ECONOMY

Croatian tourism, health mix

ZAGREB – Can cheaper healthcare boost a Croatian tourism model that has relied for years almost solely on sun, sand and sea to bring in Western tourists? The country’s trademark promotional line, «The Mediterranean as it once was,» may not apply in the future if holiday hotel firm Bluesun can successfully mix health spas and hedonism. For years, Croatians sat back and let natural beauty do the work of luring the tourists, who bring in some -6 billion a year, or about 20 percent of GDP. Trying to attract more tourists and money than that was not a likely prospect without investing in infrastructure and expanding the scope of services. But Bluesun has concluded that, while urban wellness centers have been springing up in the capital Zagreb, health tourism has been limited to a few inland spas mostly used by state institutions for rehabilitation rather than commercial purposes. Their new tourism model was inspired by health professionals, such as local dentists, who have already started to lure Western tourists by undercutting the cost of care in the West. «Our goal is to extend the season and use our capacities the whole year. That’s why we’re introducing preventive medical programs as part of our wellness offer, besides pools, saunas and massages,» said Denis Kovacic from Bluesun, which operates at four Adriatic locations. Kovacic said the Bluesun group aims to employ medical experts – psychologists, physical therapists, nutritionists and kinesiologists – to help guests shake off accumulated stress and learn what foods and exercise suit them best. Use holidays for health Bluesun plans to use a private medical clinic in the southern Adriatic city of Split to do the diagnostic work. «For example, we’ll control risk factors like high blood pressure or blood fat profile. Maybe even more interesting will be food intolerance tests which may determine what kind of food is not recommended for a particular person,» Kovacic said. Such tests, though still relatively expensive for locals, are much cheaper than in the USA or Britain. Marin Bosotina, a pharmacist whose clinic in Split has acquired the exclusive right to offer food intolerance tests on the local market, is already planning to extend his business. «My idea is to complete next year an anti-aging health center close to Split, including hotel capacities, and tourists will be able to get information on offer and prices in advance, together with other details of their visit,» Bosotina said. The center, worth more than -30 million, will offer plastic surgery, basic and sophisticated lab tests and radio-diagnostic equipment, along with wellness and fitness facilities. Bosotina said his project was unique in Southeast Europe. «Given the number of low-cost flights to southern Croatia and cheaper prices than in Western Europe, I’m confident many tourists will devote a few hours of their stay to getting a thorough preventive checkup and anti-aging advice,» Bosotina said. «We cannot change our chronological age, but we can add years to our life.»