Academic journal article Journal of Tourism Challenges and Trends

Product Development for Health Tourism in Alpine Regions

Academic journal article Journal of Tourism Challenges and Trends

Product Development for Health Tourism in Alpine Regions

Article excerpt

Introduction

The tourism industry is still one of the most significantly growing branches worldwide (Adjouri & Buettner, 2008). The WTTC assumes an annual economic growth of more than 4.3% by 2017, which is higher than the expected growth rate of the overall economy. The global overnight and arrival statistics also mirror these facts with approximately 880 million international tourist arrivals in 2009. Although a decline of 4.3% in international arrivals was recorded, for the upcoming years compared to 2008, the UNWTO expects an increase of international arrivals (UNWTO, 2010).

Locations as tourism destinations are the most important basis for all forms of tourism (Freyer, 2006). The customer chooses a location or destination according to his/her needs and wishes (Bieger, 2008), i.e. "a destination is a location with a pattern of attractions, related tourism facilities and services, which the tourist or a group chooses for a visitation and which the service provider markets" (Schucan, 1998). Within a destination, the customer consumes a bundle of products and services delivered by a variety of service providers, which fulfill his needs. The consumption of the service and its production coincide (uno actu principle) and is depending on the location or destination. And although the services are provided independently by different service providers within a destination, the customer perceives the destination product as a whole and rates his/her satisfaction according to his expectations (Bieger, 2008). The expectation level then becomes a standard against which the product's performance is ultimately judged. That is, once the product or service has been consumed, each consumer will compare outcomes against expectations to make a judgment regarding his satisfaction (Woodruff & Cardial, 1996; Inskeep, 1991).

In all kinds of economic fields, it is the product, which is the differentiation criterion for identifying competitive advantages (Kotler et al., 2011). And within the positioning and strategic direction of a destination, it is the tourism product which plays a crucial role. According to Bieger (2005) positioning in tourism means to differentiate a region or a service provider for a target market by means of specific product characteristics, which differentiate the destination from its competitors. In tourism and in the Alpine area especially, a variety of homogeneous products and services (e.g. hiking, winter sports, etc.) can be identified; and it is these products and services which contribute to an increasingly intense competition. Besides the products and services, it is the decreasing demand and over-capacities due to higher costs and financial bottlenecks, which also influence the competition among destinations (Ullmann, 2000). Therefore, new and innovative tourism products and services are needed to differentiate from competitors. Positive developments in the field of health tourism, in particular, show high potential for differentiation.

According to experts, longer life expectancy and modified leisure behavior mainly contributed to the increase of health consciousness in the population (Haederlien et al., 2007). Furthermore diseases such as diabetes or back complaints are responsible for the rising demand for health tourism products (Rulle, 2008). Also, a rise in the populations' willingness to pay for health treatments was recorded, since the statutory health insurance does not cover these expenses (Rulle, 2008).

The growing potential of health tourism products can be underpinned by the demographic development and the increasing expenditure on health. In Austria, the age group of 60 years and above represents over 23% of the population nowadays. This proportion will increase up to 26% in 2020 and up to 30% in 2030. As a consequence, augmentations in health expenditures will become notable. From 1990 to 2009, expenditures in the public health insurance sector increased by 65. …

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