By Igor Ilic
SPLIT, Croatia (Reuters) - Marin Bosotina is readying his yacht for its maiden "wellness cruise" in the Adriatic Sea where affluent, health-conscious clients will have access to a personal doctor, nutritionist, sports coach and yoga teacher.
Bosotina, who describes himself as an anti-ageing expert, wants to tap into a growing medical tourism business that Croatia sees as a future driver of a sector that currently accounts for 15-20% of its gross domestic product.
The growth in demand for medical and health tourism services is largely being driven by long waiting times in public healthcare and high costs of private care in developed countries such as Britain and Italy, as well as the general trend of ageing populations.
Market Research Future (MRFR), an international healthcare research firm and consultancy, forecasts that the global medical tourism market will grow 21.4% a year until 2023.
Officials estimate that some 10% of tourists to Croatia come for healthcare. On average they spend almost four times more in the country than other tourists, at almost 300 euros ($332.01) a day.
"We see the health tourism as our key product for strengthening our offer and income before and after the packed summer season as health tourists spend more than the summer holiday-makers," said Slavija Jacan Obratov from the Croatian state tourism board HTZ.
Croatia's neighbours Hungary and Slovenia have already recognised medical tourism as a potentially fast growing sector. Hungary has become one of the most popular places in Europe for dental tourism, while Slovenia is focusing on wellness.
Obratov said many of those coming for healthcare were from nearby countries like Italy, Slovenia, Austria or Germany and more distant destinations like Britain.
The northern Adriatic Istrian peninsula and the city of Rijeka in particular have carved out a niche in dental services, attracting clients mainly from Italy. The capital Zagreb is also expanding its services in that segment.
Daniel Baketic, who owns a dental clinic in Zagreb, says his efforts to draw more foreign clients are gradually bearing fruits. He sees social media as an important promotion tool and has developed a special web-site for British clients.
"At the moment some 20 percent of our clients are foreigners and their number is rising. The dental services in Croatia can be up to 60-70 percent cheaper than in western Europe and a patient can save even 10,000-15,000 euros," he told Reuters.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic)