Swiss Health Magazine talks to Martin Nydegger, the CEO of Switzerland Tourism, about the organization’s plans to promote medical tourism, the hottest new spa trends, and about bringing the industry into the new decade – making it more sustainable, while equally exciting for travelers.
– How would you define Swiss health and health tourism? What does this concept mean to you?
– What we mean when talking about health tourism in Switzerland is a mixture of experience in several areas. Firstly, of course, there is the outstanding medical, or rather therapeutic, competence of our doctors. We are indeed lucky to have world-class medicine and so many skilled medical professionals. And at the same time, Switzerland is a very attractive tourism destination – the landscapes, the mountains, the clean air, the clear water. In my opinion, it’s a combination that really works magic. At Switzerland Tourism, we use a technical term for this – a ‘hybrid’ form of tourism. It’s safe to say that we have the best of both worlds.
– One of your initiatives as the head of Switzerland Tourism was the launch of the Swiss Health Tourism project. Can you tell us a little about that?
– In recent months we have gathered a team, created a very informative and comprehensive website, and we are now ready to launch this campaign. It is important to have staff who dedicate all their time to this task: you cannot just tack it on someone’s job description. At the moment we work with roughly thirty clinics, and, of course, all the hotels that offer medical services. The campaign will be promoting the whole range of services – from spa experiences to heart surgery. That’s quite a spectrum, but that’s how we understand it. Health tourism is way more than just the medical aspect. We have added such areas as therapy, rehabilitation, and, of course, all sorts of beauty treatments and health problem prevention programs. This wide choice is where our strength lies.
– What is the biggest news in spa and health tourism at the moment? Any big openings, any new programs?
– The major trend is that more and more hotels are expanding their operations and adding medical facilities – not just a spa, or a sauna, or another pool, but a whole range of therapeutic facilities. Sometimes they have their own staff attending to those facilities, and sometimes they simply provide the rooms and external medical staff cares for the patients.
As for new openings, the Bürgenstock Group opened a new facility on the shore of Lake Lucerne about a year ago. It’s called Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence, a five-star hotel entirely dedicated to medical tourism. Beautiful place! Another recent addition is Cereneo in Vitznau, a clinic focusing on neurology and neurorehabilitation. Chenot Palace, a clinic by the world-famous nutritionist Henri Chenot, will open later this year in Weggis. Also, Hirslanden Klinik Zürich has launched a collaboration with Hotel Atlantis by Giardino in Zurich: they offer packages for preventive treatments such as check-ups, detox, weight management, etc.
– Tourism promotion nowadays is all about social media and influencer marketing. What are your thoughts: is it the same in the field of medical tourism, or is it still good old word of mouth?
– Our research shows that word of mouth is still extremely important, as it is a very personal experience – even more personal than a vacation. Sometimes it’s also very important in terms of discretion, so word of mouth works extremely well. But we need to, so to speak, turn the wheel, get it moving, we need to have a certain amount of people undergoing treatment in Switzerland so that they can then talk to their contacts about their experience and spread the word. Until then, we are using traditional marketing instruments – brochures, websites. Every once in a while we have celebrities and even royal family members sharing their experiences, some even on social media.
– What are your main tasks and challenges at the moment?
– An important topic that demands a lot of our attention is how we are going to deal with sustainability issues. For us, sustainable tourism is not just a marketing campaign; we take it very seriously. I think Switzerland Tourism really has a chance to play a major role here. Tourism is always about mobility, so you cannot disconnect tourism and transportation: obviously people will fly in, that’s a given. So we focus on the idea that once they touch down on Swiss ground, they have a fully sustainable experience. Here’s one particular example of a program that we are very proud of: in winter, many people come to Switzerland for a skiing vacation, and as they have a lot of luggage, they rent cars to carry it. As you might know, we try to promote public transport here in Switzerland, which is more environmentally friendly. So this year, together with SBB (Swiss Federal Railways), we have launched a program called Luggage Special. Someone shows up at your home address in Switzerland, picks up your luggage and brings it to your holiday destination. It’s a free service, so now you basically don’t have an excuse to use the car anymore. Regarding other challenges, we have a lot of low-hanging fruit and a great starting point, but this is going to take up a great deal of our time for the next couple of years.