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Archive for February, 2012

Medical Tourism: An Expert Explains Healthcare Globalization Basics

What is medical tourism?

Medical tourism, at its simplest, is when people leave their country for another in pursuit of healthcare, whether a quest for faster treatments, for the sake of time-sensitive health issues, or for considerably cheaper state-of-the-art treatments, for the sake of their wallets, when some common surgeries and hospital stays in the U.S. can run in the tens of thousands.

Ruben Toral, founder of MedeGuide, an online international doctor directory featuring over 3,000 doctors in 10 countries, and former director of JCI-accredited Bumrungrad International Hospital in Thailand, a pioneer in medical tourism, spoke to SpaFinder staff earlier this month.  Toral’s affiliated hospital in Thailand operates similar to and is said to have the feel of a five-star hotel: Accommodations are more hotel-like than hospital-like, food options and boutiques within the facility are broad and international in scope and the overall atmosphere is more serene than frenetic, complemented by first-class medical care and service.

Toral says, for a time, the U.S. was the central medical tourism destination for Latin America, with institutions for superlative cancer care, like Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic and Memorial Sloane Kettering.  In the wake of 9/11, both the U.S. and Europe placed visa restrictions on many travelers from the Middle East, thereby creating a shift that opened up other countries as hubs for medical tourism.
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Medical tourists are traveling for anything from chemotherapy to fertility to multiple cosmetic plastic surgeries − and at “third world prices,” Toral says.  Things like labor and malpractice are far less costly outside of the U.S., he explains, and the system is “less amorphous than the U.S.”: There is little ambiguity in costs, and medical bills are paid in cash.  Medical costs can run anywhere from 50 percent to 80 percent less expensive for comparable procedures than the U.S.

The tidal wave for Toral’s hospital, in particular, followed a story on 60 Minutes on CBS that aired in 2005 about medical tourism. The story spotlighted his hospital and a few American patients struggling with the cost of medical care.  One uninsured post-heart attack patient from Louisiana, grappling with the need for quintuple bypass surgery to live, as well as the hundred thousand-dollar plus cost, researched the hospital and found a U.S.-trained physician and had the surgery three days after his arrival in Thailand. He was able to avoid draining his life savings or finding himself unable to have the operation, essentially saving his life.


The outsourcing of healthcare, though up to an eighth of the cost for care in the U.S., is not currently embraced by U.S. insurers, national policy makers or the mainstream, despite the exploding numbers of uninsured or under-insured, Toral says. He speculates the resistance due to already built-in products and providers around U.S.-insured care, and insurers deem those who seek care abroad to be a small constituency.  On the contrary, Toral says. While the U.S. is not yet monitoring the volume or dollars spent by those who seek healthcare abroad, he is seeing the industry/market explode: In 2009, Bumrungrad, one of Southeast Asia’s largest private hospitals and founded in 1980, claims that international patients comprise about 42 percent of patient volume; about 30,000 patients a year come from North America.  Many countries are finding their specialty in the global healthcare market: Mexico for bariatric surgery, Costa Rica for dentistry, Barbados for in vitro fertilization and Brazil for plastic surgery and cancer treatment, he says.

Toral expects the globalization or outsourcing of healthcare to continue to flourish, as the U.S. no longer has a lock on quality care and Americans are paying more out-of-pocket for their healthcare than ever before. The convergence of the Internet is also a factor.  The uninsured are learning more about the alternative to outsource their healthcare and can readily find expert-trained care, many who are U.S.-educated.



Similar to medical tourism, which Toral called “a stepchild of tourism,” is wellness tourism, where visitors go abroad for comprehensive checkups, lifestyle modifications and detox programs. Patients are combining holiday and healthcare and the marketing opportunities are ripe, he says, as people are getting the message: “Come to Thailand to feel better.”  Both niches in tourism are fruitful as those who go typically stay longer and spend more than average tourists, and most importantly, they come back, Toral says.

What do you think? Will offshore medical care go mainstream and gain the acceptance of national policy makers, major insurers and employers?

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Ms. Hemingway Goes to Washington

National Wellness Week, “The Pledge” Kickoff on Capitol Hill

Advocating wellness for all, Mariel Hemingway, Academy Award®-nominated actress and national spokesperson for 2012 Wellness Week™, led SpaFinder’s kickoff event in Washington, D.C., last week in the company of congressional leaders and wellness advocates.

On Capitol Hill, before more than 80 attendees, including the Washington Spa Alliance, both outside and inside-the-beltway press and national trade organizations, including National Coalition on Health Care, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Medical Student Association, American Society of Plastic Surgeons and National Committee for Quality Assurance, Hemingway urged Americans to consider wellness their “birthright,” as she unveiled the Wellness Week Pledge, seven simple steps Americans can adopt to help them live healthier, happier lives.



Hemingway invited all attendees to join her in taking The Pledge, which comprises eating a healthy breakfast, moving more, hydrating, connecting with nature, making sleep a priority, embracing the power of touch and finding silence every day.

The Pledge is the cornerstone of Wellness Week, presented by SpaFinder, which will take place from March 19 – 25, when spas, private trainers, yoga and Pilates studios and other wellness businesses will offer guests specials from 50% off to $50 prices. Many locations will also host inspiring events led by experts, at no cost to the guest, in order to make the wellness lifestyle more accessible.

The Wellness Week Pledge

Attendees signed the Wellness Week Pledge


Asked which step was most important to her, Hemingway answered the seventh, which was “to give myself the gift of silence.” Along with her, Representatives Tom Petri (R-WI) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), themselves “passionate” about wellness, delivered welcome remarks at event and were introduced by SpaFinder EVP Sallie Fraenkel. In addition, SpaEvidence.com co-founder Dr. Daniel Friedland addressed the crowd, urging them to actively take charge of their healthcare, and consider themselves “the CEO” of their overall health.

Fraenkel, Hemingway and Dr. Friedland later met with other members of Congress, including Senator Barbara Boxer and Rep. Joe Pitts, and signed a banner with the Wellness Week pledge on it, as a way to get people on board and committed to making a difference in their health and the health of our nation.

Sallie Fraenkel from SpaFinder, Senator Barbara Boxer and Mariel Hemingway, spokesperson, Wellness Week

Sallie Fraenkel from SpaFinder, Senator Barbara Boxer and Mariel Hemingway, spokesperson, Wellness Week

It was energizing to witness how Washington is “getting it” and as Fraenkel said in her intro remarks, “This is just the beginning…”


Also in attendance:

  • Legislative staff from House and Senate including: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator John Kerry, Senator Kent Conrad, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Michael Bennett, Representative Charlie Rangle, Representative Pat Tiberi  and House Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions
  • Media including: National Journal, Congressional Quarterly/Roll Call,  US News & World Report, The Hill, Washington Examiner, Washington Express, Washingtonian, Washington Life, Georgetown Dish,  K Street Kate, All About the Pretty (blog), All Natural Annie (blog)

See more photos on Facebook!

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How to Make a Successful Wellness Week Event

Wellness Week™, March 19-25, is fast approaching, and one of the inspiring components of this weeklong event is the chance for partners to host free community events. In addition to SpaFinder’s extensive national advertising and PR initiatives for Wellness Week, these happenings encourage people in your area to take charge of their health — and ultimately provide you with an innovative way to market to both current clients and new ones. Your event doesn’t have to be fancy or intimidating – from a simple sip-and-spa get-together to a nutritional talk, look at your event as a way for people to explore your spa, yoga, Pilates or fitness studio, and recognize that it’s a rewarding way to give back and represent your community.

It’s a win-win for everyone!

Why Host a Wellness Week event?

  • It has potential to raise awareness of your business
  • It can generate customers – whether old or new –  to come through your doors
  • It encourages clients to try something new


Planning Your Event from A to Z

Pre-event planning

  • Motivate your fitness/wellness team to brainstorm: Have a meeting with your spa or wellness team to brainstorm and assign responsibilities.
  • Keep it simple: Pick just one message or topic that your event revolves around. Recruit a lead therapist, a nutritionist, wellness consultant, etc. to come in and deliver a lecture or speech. Invite clients to come in for a tour and serve champagne. Gift a product to clients and explain to them the benefits. Check out the SpaFinder Wellness Week Event in a Box for ideas.
  • Create a snazzy invite to generate a crowd: Use an attention-grabbing title, urge invitees to mark their calendars and bring a friend or create a call to action by including an RSVP. If using an electronic invitation, have a link that people can click on right to the RSVP. Remember to put signs up in the reception area to promote your event, and post event details on your social media pages.
  • Promote: Check your inbox for an email explaining the Wellness Week toolkit that includes password-protected marketing tools – posters, web banners, templates and more – to help you promote your offerings in your community.
  • Get spa or wellness brands involved: Vendors have an annual budget for sampling and are enthusiastic about promoting their brand, so inquire with your spa or wellness business’s brand. Some 2012 Wellness Week Spa Brand partners – Alchimie Forever, June Jacobs, Belly Friendly, Somme Institute and Suvara – guarantee they will support the events if your business already works with them.
  • Be resourceful: Or, get local businesses involved as well and ask for donations, whether it be food or beverage or decor.
  • Set revenue targets: While the foundation of these events lies in education and raising awareness toward a healthier lifestyle, events do have income potential. You’re going to spend money, but you can also make money. People that go to events are in the party mode, which can mean the buying mode.


Tips for a successful event

  • Host the event during Wellness Week; it’s an ideal time because there’s already extensive national advertising and PR initiatives behind the nation’s largest wellness event.
  • A private affair: If you’re able, just keep the event private.
  • Initiate a call to action, i.e., the first 10 people to RSVP get a free consultation, product, goody bag with your spa menu and samples, etc.
  • Picture perfect: Have someone on staff take photos during the event that can later be uploaded to your social media outlets.
  • Indulge the senses: Let party guests use their senses. Have aromatherapy oils for them to smell, scrubs and masks to try, spa tours, etc. And if you’re going high-tech with your event, we recommend performing invasive services on other spa therapists or models and not necessarily a party guest.


Contact us at wellnessweek@spafinder.com for any questions.

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Spa Industry News Briefs

Hilton Offers eforea: spa Concept to Franchise Owners

After being polished at seven initial locations, Hilton Worldwide’s international spa concept, eforea: spa at Hilton, will be made available to franchise owners across three Hilton brands; Hilton Hotels and Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton and Embassy Suites Hotels. The brand, which was launched in late 2010, has grown to include more than 90 locations in development. Read more about eforea: spa at Hilton on Club Spa.

Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort Completes $330-Million Refurbishment

The $330-million renovation of Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, is now complete, and with it comes the all-new teen activities complex, Barcy Kids Club area, and golf-only accommodations with private clubhouse. Since its launch in 2009, the Barceló Bávaro Palace Deluxe has worked to create a resort fit for the entire family, a recognized trend in SpaFinder’s 2012 Global Spa Trends Report.

Chatwal Hotels & Resorts to Expand Boutique Hotel Brand in India

Hampshire Hotels & Resorts, the management team of Chatwal Hotels & Resorts, has announced a five-year plan to launch 52 hotels in India under the highly successful international hospitality brand, Dream and Night. The company has already invested $180 million to bring the brands, the brainchildren of hotelier Vikram Chatwal, to India.

Atlantis Paradise Island to Complete $65 Million Capital-Improvement Program

Atlantis Paradise Island, home to the Mandara Spa franchise, began a $65 million capital-improvement program in 2011 and, despite a halted debt-for-equity transaction, continues to renovate under the program. The makeover will include 700 of the resort’s 3,614 rooms, several bars and lounges, an expansion of the sports bars, improved traffic flow at the water slides and restoration of several beaches.

The St. Regis Doha to Open February 28 with a Remède Spa

The St. Regis Doha is now accepting reservations for its debut on February 28. This debut marks the first St. Regis brand in Qatar, a moment Tareq Derbas, general manager, has been looking forward to for three years, reports say. The hotel will offer 336 guest rooms including 70 suites, with sea views, butler service and a Remède Spa.



Other Industry Headlines

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., Opens St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort & Residences with 14,000-square-foot Remède Spa

The Spa at Park Hyatt Sydney Set to Open this Month

Rezidor Hotel Group and Carlson Partner to Launch New Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group (CRHG)

The Lifehouse Spa Resort near Colchester, Essex, is Up for Sale

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Repechage Founder Lydia Sarfati’s Spa by Prescription: Recreating the Spa Industry

At the 2011 Repechage Network Power Lunch company founder Lydia Sarfati brought to light the changing scene of the spa industry and her concept of “Spa by Prescription.” After taking note of the busy, hectic-paced lifestyles of her spa clients, Sarfati saw the need for fast, immediate and results-driven treatments to fit into her client’s lives. Fast results are clinical results, and so began her idea of recreating the spa industry though “Spa by Prescription.”

Just as a doctor in a hospital can speak to the purpose of treatments and medicines he or she will use on the patient to provide results, the therapists and estheticians at your spa should be able to do the same. Each and every treatment and product offered in your spa should have an objective, and all of your employees should be able to express to your clients exactly how that treatment and product will work for them to achieve that objective’s outcome. Clients are coming in for results and fast ones at that. It’s time to “replace relax, with results,” says Sarfati.

Another essential point Sarfati touched on is the importance that treatment rooms must have the right tools. Your estheticians have to have quality magnifying lamps in order to do proper consultations and analysis. Another must-have for estheticians is the DermaScale. Your tools become your authority, and once you are the authority, your clients rely on you and will continue their business with you, Sarfati says. She urges spas to not be afraid of high frequency. “We’ve been high-touch, let’s get high-tech,” she says of the spa industry’s need to spend on technologically advanced tools, products and treatments.

“Let’s get clinical in 2012!” Sarfati urged the group at the lunch. Just as SpaEvidence and SpaFinder strive to show, Sarfati believes that it’s time to show clients that spa is a necessity, not just a luxury, just like your yearly checkups at the doctor. A great way to “get clinical” is to give your spa a makeover. Brighter and lighter will project a different image, one that is results-oriented. Like Sarfati says, “If you want to be clinical you have to look clinical.”

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