Rivals, reputation said to hinder Las Vegas' tries for medical tourism

Those hoping to promote Las Vegas as a destination for medical tourism should temper their expectations in light of stiff competition and the style of Sin City, participants at a conference in Las Vegas said Tuesday.

Much of the two-day MediTourExpo, which concluded Tuesday at South Point, focused on Americans heading to other countries for low-cost treatment. But the program also addressed ways to create domestic destinations.

In one speech, former Nevada Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt Bono repeated a vision of filling hotel rooms by promoting the city as a wellness center, particularly one offering extensive physicals for senior executives. Matching the exams with the city's entertainment attractions would create a natural pull for these clients, she has often said.

But Mindy Terry, president of the consulting firm Creative Spa Concepts, said that idea has never worked. As the spa director of what is now the J.W. Marriott in Summerlin in 1998, she invested a lot of marketing energy into wellness programs that were largely ignored.

"Las Vegas is the antithesis of wellness," she said. "People who go to a spa here do so to get over a hangover or get ready for a big night out. Even if you spent millions of dollars and hired the best marketing firm for an ad campaign, I don't think you can change that mindset.''

The same "anything goes" spirit of the city could even be a detriment to worthwhile physicals, she added. A 7 a.m. treadmill stress test after a night on the casino floor doesn't produce good results, she said.

The proximity of numerous spas promoting wellness programs in more serene and isolated settings puts anything Las Vegas would offer at an immediate disadvantage, she said.

Some locals, notably Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, have pushed the idea of bringing in people for treatment of major medical problems. The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health has been held out as a catalyst.

Many other places have come up with the same idea, said Keith Pollard, managing director of Intuition Communication, an online publisher based in the London suburb of Berkhamsted .

"You need to find the right niche for the state and the city and get people together to make it work," he said. "If you want medical tourism, you need to offer a set price and stick to it."

While many countries will quote a particular price for procedures ranging from knee implants to bypasses, U.S. hospitals fluctuate widely, he noted.

Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.