Monday, 17 October 2022

Ilan Geva Interview, Medical Tourism Branding Expert at CIHT 2022

October 17, 2022 - As Croatia's premier health tourism conference, the Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference, prepares to open, TCN catches up with keynote speaker and branding expert, Ilan Geva.  

As previously announced on TCN, CIHT 2022 will be holding its tenth Jubilee edition later this week, the premier health tourism conference in Croatia. As with all previous years, there will be a very international field of quality expert speakers, including one of the conference's most-loved keynote speakers, global branding expert, Ilan Geva. TCN caught up with Geva ahead of his latest visit to the Kvarner Riviera, to learn more about the industry in the wake of the pandemic, Croatia's position, and the conference itself, a conference which has strong local support (CIHT is organised by the Crikvenica Tourist Board and Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster, with the Kvarner Region Tourist Board a key sponsor).

1. The medical tourism industry has been shaken up by the pandemic just like every other aspect of life. As things begin to get back to a semblance of normal, what has changed in the industry since pre-pandemic 2019?

A lot has changed. Number one: the consumers. Many of them want to make sure that healthcare providers understand them before they even arrive. That creates a completely different customer profile, and their expectations go together with anxieties and lower trust. Two years of having conflicting messages, different safety rules in different locations etc. contributed to hesitance and wanting to know everything in advance. The second big factor: Transportation is not the same. Airlines are not back in full force. Yes, they may have gotten the airplanes back, but they suffer from a lack of personnel, which means less flights all over the world, which means less comfortable scheduling for patients. The workforce has shrunk in hospitals, clinics, hotels etc., and with it, the level of service deteriorated.


2. You have been a strong supporter of the Croatian medical tourism industry for many years now. What are its strengths and opportunities?

The opportunities are obvious, Croatia has great medical professionals in many specialties. I know personally a few that are really excellent in what they do. So, people are the strength. Opportunities were created because of a lack of activity during the pandemic, many patients need treatment, and they need it NOW! I’m not sure about the rest since the last time I’ve been there, so things may have changed. That is why I am back, and that is why Vmarsh Healthcare, of which I’m the Director of Strategy, is present at this conference to meet with the members of the Kvarner Cluster and see how we can help them. One thing I sense from afar, Croatians are extremely patriotic and proud (as they should be), but that alone doesn’t sell anything.


3. And its threats and weaknesses?

The threats are not just in Croatia. Europe is in trouble, as well as other destinations around the world. We live in a very precarious time, very unstable. The economy is in bad shape; prices are going up all over, obviously, the geopolitical scene is changing rapidly etc. A specific weakness is in the fact that health providers are still not willing to invest in their business, and I mean building brands and doing brilliant marketing. Croatia, like many other destinations, has medical professionals who think that if they are good doctors for the domestic population, they can be successful in attracting global clientele. Not so. Learn from the biggest and the most successful, Mayo Clinic invests in marketing and never stops building its’ brand. Does a small clinic owner in Split have a chance without doing the same? (of course they need to do it with a smaller budget, and smarter…)

4. You are back again in sunny Crikvenica for the 10th edition of the Crikvenica International Healthcare Travel conference, a conference you know well. Tell us about the importance and impact of CIHT, and what are you hoping to get out of it this year?

I don’t know if you noticed, but many European medical tourism conferences have vanished…there must be a reason. CIHT has been here for 10 years because they provide a great platform to the local medical travel, hospitality and wellness industries. And they do it year round, not just in an annual conference. The location is wonderful, and the program is always good, with great speakers. The conference is an important part of the medical travel industry in Kvarner because it is part of building the brand of the destination.

All other conferences are moving around from one location to another, for them its all about the conference, not the local community. CIHT is all about the local community and the Kvarner members of the cluster, very different! this year, I want to meet the providers, get a sense of how their business plans are moving forward, and see where I can help the cluster as a whole.


5. You are a global branding expert. Tell us about the branding of Croatia as a medical tourism destination. It almost seems that the organizers of CIHT, the Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster, has a bigger brand in the industry than Croatia itself.

Shall I be politically correct, or truthful? Yes, the Kvarner cluster is doing a better job than the rest of the country. Enough said.

6. Three things the Croatian medical tourism industry should be focusing on to develop.

1. Build a brand. 2. Build a brand, 3. Build a brand. Not a new slogan, not a new logo, not a new ad campaign with a wonderful new headline. No one cares about that! Do not fracture the Croatian medical tourism brand into hundreds of little clinic brands. Last time I heard, Croatia had 250 different local tourism brands, of regions, towns, resorts, villages etc. Don’t do it in Medical tourism, build a few major regional brands and support them, while they are collaborating and not competing with each other…sounds easy, right? Most important, don’t let the doctors drive the marketing, and build the brands from the inside. Want to know more? Come to my presentation :-)

7. Your presentation is entitled "Thoughts of market penetration strategies for healthcare and wellness operators." Can you give us a teaser?

See above…it is much more involved around internal brand building than the expensive external stuff.

8. And finally, as a regular visitor to Croatia, tell us what makes it special for you. Your favorite place and activity while you are here.

Since I am not looking for a wife or a girlfriend, it must be the air, the sea, the trees, the food, the clean environment, the people, the wonderful history and colors of the place. It is a fantastic combination that makes all my senses sing.

You can connect with Ilan Geva via LinkedIn.

To learn more about CIHT 2022, and to get your ticket, visit the official website

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Croatian Medical Tourism: Great Potential, Collaborate or Die Says Ilan Geva

November 14, 2018 - Another busy week for the emerging Croatian medical tourism industry. Branding guru Ilan Geva gives his thoughts after his latest visit to Croatia.  

It has been quite a week for the Croatian medical tourism industry. Keith Pollard, Editor in Chief of the International Medical Travel Journal, in an interview with TCN, talked about the Croatian potential, as well as assessing that the country could take 25% of the Hungarian dental market 'if Croatia got its act together'; Sherene Azli, CEO of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council, which runs the best medical tourism in the world in Malaysia, was in town to explain how Malaysia does it; and global branding guru Ilan Geva was in Croatia for a week, both as a speaker at CIHT 2018, having already performed a special workshop for industry professionals on branding Croatian health tourism in Zagreb. TCN caught up with Ilan after a busy week. 

1. You have just spent a week in Croatia, your latest visit since your first 10 years ago, and you held a specialized branding workshop with industry leaders, as well as performing as a keynote speaker at the 6th Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference organized by the Kvarner health cluster. How was your week, and what did you learn?

Every visit to Croatia is a good one for me. I simply like to come here, and get involved in knowing the healthcare providers, visit the hospitals and clinics, and mingle with the movers and shakers of the industry. I always see another angle in my visits, sometimes I focus on one single client, and sometimes I have the time to spend on my own and observe. This last week was indeed intense, since 4 out of 6 days on the ground I was presenting to audiences and following up with conversations.

It is clear to me that the Croatian medical tourism industry is now on a crucial crossroads. There is lots of work to be done. I learned that not everyone agrees on what to do and how to do it. And I came to a very simple conclusion, Croatians must build a national brand for the emerging medical tourism industry.

They must decide which government office supports the effort (only one!) and they must have a sense of urgency, there is no time to waste, the competitors are not waiting.

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2. You first came to Croatia back in 2008 to help a dentist in Rovinj. Tell us about that, and how the Croatian medical tourism story has progressed since then?

Back in 2008 the entire concept of medical tourism was in its infancy, as far as organized business category. Many providers felt that it is enough to just have a nice clinic and people will show up. There was absolutely no data, information, or anyone to learn from. The wonderful doctor in Rovinj was indeed a very competent doctor, and has presented new treatments in stem cell therapy, but he was a bit naïve. He believed that if he will give me a budget of $400 a month, I would be able to send him 200 patients a year from the U.S.Mathematically this is so improbable, that I saw no point in continuing the conversation. He basically offered me $24 per patient delivered!

And I am not even a facilitator, I am a brand builder and a marketing professional. The situation now is a bit different, but one of the most common sentences I hear in Croatia (as well as in other Eastern European countries) is the sentence: “We have no budget”.  That has to change immediately. No one gains anything with no investment. I heard that there is actually money being spent already, the question is who spends it, on what, is it transparent, and does it deliver a clear benefit to all Croatian medical tourism practitioners. Some people complained that the Zagreb Tourist Board has commissioned an American association to do a research, or feasibility study well over a year ago paid a six-figure amount (in U.S. Dollars) and yet no one has seen anything. That doesn’t contribute to the effort of building a consensus and collaboration in this industry.

On the other hand, the overall situation progressed a lot because these days there are extremely successful hospitals and clinics in Croatia, and the awareness is starting to build up, mostly by word of mouth.

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3. One of the key messages of your workshop was the need for all the stakeholders to come together, in a way that Malaysia has managed so well. Give us your vision of the stakeholders involved in getting the momentum behind the promotion of Croatia as a medical tourism destination.

The main lesson I learned from my travels and visits to medical tourism destinations and hospital inspections: Collaborate or die. Malaysia was no different from Croatia, they had to face the decision of being serious about the business, or just being a bunch of hospitals competing with each other. A bunch of hospitals competing with each other doesn’t help any country in creating a solid brand for its medical tourism industry.

Thailand, The Philippines, Israel, Greece and others have some few excellent hospitals. But in fights, inaction, political battles and “lack of budget” kill the opportunity to become a global brand in medical tourism.

Malaysia overcame the obstacle of politics, budget allocation, and legal implementation and made sure that all stakeholders know exactly what they are supposed to do within the medical tourism activity. Clear, transparent and efficient. Croatia is still miles away from that situation. Building a national brand is impossible under these circumstances, because there is no brand…only a bunch of providers spread all over the country.

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(Ognjen Bagatin of Bagatin Clinic, one of four Croatian clinics Ilan Geva singles out for Croatian medical tourism)

4. You travel the medical tourism globe, and have done for many years. Many Croatians will be surprised to hear that its medical tourism industry has such potential. Paint a picture of that potential, who are the key players in it, and where does Croatian medical tourism stand now, and where could it be in 10 years?

I will name only four businesses that are in the “Premier League” of medical tourism in Croatia: St. Catherine Specialty Hospital, Poliklinika Bagatin, Terme Selce and Svjetlost Clinics. They are each specialists in a separate area, and they are all extremely successful at what they do. They are also aware of the power of brand building, marketing excellence and delivering superb customer satisfaction. There are many other great clinics spread around the country, primarily in tourist destinations, such as Istria, Dubrovnik, Split etc. but they do not have the mass needed to build a global clientele.

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(Ilan Geva with Jadranka Primorac from St Catherine Specialty Hospital)

5. One of the things I learned this week is that the brand of the Kvarner health cluster seems to be stronger than that of Croatia in the industry. What are your thoughts on that?

What I love about the Kvarner Health Cluster is the fact that they are all about initiative. They are a good example of an organization that is trying to do the best for all its constituencies, and lift them all to a higher level. I personally don’t know if the Kvarner brand is more prominent than any other brand in medical tourism, but I also know that Croatia has no national brand in medical tourism…Simple. Croatia has a very strong brand and brand awareness in sports, but not in any medical institution, medical university, research facility or breakthrough innovation. Some of the brands I mentioned above have parts of this reputation, but not the country as a unique entity.

If you ask today anybody in any European location “What is Croatia know for”, I am willing to bet that no one will say “Excellent medical treatments”.

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6. Which markets do you think the Croatian medical tourism industry should target, and why?

Draw a circle around Zagreb, which represents up to 5 hours flight, and that circle may include the potential market for Croatia’s medical tourism market. Anything else will be a surprise for me.

7. As a frequent visitor to Croatia with an interest in health tourism, give us a paragraph on the potential healthcare and tourism experience which awaits patients.

This is a very broad question. But I will try to answer it via some examples. First, Croatia does have a brand in the tourism industry. The visitors to Croatia know that they can expect a beautiful clean and pristine country, with amazing sights, fantastic food, and very nice people. That is hospitality, and Croatians are known to be wonderful hosts. But even in this category, there are already voices that warn people not to show up in Dubrovnik at the height of the season, because the place is too small to contain all the visitors, and the level of service is deteriorating…Some of the great generosity and professionalism Croatians display in tourism is also evident in medical treatments. But the country does not have certain standards that will welcome patients in every location across the country. The customer experience might vary, and that is a danger when going forward.

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(Ilan Geva was among the nominated ambassadors by the Kvarner Health Cluster in Crikvenica at CIHT 2018)

8. You were given a special recognition in Crikvenica at CIHT 2018, as one of the conference ambassadors, and you were given an extra gift at the end - a Luka Modric shirt. Tell us about that and the hospitality you received in Crikvenica, where you were clearly very at home. 

The truth is that I was booked at another conference in Korea at the same time the CIHT conference took place. Suddenly, that conference was cancelled, and I was joking with Vladimir that I will come only if he will give me a Luka Modric official team shirt…Little did I know that he would take it seriously. I am actually glad he did! I was betting with all my friends in Chicago that Croatia will make it all the way to the finals, and they all laughed at me…they simply don’t know the grit of the Croatian people. If Croatians will demonstrate the same team spirit and determination in Medical Tourism, as they did in the World Cup, nothing will stop them!

My last visit to Crikvenica was the fourth one, and I enjoyed all of them, even in the winter. I know from personal experience that the people are extremely generous, professional and very welcoming. I also know from personal experience that as medical professionals they are good, very good.

Now what we have to do is make them famous around the world, and position them as the right people in the right place.

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(The Luka Modric shirt...)

To learn more about Ilan Geva, check out his official website.

To follow the latest from the Croatian medical tourism story, 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.