Is there anything that you would particularly like to remark upon?

I would highlight the importance of the synergy between academia-private sector-government to achieve a greater advance forward of medical tourism in the region. Moreover, one should also consider the benefits of growing in this area. By way of investment in infrastructure and professional development of personnel, not only in the  healthcare sector but equally in the tourism industry: hotels, travel agencies, restaurants, transport companies, etc. Thereby, ensuring the best experience possible for the patient.

Above all, it is important to identify the most pressing needs and demands of the medical tourist in order to offer a health service that will differentiate you from your competitors, who are increasing by the day.

What advantages would you say Gran Canaria has to establish itself as a medical tourism destination?

Gran Canaria offers top quality healthcare services and has outstanding medical specialists in all areas. At the same time, it is a very attractive tourist destination – No. 1 in Europe – along with an exceptionally pleasant climate. It is accessible from America, Europe and Africa which increases its possibilities to attract a wider and more diverse range of international patients.

What effect do you think the European Directive is going to have on medical tourism?

A positive effect. The Directive opens up new options for EU citizens and presents an alternative forcutting costs. With the European Directive, each member state is obliged to reimburse the cost of treatment up to the limit of what the same treatment would have cost in its own healthcare system. In general, the patients have to put up the amount involved in advance and the national authorities will then reimburse them at a later date.

Each member state will establish the proper administrative procedures for cross-borderhealthcare treatment and the reimbursing of costs. This will help regulate this sector which, up until now, has sometimes had a negative perception because of people abusing healthcare systems in the past.

After this Conference, what do you feel are the following steps to take?

The first thing is to understand this business opportunity. Medical  tourism is a direct source of income for the community, as patients not only make payments to medical centres but also spend money on hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions, generating local employment and economic growth in the long run. More specialised services are required which brings about a demand and the employment of specialised professionals which, at the same time, benefits societyas they raise the standards of quality.

Once the business opportunity has been understood in the region, it is very important to be able to count on collaboration from the different entities within the sector, plus support from the government for the development of a sustainable strategy for medical tourism which starts with specific planning, i.e. the identification of the unique value proposition, target market assessments and positioning strategies. Secondly, investment for the development of infrastructure, training and certification is necessary. Finally being backed up by a continually evolving multi-channel marketing strategy.

Cristina Cardona, Executive Global Program Manager at the Medical Tourism Assocation, thank you very much for your views.