Vegas emerging as health and wellness tourism destination

Mona Shield Payne

Spa Director Jennifer Lynn, who also heads the Las Vegas Spa Association, is shown in one of three decadent Dragon Suites in Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas Tuesday, April 16, 2013.

Cheryl Smtih, LVCVA

Cheryl Smtih, LVCVA

Las Vegas has long been known globally as the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” attracting a record 39.7 million visitors last year.

We’re also recognized as the undisputed convention capital of the world, having been named as the No. 1 trade show destination in North America for the past 19 years by Trade Show News Network. In fact, last year, we hosted more of the top trade shows in the country than our next two closest competitors, Orlando and Chicago, combined.

With tourism being the lifeblood of our local economy, accounting for $45 billion in economic impact and supporting nearly half the jobs in Southern Nevada, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is dedicated to increasing visitation and maintaining our status as the world’s most desirable destination for business and leisure travel.

Oquendo Medical Center

A view of the large indoor animal pen at the Oquendo Center, an educational medical facility, Wednesday April 17, 2013. Launch slideshow »

As part of our efforts to attract more visitors and more meetings and conventions, the LVCVA has turned its sights on becoming the top destination for a growing niche market that has great potential to expand to our economy: health and wellness tourism. It is, in a general sense, the practice in which people travel to another state or country to obtain a medical procedure or a wellness treatment. At the LVCVA, health and wellness tourism also means health care and medical meetings and conferences, which is a major focus for us.

Just more than a year ago, the LVCVA dedicated resources to focus primarily on the sales and marketing of medical meetings and wellness tourism options in Southern Nevada. It’s a collaborative effort with stakeholders in the local medical and wellness community who we’re working with to promote this emerging market to the world.

We’ve partnered with Las Vegas HEALS, formerly known as the Southern Nevada Medical Industry Coalition, a nonprofit organization comprised of more than 600 health care professionals and representatives committed to improving the quality and access to medical care in Southern Nevada. The organization is a way for health care providers to learn more about medical tourism and become involved. We’re also working with the Las Vegas Spa Association to market the growing options of wellness services available here.

In many ways, the reasons Las Vegas is a top destination for business and leisure travel are also the same reasons that make it an ideal health and wellness tourism destination.

As a community built to host visitors, there is no better business value than Las Vegas, fitting all budgets and offering limitless options. The city has roughly 150,000 hotel rooms, most of which are conveniently located just a few miles from McCarran International Airport. The average daily room rate is about $114, making the city an attractive option for travelers. Air service is easily accessible, with more than 930 flights per day and nonstop service from more than 130 domestic and international cities, and with more than 10.8 million square feet of exhibit space, we have the right space for all groups, large or small. Providing exceptional customer service is in our DNA, and we have a favorable climate for outdoor activities.

There are few other cities in the world that are able to match our wide array of dining options available, including vegan, “superfood” and farm-to-table choices. And, of course, we offer entertainment 24 hours a day. There simply is nowhere else like Las Vegas. All of this is hugely appealing for medical meeting planners and for the health and wellness visitor.

With that in mind, the LVCVA’s health and wellness tourism approach is multi-faceted. We’re starting with a focus on increasing bookings for health care-related conventions and medical meetings. Meetings, conferences and trade shows are a critical part of our local economy. The meeting and convention industry supports nearly 57,000 local jobs and has a $6.7 billion economic impact. Given our many meeting facilities and convention centers, it makes good business sense to expand in an area where we already excel.

While our work in targeting medical meetings is just beginning, we have seen steady success. The American Academy of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine (A4M) recently committed to hold its conference for five more years in Las Vegas. A4M is one of the industry’s premier conferences providing medical professionals with the latest anti-aging, regenerative, functional and metabolic medicine research. A4M returns to Las Vegas in December, holding its conference at the Sands EXPO Center. In November, the Medical Tourism Association will hold the sixth annual World Medical Tourism and Global Healthcare Congress at Caesars Palace. This global conference is attended by representatives from 90 countries bringing together expert speakers to discuss the latest trends in medical tourism and health care. Having the World Medical Tourism and Global Healthcare Congress in the destination will provide prominent exposure for Las Vegas and assist us in building more international business relationships.

Looking ahead to 2014, MD Expo, a medical equipment sales and service expo, will bring an expanded show to the Red Rock Hotel and Casino, and the American Society of Perianesthesia Nurses will hold its annual meeting at LVH.

Bringing these meetings and conferences to Las Vegas has another benefit for the local medical community. Through our work with show organizers and Las Vegas HEALS, we are able to provide opportunities for local physicians and medical professionals to attend these global conferences, often at a discount, allowing them to receive additional training and education on the latest procedures and medical breakthroughs without leaving town.

At this year’s A4M’s conference, show organizers will offer local medical professionals a reduced rate and allow medical students enrolled in health education programs at our local universities to attend for free. These students are also being invited to volunteer at the event that will help them with the community service and community education requirements their degrees may require.

We’re also connecting local medical education facilities with show organizers and meeting planners to help them better understand the many options available here for hosting continuing medical education training around their events. We’re very pleased with these efforts as more medical meetings and conventions are now opting to add training days onto their schedule to take advantage of the innovative facilities found here, including the Oquendo Center, the Medical Education and Research Institute of Nevada, Medical Innovations and Training Institute, MedCure Nevada Surgical Training Center and Center for Advanced Professional Education. It has meant tremendous exposure for these facilities, which have been valuable assets for attracting more meeting business.

The next phase of our overall approach centers on the wellness market. According to the Global Spa Summit 2011 report, “Wellness Tourism and Medical Tourism: Where Do Spas Fit,” wellness tourism represents a $106-billion industry worldwide. Las Vegas is uniquely positioned for this market with 45 resort spas and a diverse community of dedicated therapists, fitness trainers and other wellness professionals who combine exceptional training with one-of-a-kind environments to create world-class quality wellness experiences for guests.

The Spa at the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas offers soothing Japanese foot rituals.

The Spa at the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas offers soothing Japanese foot rituals.

Las Vegas is home to four Forbes Ffve-star spas, including those at the Encore, Wynn, Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental, as well as five Forbes four-star spas, including the Canyon Ranch SpaClub, Bellagio, Spa Mio at M Resort, Spa Salon at ARIA and the Spa at the Trump International Hotel.

From unique “Stay Well” suits at the MGM Grand and restaurants offering vegan and healthy dining options to the hundreds of wellness services at our resort spas, Las Vegas offers visitors many ways to reinvigorate the body, relax the mind and engage in treatments and services to improve overall health and well-being. Services are also offered in close proximity to each other allowing guests to experience multiple services at different spas during their stay – an experience other destinations can’t match.

For those who think spas offer only beauty services, think again. Las Vegas spas have a wide variety of culturally diverse wellness treatments that go beyond the traditional massage or facial.

The Canyon Ranch Spa Club at the Venetian offers an assortment of services, including corporate wellness programs, pregnancy massage, obesity and weight loss educational programs, diabetes meal planning and gait and footwear analysis. Japanese stone saunas, called “Ganbanyoku“ beds, are available at the Spa at Aria, in addition to a therapeutic pool designed for cellulite treatment and the only indoor fitness walking program in Las Vegas to combine exercise with an art tour. The Spa at the Bellagio offers Aquastretch, a program created at UNLV to address pain management conditions. The Drift Spa at Palms Place, the Cosmopolitan and the Mandarin Oriental Spa feature Turkish-style Hammams, offering ritualized cleansing and relaxation. The Mandarin Oriental also offers Japanese foot rituals. In the Arctic Ice Room at Caesars Palace’s Qua Spa and Baths, falling snow is designed to relieve stress. Qua Spa also offers color therapy called Aura-Soma. As you can imagine with 45 spas, the list of services available is extensive.

Given all these assets and more, the LVCVA is working with the Las Vegas Spa Association and local spas to market Las Vegas as a natural choice for corporate wellness services, as well as the best spot for a wellness vacation. We will be able to showcase all the destination has to offer in October when the International Spa Association Conference and Expo comes to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. It is also a point of pride and benefit to the city that Ella Stimpson, spa director for Wynn Encore Spas, serves as chairman of the board for the global conference. She has been a major force in organizing this event and is a terrific representative of Las Vegas.

Another way the LVCVA is working to reach more visitors and help them with their travel decisions is by sponsoring an interactive, online Well-Being Travel specialist course, presented by Well-Being Travel, a resource for medical and wellness tourism, and The Travel Institute, an international organization educating and certifying travel professionals. The course helps travel planners better understand the needs of medical and wellness travelers, and it provides us with direct access to the planners allowing us to educate them on the opportunities and services available in Las Vegas

This sponsorship positions us well as Las Vegas continues to emerge as a health care marketplace with a growing list of medical care options for visitors, including preventative health, alternative medicine, dental care, age management services, infertility treatment, and surgical services, such as cosmetic, orthopedic, cardiac, and bariatric and neurosurgery.

Patients from around the world are traveling to several specialized medical centers located here for treatment, including the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the Sher Fertility Institute of Las Vegas and Comprehensive Cancer Centers of America. Building off this success, Las Vegas HEALS is working to enhance the quality of medical care in Southern Nevada and to lay the foundation for expanding medical tourism even further. This fall, UNLV is expected to release a strategic plan to guide the medical community in its ongoing medical tourism efforts. We look forward to continuing to work with them to promote the increasing number of reasons why visitors should travel here.

It’s an exciting time. Every day, Las Vegas continues to establish itself as the one destination where nearly anything is possible.

Cheryl Smith is the medical and wellness tourism manager for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. She can be reached at (702) 892-0711.