Jamaica’s trade and investment promotion arm Jamaica Promotions Corporation has set its sights on US investors to attract attract medical tourists from the USA

Jamaica’s trade and investment promotion arm Jamaica Promotions Corporation has set its sights on US investors to attract attract medical tourists from the USAJamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) hosted two business forums that promote Jamaica as a destination for medical tourism investments, business partnerships and dental tourism. The Do Business Jamaica forum on medical tourism in Washington, D. C and Atlanta, Georgia, promoted business opportunities within Jamaica’s medical tourism industry, The Jamaican government has determined that medical tourism from the USA will be a key driver of economic growth. While the support the idea in theory, neither the government nor local businesses have the funds to develop or improve local hospitals and clinics.

To date, JAMPRO has attracted $15 million of investments. Spanish group Hospiten has a small new 22-bed private hospital – Hospiten Montego Bay. The other is the GWest Centre, also in Montego Bay – a business center that includes an outpatient surgery, an urgent care center, an inpatient unit and a radiology unit. Many units are still empty and the local promoters are vague as to whether or not any medical units are actually open.

A Diaspora Strategy

The plan is to attract doctors from Jamaica, the Caribbean and North America to offer North Coast residents, tourists and medical tourists a range of medical services. While this approach has been tried in many parts of the world, it has failed to realize significant business volume. The strategy is a variation on a theme of influencer strategy. But few Jamaican Diaspora physicians have the celebrity brands to influence or attract patient referrals at the level that is necessary to make that strategy work. Jamaica would do well to reconsider and target places like West Africa as source markets. The island nation seeks to attract members of the diaspora living in the USA with low price dental, diagnostic and non-invasive services. That approach and pitch may have worked pre-Obamacare. There just isn’t that much of a compelling business case for dental, diagnostic and non-invasive services because the cost to travel and buy healthcare in Jamaica, for an American with mandatory health coverage is more expensive than staying home. The dental strategy works for Mexico but mostly because destinations that thrive on dental care in Mexico are driveable. Another reason this approach will fail in Jamaica is because it overlooks (if not downright dismisses) Jamaica’s unique destination attractiveness. Instead the strategy places Jamaica in a race to the bottom of the Caribbean medical tourism commodity marketplace competing on price. It is a pity, because Jamaica has so much more to offer than “cheap healthcare on a charming island close to America.”

Lots of room for growth

When reading about market share percentage upticks, it is important to understand the statistics in context. Jamaica only gets a few hundred medical tourists, mostly from local islands. So any real growth will be a huge, sensational percentage but little revenue. Jamaica needs substantive revenue, not window dressing. Revenue will beget revenue. But with these strategies in play, and at the going rate of progress, it may be several years before Jamaica can be counted as a fully-developed medical tourism destination of distinction. And those visitors from neighbor islands now familiar with Jamaica will be less anxious about traveling from their home to other islands if Jamaica doesn’t lock in Jamaican destination brand loyals to come back in a customer lifetime value strategy.

Success at this stage in the medical tourism industry will take a more complete, executable strategy, complex comprehensive marketing strategy by the national tourism board and stakeholders, working in collaboration with one another. I believe Jamaica will experience difficulty attracting investors willing to infuse cash without some existing track record and revenues or a differentiation strategy. Investors are already wise to the failed strategies and painful lessons learned at other destinations. They have no reason to believe that Jamaica’s potential outcome will be different using the same strategies that they lost money on elsewhere.

We’ve voiced these opinions in the past over the last several years. However, the Jamaican government didn’t have cash then to hire proper assistance, and instead chose to hire a marketing campaign headed by medical travel newsletters acting as paid promotional cheerleaders to serve the Kool-Aid. When we argued for reality and executable strategy instead of pompoms, since my comments then were contrarian and unpopular and not supportive of the approach, I was ignored and squelched. Now that 3-4 years have passed and the GWest and Hospiten facilities have arrived, there is still no more sizzle or traffic than there was pre-pompoms and cheerleaders. Hindsight is truly 20/20 vision. The hired cheerleaders and their pompoms did little to bring results desired for medical tourism development in Jamaica. Without doing a proper (albeit cursory) situation analysis and interpretation of what else Jamaica can package together in a compelling offer of tourism and healthcare, it is difficult to venture a guess as to what the sustainable growth product strategy would be for investors if they did come.

Hospiten is a global favorite of ours in terms of clean, unfettered, well-managed mid-tier hospitals at a moderate price. Jamaica can combine this new asset with the charm and competency of Jamaican trained nurses, island gastronomy (ackee, saltfish, curry goat, Johnny cakes, plantains, pigeon peas and other dishes influenced by the African, Indian, British, French Spanish and Chinese) to create a winning destination development strategy. These natural assets should also give a hint as to which target markets may be more comfortable and culturally aligned as a natural targeted microaudience to receive healthcare in Jamaica.

Jamaica should begin using what it has in terms of healthcare and tourism assets to begin with a low-risk approach with a Mo’ better in Mo’Bay campaign that begins heuristically familiarizing consumers with the notion of medical travel to Jamaica with a checkup combined with a resort stay at a low to modest cost. It should play on the convenience ofget it all done in a da y; then stay to play. Instead JAMPRO officials have been focused on 10x multipliers claimed for more complicated medical tourism stays. With only 100 cases per year, the potential for growth in the 10x multiplier surgical cases they are targeting are highly unlikely as a first line strategy.

JAMPRO should ask itself why anyone “choose” Jamaica, with no substantive track record or testimonials from real influencers (past consumers delighted with their experience) over someplace else? Once someone is willing to board a flight for health or wellness tourism, within 2 hours from Miami or Atlanta there are many competitors. According to the reports from the meetings, Jamaica has decided on an “appointment selling strategy” to market her new grossly excessive capacity with the two hospitals named above. The “Because it’s cheaper here ” medical tourism strategy doesn’t work elsewhere. Why would it be different for Jamaica?

Instead Jamaica must develop a unique, “available only in Jamaica ” medical tourism destination experience strategy that incorporates medical tourism destination experience offerings that set it apart from any other Caribbean island competitor. As each and every day passes, Jamaica falls further and further behind in a Caribbean competitive position as other countries build and grow with their governments’ and stakeholders’ collaborative support and unique product offerings.

I for one am a strong believer in Jamaica’s real potential for successful growth with medical tourism and the right strategy. I have little confidence in the approach they’ve chosen. What a pity. Do overs are sometimes never possible with the precious financial and resources have been squandered and the market loses confidence in its ability to make a go of it.

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