caught up with one of the keynote speakers, Dr Prem Jagyasi, to learn more about his thoughts on the direction of Croatia's medical tourism industry.  


Tell us firstly about your relationship with Croatia as you seem to be more and more of a regular visitor here.

It is a good thing that Croatia wants to develop medical tourism in a structured way. I see that the ministries of health, tourism and economy are becoming engaged to develop a strategy for health tourism, and that is what brings me here – to help that process along.

We know that there are many challenges and obstacles to be overcome, but I really think Croatia has great potential. They can be a leader in Europe, and they can also attract the American retiree market. There are over 100 million pensioners in the United States. A proportion of them could come to Croatia and bring up to 2.5 billion dollars of business to Croatia. 

It was interesting yesterday to see the Pasman project, for example, where they are planning to put in the facilities and content to offer to these senior citizens from abroad. There are challenges ahead, but things are moving in the right direction. So my interest is in working with both the potential and the challenges here in Croatia. 

I would like to add that this has been a really excellent conference - some great speakers and panelists from all over the world. It has been a pleasure to participate once again. 

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There was a phrase used in the conference that the region could become the 'Adriatic Florida.' Do you think that this is a realistic aspiration?

I don't see the need to repeat Florida, first of all, or call it that. I loved the phrase by Vlasta Brozicevic of Terme Selce, who suggested 'the Pearl of Europe.' A pearl for sports, wellness and healthcare, I really liked that term. 

Croatia really has everything – resources, infrastructure, technology. All the components are in place, but it is still not easy for them to bring all the stakeholders together. 

You travel all over the medical tourism world. Where should Croatia be looking to learn from to improve its medical tourism industry? 

Every country gives us something different and beautiful to learn. So we have Malaysia, Thailand, Jordan, Turkey, some parts of India, how they have developed their industries. 

Malaysia has developed the best structure of how public and private hospitals should work together to develop the brand, activities and strategy. Having said that, Malaysia gets most of its patients from one country – neighbouring Indonesia – so it is not truly a global destination yet, but things are changing. 

Then we look at Turkey. Turkey has invested heavily and has major stakeholders such as Turkish Airlines. They have also had huge private investment. Turkey, by the way, has more patient to bed ratio than anywhere in the world. They have done a great job on promotion but you do not see the internal conflicts as there is no body which deals with everything, as you have in Malaysia. So Malaysia is a great example of one central body, but Turkey has some great promotional activities, as well as much bigger investment. 

Then you look at Jordan, and see how well the private hospital association is working. They are very strong, and they are defining the prices. Jordan is also very well-known for bringing all its talent back to the country. Most of the medical professionals who study abroad return home to practice. 

So I think we have separate things to learn from different countries. From Thailand we can learn about managing the political and diplomatic relationships, for example. They have a lot of business through the diplomatic embassies. And then look at Mexico, which has built an entire industry servicing the American market. It is a great example of building an industry based on the target market. So I don't think there is one destination which gives all the answers but there are many bits to cherry-pick from different destinations. 

How strong is the brand of Croatia as a medical tourism destination within the industry? I was in Kuala Lumpur recently and the brand of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council is just so focused. It is fantastic. And then here you have the excellent Kvarner Health Cluster, Losinj, Island of Vitality, Zagreb, even Bagatin Clinic on its own at various international fairs, but rarely under the umbrella of Croatia. 

Yes, this is a very big issue which Croatia needs to address. If you look at Malaysia, they have built a one-brand name. Having a different cluster under one brand name might be a beautiful idea, but having a different brand and promoting the two separately will not work or be good for Croatia. There is respect for Croatian medical excellence within the industry, but there is almost no brand recognition of Croatia as of now. So while the respect is there, the popularity, usability and reachability are not. 

Because of the lack of visibility, Croatia is missing out on some of its potential target markets. I see very little activity here from the Gulf, for example, which is a US$ 5 billion industry, much of which is spent in Europe. 

This idea of regional clusters could work, but only under a national Croatian umbrella. 

So how visible is Croatia at the main international medical tourism fairs?

There is very little visibility from the Croatian government side. There are private clinics, in particular Bagatin Clinic, which is very visible in many conferences and fairs. The Croatian government should do more PPP projects, as was done in places like Turkey. There they took 10-15 clinics and hospitals and took them to participate in fairs. This is something I have not seen much of from Croatia. There are some segmented examples, but nothing coordinated. 

Speaking of Bagatin Clinic, CEO Ognjen Bagatin recently announced that his clinic was hosting the first ever patient experience conference in Europe, in Dubrovnik in March, including presentation from Cleveland Clinic. One private clinic doing so much for the national industry. What are your thoughts?

Not only that but Bagatin Clinic has put so much investment into capacity building, improving their own team and others around them, as well as bringing the patient experience conference to Dubrovnik with Cleveland Clinic involved. It clearly shows that a private clinic can bring so much value to the brand of Croatia. They have won so many awards, not only in the marketing. I have personally visited their clinic and it is excellent on all levels. The quality, the focus, the design – it is all incredible. That could be a beautiful case study for other private hospitals and clinics.

You can connect with Dr Prem Jagyasi via his website.

To learn more about the Adriatic Health, Sport and Tourism Investment Forum, click here.

To learn more about the forum organisers, including their other initiatives to develop medical tourism in the Adriatic, visit the Medical Group Ltd website



To follow the latest from the Croatian medical tourism story, follow the dedicated TCN section

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