Dr. Henry Lowe presents at Mayberry Investments Limited Forum: Sports & Medical Tourism



Forum Recap:

Sports and Medical Tourism an Untapped Source of Income

Jamaica currently enjoys being one of the top destination spots for recreational tourists from all over the globe. For years, the Caribbean island has been marketing its natural resources of sun, sand and sea to the world, and persons seeking rest and relaxation flock to the island to experience this while immersing themselves in its unique culture.

However, given Jamaica's increasing popularity in sports such as track and field, sports tourism presents a host of opportunities for boosting the country's foreign-exchange inflow. Sports tourism is also recognised globally as the fastest-growing sector in the travel and tourism industry as it generates US$600 billion or 10 per cent of the international tourism market.

There are also many great opportunities for medical tourism in the island. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, a few years ago, pointed out during a speech that one study had estimated that Jamaica could attract some 15,000 medical and residential care patients annually, which could generate an annual income in excess of US$125 million within five years.

Even more recently, statistics released from the US-based non-profit International Healthcare Research Centre state that Jamaica ranked second in the category of attractiveness in the 2014 Medical Tourism Index. These findings place Jamaica among some of the top nations that currently woo overseas patients.

Persons can agree that the Jamaican economy at this time requires any additional help it can get, and diversifying the offerings through a number of industries, in this case medicine and sports, should be seen as viable options for increasing Jamaica's potential to earn.

Tourism, generally, refers to the commercial organisation and operation of holidays and visits to places of interest. However, when the interest covers a certain area, such as medicine, sports, etc, and it is the major reason why persons travel to a country, then it becomes 'alternative tourism' where the type of tourism is more specific and can be categorised then marketed.

Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment Damion Crawford gave the opening remarks at the eighth staging of Mayberry's monthly investor forum where guest speakers Chris Dehring, Chairman of the Sports Tourism Implementation Committee (STIC), and Dr. Henry Lowe, Executive Chairman of Eden Gardens Wellness Resort and Spa, discussed 'Sports and Medical Tourism: What are the Opportunities for Economic Growth?'

Minister Crawford said, "If we're going to benefit from the alternative side of tourism, we have to focus on the perception of what Jamaica is for. So, if we're going to attract persons for health and wellness, they must first perceive that Jamaica is of high-quality healthcare and is capable of performing the surgeries and other medical procedures that they are interested in".

He continued, "If Jamaica is to attract persons who are going to come for sports tourism, not only should they feel that we have the best athletes, but also having visited Jamaica they will be able to consume by seeing the athletes in action".

Though tourism in general is a good investment, one should acknowledge that alternative tourism is a growing market.

Dehring, a well-respected Caribbean businessman, entrepreneur and a regional pioneer in the business of sports, lended his expertise on the topic. His mandate in his role at STIC is to build on the success of the Jamaican sports brand and expand that sub-sector of the country's tourism industry.

He spoke of creating an industry out of our natural assets and opened his presentation by reciting his personal mantra of the last 20 years: "In a digital world, content is king, sports is the king of content, and Jamaica if not a king, we're at least a crown prince in the world of sports".

Dehring, who conceptualised and launched the Caribbean's first sports television channel Sportsmax and served as CEO of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 - the most profitable cricket world cup in history to that point, said, "Think about how many screens we have and are going to have in the short future. We have about a million television sets in Jamaica, but how many mobile phones do we have? We have about 3 million...everyone has a mobile phone. Every screen then becomes something that desires content. How are we going to fill all these hours on these screens?"

As part of 'Brand Jamaica', the country is known for possessing some of the most world-renowned athletes in many fields of sports. Also, when considering sports for content, in the age of today's digital world, persons are demanding to see more live sporting events. Thus, there are more opportunities for marketing Jamaica for sports event tourism (where persons come to view a sporting event), active sports tourism (where persons come to participate by playing), and nostalgia sports tourism (where persons come to view places of nostalgia, such as museums).

Dehring also made the point that Barbados, a country much smaller than Jamaica, has 100,000 persons arriving for sports tourism each year and generally has over 175 cricket tours a year contributing to active sports tourism, not including international test cricket.

Similarly, there are many opportunities to be explored and invested in where medical tourism is concerned.

Dr. the Honourable Henry Lowe is a medicinal chemist who has contributed approximately 50 years of service in the fields of science & technology, the environment, and the health sciences, nationally, regionally and internationally. Through his EHF Group of Companies, which includes a not-for-profit organisation, the Environmental Health Foundation, EHF Resource Development Limited, Pelican Publishers Limited, Eden Gardens Wellness Resort & Spa, Bio-Tech R&D Institute and, most recently, Medicanja, he promotes Jamaica as a prime destination for health and wellness tourism.

Health and wellness tourism is travel for the purpose of promoting health and well-being through physical, psychological, or spiritual activities. This type of consumer seeks to look and feel better, to lose weight, to slow the effects of aging, to relieve pain or discomfort, to manage stress, or to partake in the use of natural supplements like vitamins and minerals to improve their health.

Medical tourism, on the other hand, refers to those clients with medical conditions who would travel to have surgeries and medical procedures.

Dr. Lowe expressed that there are numerous opportunities that Jamaica can capitalise on in this sector for wealth creation, especially given facts such as Jamaica alone having more than 50 per cent of the world's well-known medicinal plants.

He also stated that the country should consider and explore the possibilities of producing medical marijuana for the documented health benefits as it is a $2.5 billion industry, expecting to double or triple in the next three years. In reference to this, he said, "There are a lot of activities already going on, but it has to be properly programmed, managed and controlled".

Dr. Lowe, whose outstanding work has earned him several recognitions nationally and regionally, including the Order of Jamaica and Commander of the Order of Distinction, also spoke of the possibility of retirement villages in the island. He mentioned that a study had previously been done to explore this as it could be a multi-billion dollar business giving foreigners the opportunity to escape the harsh winters in other countries.

In closing, Dr. Lowe said that most of the opportunities for wealth creation in this field have been missed due to gross inaction on part of Jamaicans. He said, "We have fantastic opportunities for growth and investment. We need to move forward as quickly as possible and we have people waiting in the wings to come on board".

"The main message I'd like to leave is the financial potential. Modern medical health tourism in 2012 was worth over $100 billion while wellness products are worth $175 billion, and complementary and alternative medicine is $750 billion. In Asian countries such as Indonesia and Thailand, complementary and alternative medicine account for at least 12-15 per cent of their GDP. So, we need to take note that the opportunity is there. Other people have been doing it, why can't we?"