If you want to add to the glut of hotel rooms in the Caribbean you'll find eager investors, government support and local businesses egging you on. But if you want to build a medical tourism facility with nearly guaranteed returns, you won't find anyone standing in line to help. What's wrong with this picture?
For the past seven years I've watched and read of one new and improved hotel, all-inclusive resort, high end condo development and about every other hospitality-based project one could imagine be lapped up by hungry Caribbean bureaucrats and developers. Then, I watch them flounder, cut pricing to the bone, eliminate guest services and then turn-over to the next developer and operator. 

The Caribbean hotel business is maxed out, but it's the devil they know in that region of the world, and it's the devil they keep feeding. 

What the Caribbean needs to learn is that while tourism will likely always be their business mainstay, defining tourism in the same pre-packaged ways needs to change. The Caribbean is a great place, but it reminds me a bit of the railroad industry in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century. As the automobile began to emerge and people saw travel as a more independently accessed commodity, railroads continued to see themselves as unchanging.... as a result U.S. railroads are pretty one dimensional today, hauling commerce, and not people - with a few exceptions.  The Caribbean is on the same path. Every country is competing with every other country for essentially the very same tourists. I recently spoke with a developer who was trying to tell me why his country was so much better than all the rest and how it was preferred by most tourists. However, he couldn't explain "why." He could only say, "we're better, we're different." Not to hurt his feelings, but every country in the Caribbean and most in Latin American have white sand and blue skies. Too often the only differentiators are language and crime. 

So, other than changing from singles resorts to family friendly fun, how can the Caribbean save itself for the long haul? It's a simple answer, but one that is not easily put in place. Medical Tourism is the answer. However, what I've seen in the Caribbean's few medical tourism destinations are local facilities and practitioners who do little more than hang out a shingle for tourists to see and hope they come in if they trip and fall on the beach or cut themselves on a piece of coral. However, a few are offering miracle cancer cures or age rejuvenation treatments.  Honestly, there are no miracle cures and you're simply as old as you are.   

First, that simply is not medical tourism. Medical Tourism is specifically directed to non-nationals and combines high quality medical care with exceptional patient experiences in attractive and safe tourism destinations. What that means is developing a product that directly appeals to foreign nationals seeking very specific medical services outside their home countries because the medical services they want or need are either not readily available or they are unaffordable. 

Further, those are sophisticated travelers and they want very specific things. 
  • They want physicians with internationally recognized training and credentials, and they want to be able to learn about those physicians before committing to a procedure.
  • They want Joint Commission International accredited facilities - which means systems and process along with an actual physical structure that meets stringent objective accrediting standards.
  • They want personalized care.
  • They want their traveling companions to be well cared for as well.
  • They want fees that are reasonable and understandable.
  • They want continuity of care between their home and your destination.
  • They want a safe country and friendly, welcoming environment that is easily accessed.
  • They want a perfect outcome.

If you are willing to meet those objectives, you can effectively diversify your economy and significantly improve your competitive posture for one of the fastest growing segments of the tourism market, the medical tourist. 

The Caribbean can do this, but my observation is that few if any are willing to. Critical resources for these projects need to be imported and investments need to be secured by government guarantees. There are no international brands, no Marriotts or Hiltons, in healthcare willing to sink millions in a new endeavor.  So, governments must partner with developers, providers, management companies and others to create this new segment, but with nearly guaranteed revenues, and profits and EBIDTA running between 35 and 45 percent, it's a tourism segment the Caribbean cannot afford to keep turning its back on.