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Volume No. 1 Issue No. 23 - Friday, June 28, 2002
Emmanuel Finn on health tourismHealth Tourism

byDr. Emanuel Finn

Now that the Banana industry has finally reached its demise, another long term, sustainable and profitable industry - health touris- must quickly replace it in order to provide hard needed cash to Dominica and its citizens. Now is the time to look inwards instead of outwards for sustainable solutions.

While we must continue to explore external funding sources, we must continue to 'dip our buckets' where we are and start taking greater advantage and opportunities that our island home presents. These options are certainly not going to come easy and fast. With proper, long term and consistent planning, cooperation, commitment, political will and strong effective (less myopic) leadership, our developmental goals will have far greater chances of succeeding.

One such long-term sustainable developmental goal is the marketing of Dominica as a health tourism destination. Today countries such as South Africa, Israel, Costa Rica, Greece and countries along the Mediterranean Sea and a host of others, are using the unique attractiveness of their lands to lure health tourists from all over the world. A growing number of patients with deep pockets from affluent countries are searching for countries with alternative forms of medical and health treatments.

Rich patients from North America, Europe and the Orient (baby-boomers) are constantly exploring ways to extend their lifespans. They are traveling to distant places for all sorts of natural therapeutic methods of health treatment to further extent their stay on this earth. Some of these tried and true methods of healing and treatment modalities have been used by ancient civilizations and traditional cultures for centuries.

Dominica is uniquely qualified to capitalize on this booming niche market of health tourism. But in order to have a fair chance of succeeding, a different way of thinking, marketing and acting on the part of those in the tourism industry (including government) must be exhibited. The customer relations attitude, which currently exists and has existed for a long time, on the part of industry employees is counterproductive.

The cultural excuse of " that's the way we do things" or "that's how Dominicans are" is no longer acceptable. Continuous and proper training of these workers and a bit of job incentives could change this attitude around. Of course, it is fair to say that some businesses in the tourism industry in Dominica have mastered the art of customer relations while others are trying to get there. In spite of this fact, more needs to be done in this critical area on which the industry hinges.

Second, it is imperative that the government (of the day) works closely with the hotel, non-profit (NGOs) business, medical communities and other groups to devise a carefully planned long-term strategic plan of action. Health tourism is not very different than beach, eco or traditional tourism. It is a bit different from the other forms of tourism due to the fact that it is a form of telemedicine and like conventional medicine, there are in inherent ethical rules, codes of conduct and practice guidelines and patterns.

The medical community and the ministries of health, Agriculture and Division of Forestry should explore and continue to investigate the medicinal values of our natural resources such as the sulphur springs, boiling lake, hot Springs water falls and tropical rain forests. The holistic healing powers of plants and herbs such as 'bazalick,' 'seimeicountrar, (teas)' 'tabac zobie' (jumbie's tobacco) and others. Should be continuously promoted. Even the relaxing Jing-Ping music should be promoted as a healing dance similar to the classical music of Mozart and Beethoven.

This use of natural plants, herbs and other forms of healing will only get bigger as people continue to seek more alternative and less invasive treatment modalities to cure their illnesses. Even the Geneva based World Health Organization (WHO) has realized this worldwide trend. This year the WHO began a long-term project of formally chronicling the medicinal and healing values of plants and herbs in most traditional cultures that have proven to have high healing rates for a variety of illnesses over the centuries.

In order for this health tourism industry to survive let alone succeed, the government and all the stakeholders in this venture will have to embark on an international, marketing and advertising campaign geared towards Western Europe, North America, Japan, Saudi Arabia and other countries. The advertising slogan will point out the fact that our natural land will (possibly) help to cure aliments and make visitors feel like 'new and improved beings'.

The advertisements will be geared towards patients who are seeking rest, relaxation and alternative forms of cure for their ailments, cancers and other illnesses which modern high tech medicine cannot or does not seem to have concrete answers to. Also a massive local education campaign should also be waged to impress upon all Dominicans that we do have resources that rich people envy.

The lure of these rich patients (especially Canadians and Americans) is also a matter of economics for our country and these rich and famous tourists. The exchange rate of American dollars could only mean that these deep pockets patients would get bigger bang for their "bucks" in the fight to regain and retain their good health and sanity. In return, our depressed economy will get a much needed and steady boost.

Dominica waterfallThese rich patients who will be seeking treatments in the nature island can choose to stay in their yachts or cruise ships off shore and venture out during the day for their treatments, rest and relaxation and recuperation. They can also reside for their short stays at what can be described as safari camps in the interior possibly in the southern or Northern Forest Reserves, Pond Casse or along our 365 rivers and streams.

The various government ministries, departments and NGOs including the police, conservationists and others will have to be part of the planning aspect of this segment of the industry. While along these waterways and in the interior, members of the medical community will be responsible for their conventional and unconventional medical treatments.

Of course, the local medical doctors will have to communicate with the patient's doctors back in their home countries. This can easily be accomplishing via, (cell) telephone, satellite, Internet or other forms of computer based communications (Tele-Internet Based Medicine).

This priceless stay will be more than the equivalent of four- and five star hotels in any big city in the world. In addition, chances are that these health tourists will pay less than what they would pay at comparable senior citizen resorts in Florida or California.

Government can use its foreign missions in London, New York, Washington and official representatives elsewhere to help market the health tourism plan. Dominican expatriates (ambassadors) with business, marketing, medical, professional backgrounds and others from all walks of life, can work closely with these missions to speak at rotary clubs, banquets, and at other functions abroad to sell and advertise the project. Also a website and a few advertising pages in cuisine and travel magazines, major newspapers and publications such Time, Newsweek or the Economist magazines should be purchased.

Where is the startup capital for this project coming from? This writer suggests that grants from the European Union (EU) and other international donor organizations should be requested for a pilot study to jump-start this sustainable venture. If the grant proposal demonstrates and clearly outlines how the project will be sustainable after the granting period is over, then initial funding streams should be relatively easy to be obtained.

The grant application that Dominica produces will be more convincing if it clearly outlines that the health tourism project is a true private-public-non-governmental organization (NGO) partnership (instead of just a governmental project) then startup grants are much more likely to flow.

International donors and philanthropic organizations are more comfortable when government partners with organizations for developmental projects. These donors hold the view that when there is true collaboration and cooperation, a higher level of oversight and accountability and the best, brightest and most committed citizens (not necessary political appointees) play leadership roles in developmental projects.

Nothing is more theureupeutic and appealing to a person with failing health and high stress than finding an effective and efficient way to reverse that trend and maximize on their health and longevity. Nothing could be more appealing to a rich (ailing) American, Canadian, Japanese or European than viewing a beautiful late afternoon sunset at Calibishe bay while quenching their thirst from a (an expensive) bottle of pure fresh Dominican mountain water.

Nothing is more healing to a cancer patient than bathing in the early morning in the mineral rich La Rivere Blance (White river) viewing the early morning sunrise at Point Mulatre bay amidst the gentle blowing northeast trade winds and sipping from a glass of merlot or a warm cup of 'seimeicountrar ' tea.

The early morning aroma of the Sulphur Springs or standing on the edge of a waterfall or hot spring is almost certain to make cancer patients feel that their prognosis is getting better and that life is worth living. I can envision legendary Hollywood rich and famous lifestyles reporter Robin Leach on assignment in Dominica doing a piece for the Cable Travel News or for CNN on the latest favorite health related rest and relaxation 'hang out spot' for the rich and famous, (the Nature isle of the Caribbean) outside of California or Florida.

Well, once the patients feel better, they must visit the doctor ever so often for their check ups. That can only mean planeloads of rich passages returning to Dominica with money to spend as they seek for that magic cure. If modest measurable financial and international publicity goals of health tourism can be achieved in a decade or less, it will certainly mean more money for our people and sustainable development for our island home.

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Volume No. 1 Issue No. 23
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Health Tourism
Dominica's Reggae Artist
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