Is Onshore Healthcare Tourism An Opportunity For Wellness Businesses?

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You’ve heard of “medical tourism” and “healthcare tourism.” But have you heard of onshore…or wellness tourism?  These patients and clients drive or fly from their home state to another state in the U.S. to seek healthcare or wellness services. It’s a big opportunity — and one that many wellness leaders mistakenly think is out of reach.

For example, the Alaska Dispatch News reports that health care in Alaska can cost 4X more than other states. As the saying goes, one person’s problem is another’s opportunity, and Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and even North Dakota have capitalized on the unique intersection between cost, distance, and quality of health care to bring more out-of-state patients to their doors.

If your medical practice, wellness center or healthy lifestyle businesses offers a unique customer experience, it may make sense for you to market outside of your community and your own zipcode as well. Here’s how to exploit healthcare tourism and wellness tourism successfully:

1. Market your difference

Dr. Richard Bernstein, a diabetes specialist, has attracted patients from all over the United States with an innovative treatment approach that was dramatically different from the carb-heavy diets traditionally recommended by the American Diabetes Association.  The Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Denver is a global destination for serious athletes who need orthopedic surgery. Residential programs for eating disorders, addiction treatment and weight loss attract clients from all over the United States, and Kripalu and the WholeBeing Institute do too.

How do they make it work? Each example above offers something truly unique that can’t be obtained elsewhere.

2. Understand the appeal of your destination

People travel from all over the globe to Santa Fe, NM for spa stays. Why New Mexico? Hot springs, that serene back-to-Mother-Earth desert vibe, exotic Anasazi history, and tons of celebrity glamour. On the other hand, an isolated rural location can be very appealing for high-end privacy-starved clientele. That’s why the Yellowstone Club thrives.

Healthcare tourism and wellness tourism require appealing destinations, too. Just keep in mind that “appealing” doesn’t necessarily mean postcard-perfect views. It can be about something far more intangible, like privacy, serenity, or simply the “get away from the everyday” feeling you offer. One of our clients built the reputation of their geographically remote meditation and mindfulness institute on top-notch personal credentials and an intensive focus on long-lived community among their students that far exceeded anything available elsewhere. Even though they’re at least one flight from pretty much everywhere, it didn’t take much for a waiting list to form — and one of the best things about waiting lists is that they communicate very clearly that the experience is going to be worth waiting for.

3. Strategically market in other regions

Which locations are logical geographical “partners” for your healthcare tourism or wellness tourism programs? That’s who your website, print, Adwords pay-per-click and social media should target.

For instance, the Austin, TX “Silicon Gulch” business community and California’s Silicon Valley tech community are very tightly connected. In fact, American Airlines’ evening flight from San Jose, CA to Austin is called the “nerd bird” because it’s usually stuffed with tech employees.

So…if you’re an upscale health club located in San Jose or San Francisco near major tech employers, it might make a lot of sense to market to appropriately targeted audiences in Austin. Odds are good that a lot of folks from San Francisco are landing in your area every week, and quite a few belong to a health club back home.

“Snowbird” dynamics create a similar opportunity. We worked with a Florida bodywork client located in a community that attracted literally thousands of “snowbirds” — retirees who lived on the East Coast in Massachusetts and New York during warmer months, and relocate to their second homes in Florida when the weather’s cold back home. We split their marketing budget between here and there — so they stayed top of mind with their current and potential clients.

4. Assist with logistics

What will people need help with? Lodging? Airport pickup? Car rental? Taxis or Uber? Will friends or family be traveling with them? Will their needs be different?

It’s especially important to think the logistics through if your clients are actually patients undergoing significant medical treatment. You may need to provide concierge services that can arrange in-hotel health care or food delivery or airport transfers, for example. Work with local businesses to tailor their services (and prices) to your clientele and your purchase volume.

Think about packages that include meals, accommodations, and a handful of special services tailored around the experience you both want your mutual customers to have. Will your clients have predictable dietary requirements or restrictions? Will “no stairs” and ground-floor room access be requirements? You get the idea.

5. Keep things flexible

One highly specialized dementia-care facility made sure that the family members of potential residents knew that they could and would happily admit new residents around-the-clock — no prearrangement required.

They knew that simply getting the person with dementia there was often a challenge when families were driving or flying from other areas, and they simply couldn’t predict when they might arrive.

Clients who’ve spent the last 4 hours on a plane or on the interstate are not going to want to wait an extra hour because your intake manager was delayed at the car repair shop or “Dr. Jones is running late.” It makes them feel like you weren’t worth the drive, you don’t have time for them, and you’re too rigid to work with.

6. Understand your remote prospect

Different geographies have different vibes — even locally. Keep that in mind when you’re promoting your services outside your zip code. One doesn’t have to go far to find examples of the hurried New Yorker, the relaxed Southerner, the self-reliant Midwesterner, or the wealthy hoodie-wearing tech guy from the Silicon Valley. They also have different economies, price points, income levels, and so on.

We talked recently to a wellness clinic who advertised their highly discretionary medical services to communities within a certain geographic radius. Makes sense — except that they were located in the epicenter of an economically-depressed area where the household income was very low. And their services typically required an upfront payment of more than $1,000. It was never going to work. The right answer was to leapfrog the “doughnut” of communities right around them, and market in slightly more distant communities with much greater disposable income.

With appropriate attention to marketing — based on the specific value of your products and services to your intended audience — your healthcare, fitness, or wellness business can capitalize on its unique appeal to target prospective customers outside your zipcode.

Successful healthcare tourism or wellness tourism starts with thinking about how your services look to someone from the outside — way outside. That might mean one county over, one state over — or a metro area on the opposite coast.

Where will you go from there?