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How do you segment your customer base when you are marketing medical tourism services? Do you really understand who your customers (or potential customers) are and what media you need to use to get your message across to them?

How do you segment your customer base when you are marketing medical tourism services? Do you really understand who your customers (or potential customers) are and what media you need to use to get your message across to them?
New research looking at cosmetic surgery tourism shows that different destinations are targeting potential customers in different ways with different messages. Whether this is intentional segmentation or is because the destination believes all of its customers come from a particular segment is up for discussion.
At the British Sociological Association’s annual conference, the researchers from the Leeds’ Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies and the University of Leicester in the UK and the Sydney University and the University of Technology, Sydney in Australia presented an analysis of cosmetic surgery tourism websites, the first of its kind, and found that marketing strategy “seems to betray class preferences.”

Spain… cosmetic surgery for the working class?
According to the research team, Spanish cosmetic surgery sites are marketing themselves to working-class Britons by showing images of obvious wealth such as photos of yachts, while Czech sites are appealing to the middle-classes by being more understated. For instance, the images of yachts on Spanish sites “could be taken as rather clunky signifiers of status and luxury” which “serve to connect cosmetic surgery with beauty and success, specifically in the form of wealth.” This would appeal especially to people who were not wealthy.
The researchers found that the Spanish sites treated women “primarily as body parts” with photos of breasts, thighs, stomachs, buttocks and faces but none of the complete body. They also equated women’s high self-esteem with their looks.

Czech Republic….. cosmetic surgery for the discerning patient?
By contrast, Czech websites “depart markedly from those of their Spanish counterparts” and “emphasise skill, hygiene and regulation. This practical, information-led and sterile approach is fundamentally different from the exotic, evocative and eroticised version of cosmetic surgery offered by Spanish websites. There is very little emphasis on body parts or before and after pictures, foregrounding instead waiting and consultation rooms, theatres and equipment.
“Tourists to the Prague clinics are addressed as largely gender neutral, highly informed clients who are able to talk over the possible risks of their surgery with their local GP. They are assumed to be astute and demanding consumers who have high levels of cultural capital. No reference to self-esteem is made, instead clients might undertake surgery for reasons including wanting a ‘younger, fresher look’ or ‘relief from back pain’ or ‘getting your body back in shape after child birth’. In sharp contrast to the Spanish sites, Czech clinics represent both patients and surgeons as women and men.”
This new research is part of a larger investigation by the team into cosmetic surgery abroad.

Market segmentation in medical tourism…. by intent or by accident?
The research team has drawn some interesting conclusions. But do these reflect a conscious decision by clinics in Spain and Czech Republic to target different segments of the cosmetic surgery market? Or are they a reflection of how cosmetic surgery is viewed within these two countries?
Given the immaturity of the industry, it is not surprising that the concept of market segmentation in medical tourism is underdeveloped and rarely applied effectively.
Different consumers in different countries do indeed require a different communications strategy and different promotional messages to maximise the success of medical tourism marketing.
In most cases, medical tourism marketing is still about being all things to all men and women of all classes. Time to move forward….

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Keith Pollard
As Editor in Chief of International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) and a Healthcare Consultant for LaingBuisson, Keith Pollard is one of Europe’s leading experts on private healthcare, medical tourism and cross border healthcare, providing consultancy and research services, and attending and contributing to major conferences across the world on the subject. He has been involved in private healthcare, medical travel and cross border healthcare since the 1990s. His career has embraced the management of private hospitals in the UK, research and feasibility studies for healthcare ventures, the marketing and business development aspects of healthcare and medical travel and publishing, research and consultancy on cross border healthcare.