Most destinations that position themselves as medical tourism centers have world-class health-care facilities that Southern Nevada would never be able to match.
But that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of a group of organizations that sees economic opportunity for the region if it capitalizes on its medical tourism assets instead of lamenting its weaknesses.
Instead of recruiting medical specialists from places that those experts aren’t likely to leave, local leaders instead will focus on local attributes and redefine their mission.
The Las Vegas Regional Strategic Plan for Medical and Wellness Tourism was unveiled Wednesday evening at a meeting of health care and tourism professionals, organizations and nonprofit groups. The event was sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, Las Vegas Health, Education, Advocacy and Leadership in Southern Nevada and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Medical tourism is considered a lucrative economic engine, estimated to generate $50 billion to $60 billion a year. Recent reports indicate that the industry will grow to $100 billion a year in the next decade and that the combination of medical and wellness tourism could eclipse $500 billion annually.
A handful of Southern Nevada medical specialists have built practices around serving wealthy clients that jet into Las Vegas from anywhere in the world to receive treatment.
“This is about taking what our community already does well and collaborating to forge new and unexpected economic opportunities in medical and wellness tourism,” said Tom Skancke, president and CEO of the Global Economic Alliance, an economic development advocate.
So instead of wooing the world’s best medical specialists, Southern Nevada should market its medical training infrastructure, its menu of wellness offerings — including more than 45 world-class resort spas — and its team of service industry professionals that can steer prospective clients to medical specialists few people know are based in Las Vegas.
Wednesday’s announcement, attended by 100 people in the medical and tourism industries, was made at the 5-year-old Oquendo Surgical Training Center, a facility with surgical stations and telecommunications systems that enable groups to view and learn medical procedures.
A summary of the plan was presented by its co-authors, Douglas Geinzer, CEO of Las Vegas HEALS; Stowe Shoemaker, dean of UNLV’s College of Hotel Administration; Michael Vannozzi, director of public policy for Global Economic Alliance; and Cheryl Smith, medical and wellness tourism manager for the Convention and Visitors Authority.
Thousands of people travel to Las Vegas for medical conferences at which they learn about new procedures that can be demonstrated for large groups.
The report notes that wellness and prevention are key components to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and Southern Nevada’s spa industry is well-suited to serve the wellness tourism market.
“I think there is an assumption that wellness is only defined by things like cholesterol check-ups and executive physicals,” said Smith, co-author of the report.
“That’s the medical aspect of it. But there’s a proactive side, prevention,” she said. “Our spas contribute to overall health and well-being, stress reduction and destination for visitors to experience wellness differently then perhaps they can at home.”
The Affordable Care Act has placed a heavy emphasis on electronic medical records, and Southern Nevada’s high concentration of ultra-secure cloud and data storage facilities has attracted new firms and talent to the region.
The plan also envisions wellness travel agents and medical concierges that can identify resources and introduce Las Vegas’ list of client offerings.
Las Vegas has niche disciplines within the health-care industry — such as fertility, plastic surgery, age management, bariatric and orthopedic surgery, diagnostic imaging and dental — which attract both domestic and international travelers to Southern Nevada.
Organizers also hope to position Southern Nevada as a location for clinical trials. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development awarded a Knowledge Fund grant to UNLV to start a Quantitative Clinical Trials Center at the university.
Experts say that if private and academic partners can build capacity for clinical trials, it should drive additional visitation to the area by patients seeking innovative experimental treatments.
The report issued Wednesday was developed by the founding partners after meetings that began more than a year ago with 147 businesses and organizations.
“Although we have made significant progress over the past 10 years,” the report said, “the medical and wellness tourism market in Las Vegas has yet to take off. Our region needs a more robust strategy to capture a healthy slice of the medical and wellness tourism market and after more than a year of meetings and outreach, the project partners have developed a strategy that begins to address the systemic issues that are holding our medical and wellness tourism economy from realizing its full potential.”