ΒUSINESS NETWORKS AS A STRATEGIC CHOICE INSTRUMENT FOR REGIONAL TOURISM DEVELOPMENT: THE CASE OF PELOPONNESE HEALTH TOURISM NETWORK

 

Dimitrios Laloumis

Tourism Business Management, TEI of Athens, Greece  

Konstantinos Marinakos

Tourism Business Management, TEI of Athens, Greece 

 

ABSTRACT

We are in a period of tourism that in terms of demand trends dominates the need for personalized experiences, and to this end, SMEs play a key role in providing adequate products and services to tourists, responding to their more specific requirements.

In the present study, we present a case study of the pilot project for the development of a Health Tourism Network in the Peloponnese, Greece, a series of networks and clusters as a framework that provides SMEs with innovative opportunities to operate in a competitive tourist environment. A review of the relevant bibliography on clusters, networks and innovation in the field of tourism business takes place and then focuses on the specific issues of Health Tourism.

The pilot project implemented in the Peloponnese in Greece on the Health Tourism Network is used to discuss the process and consequences of developing networks and clusters in tourism. However, cluster development should not be considered a simple and spontaneous process due to the nature of the businesses involved but as a very complex process associated with strong stakeholder cooperation.

Keywords: health tourism, networks- clusters, Peloponnese Greece, synergies 

 

1. INTRODUCTION

Consumer trends are constantly changing, developing a more fragmented, niche and sophisticated market focusing on the unique activities offered in the places they visit (Nylander & Hall, 2005). At a time when tourism is dominated by demands for personalized experiences, tourism small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a key role in providing adequate products and services to tourists, responding to their specific interests and needs.

SMEs in Greece are also the main body of enterprises with a strong family management (Michael, 2003, 2004, Poon, 1994). Today in both Greece and the rest of the world there is a limited debate about whether the creation of networks and clusters can be used as an innovative process to support the tourism business of SMEs and contribute to local development.

In the context of this work, networks and diagonal arrays should be seen as a framework that provides innovative SMEs with opportunities to operate locally and in a globalized business environment.

The Peloponnese Health Tourism Cluster (PHTC) experience in Peloponnese in Greece is used as a benchmark for discussing the process of networking and clustering, to understand the implications of innovative SME practice through cooperation and alliances, to understand the opportunities are offered by the interactions of coastal / rural / urban SMEs and emphasize the importance of sustainable use of local resources.

In the Peloponnese, private sector leaders are working together to identify solutions to key regional competition issues such as the decline of some coastal areas, the need to diversify the countryside and the complexity of urban regeneration. Through the stimulation of networking (eg workshops and meetings), the provision of infrastructure (eg joint meeting and training infrastructures such as campus facilities and cluster members), knowledge transfer (collaborative work of experts on different sectors) the exchange of best practices (ie benchmarking of specific practices), local SMEs have succeeded in joining a self-contained business cluster.

 

2.  LITERATURE REVIEW

In recent years, several attempts have been made to use networking, clustering and clustering theories to explain the role of tourism in the recovery of local development and stimulate regional development. Rosenfeld (1998, p. 4) defines "grouped geographic concentrations of interdependent enterprises with active channels for business transactions, dialogue and communications and that it shares common opportunities and threats".

According to Christensen, McIntyre and Pikholz (2002), teams are more likely to compete nationally and globally when their businesses compete and work together at the same time. Through this new services and products are developed and a sustainable competitive advantage can be achieved

Knoke and Kuklinski (1983, p. 12) describe the networks as "a particular type of relationship that connects a set of individuals, objects or events."  Porter (1998, p. 78) defines "geographic concentrations of interconnected companies and organizations in a particular region, linked to common features and complementarities". These two definitions can be used as a general model for the travel and tourism industry with niche markets gaining from networks and building clusters as they create their own tourism function and offer increased economic and social benefits to the local community involved.

It is important to link the cluster to the market (nationally and globally) in order to remain competitive and to build links with R & D entities, such as academic institutions.

Most European countries already have existing or emerging cluster plans. In 2003, Belgium, for example, had 23, France had 100 existing and 80 developing groups and the United Kingdom, with 154 in total, was the country with most projects.

However, it should be noted that most of these countries have not yet developed a cluster policy. In Italy, clusters are widespread and are part of the traditional economic process without legislation. The Netherlands and Austria have many years of experience with cluster policies but have to identify gaps between policy measures and cluster needs.

Denmark and the United Kingdom are in the process of drafting national group policies based on research and pilot projects. For new EU and Candidate Countries, teams are a new concept that has not yet been further developed (European Commission, 2003).

At regional and sectoral level, it is important to identify who is acting on the market and to consider possible groups that can be supported by regional and national authorities for the benefit of local businesses.

Considering that through a team, a group of SMEs can compete globally through local co-operation, networks and tourism groups have experienced dramatic growth, bringing benefits such as flexibility, share of valuable marketing information, innovation (Cravens & Piercy, 1994, Saxena, 2005).

The purpose of tourism groups and networks is to point out the availability of certain activities to a destination or region and to acquire SMEs that will normally work individually to cooperate and build a successful tourism product in the area (ie the English countryside with other urban and coastal sites).

 

3. FIELD RESEARCH

 The medical tourism of choice as it is said today is associated with services mainly plastic / aesthetic surgery, dentistry, ophthalmology, artificial insemination, cardiology / cardiac surgery, orthopedic therapy and rehabilitation, cancer treatment, organ transplants, hair rehabilitation,  renal dialysis et. al.

On the contrary, health tourism is a wider term and includes a range of services including medical tourism, dental tourism, spa tourism, thalassotherapy, wellness, sports tourism (not for viewers, mainly rehabilitation), gastronomic tourism, accessible tourism (people with some form of disability), etc.

The determinants of supply-side Health Tourism development are:

  • Quality and cost of health tourism services provided.
  • The existence and creation of modern hospitality and hotel facilities in a wider range of destinations
  • Specialized staff in medical, nursing, hotel and tourist services in more and more destinations
  • The profile of each destination (climatic conditions, infrastructure, quality of service, historical and cultural heritage)
  • Appropriate promotion and promotion of health tourism services
  • The development of international certification standards for health care infrastructure.
  • Further exploiting the internet as the most important means of seeking health tourism information
  • Increase in private health service providers and upgrading of existing hotel infrastructures
  • Competitive (in terms of cost) insurance products and packages.

And on the demand side:

  • Demographic changes. It is estimated that over the next 50 years the proportion of people over 60 in developed countries will rise from 1/5 to 1/3.
  • Pressure on available health care resources and their adequacy in developed countries as a result of demographic change.
  • The difficulty of accessing health services due to the high queues in public hospitals in many developed countries (USA, Western Europe) and the lack of combined tourist services in this type of destination.

There is no precise measurement of the size of the world health tourism market, an estimate where researchers are converging, especially for medical tourism services, is about 15 to 20 billion dollars, resulting from about 5 million patients with an average medical expense (not travel and accommodation) from $ 3,000 to $ 4,000. The size refers only to medical tourism selection, and only to the cost of medical services (not in combined health tourism services that sizes could be multiple)

  • The factors that help reduce costs to competitive destinations for health tourism are:
  • The cheapest labor cost
  • The lower costs of legal and insurance coverage of medical liability
  • Simpler regulatory and legal frameworks for health tourism providers

The ecosystem of health tourism providers is enormous since it is a complex set of services involved:

  • Health providers (hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, doctors, nurses)
  • Hospitality and transport service providers (hotels, airlines, on-site mobility)
  • Companies providing complementary tourist services

Health insurance organizations (private companies, social security institutions)

  • Medical tourism certification bodies.
  • Health Tourism facilitators
  • Health Tourism Support Industries (services and products)

The health and hospitality services in the Peloponnese would be characterized by good infrastructure in buildings and equipment and good doctors in most specialties. Pathogenesis is observed in terms of organization, marketing procedures and institutional framework

The "Peloponnese Health Tourism Cluster"(PHTC) is a cluster of enterprises from the tourism sector from the health sector but also from other sectors since it is a set of services involving all the productive sectors. The main goal of the network is the development of the participating companies and the promotion, promotion, development and marketing planning of the Peloponnese as a destination for health tourism, both inside the country and abroad, at European and world level.

In addition to its main goals and strategies is the formation of the overall identity of the area as well as the overall planning, elaboration and implementation of the strategy for the development of health tourism in the Peloponnese.

The decline in the long-term tourism market has been a key factor in the economic slowdown of many businesses in Greece and globally.

Tourism plays a vital role both for Greece and for the Peloponnese in particular. However, tourism is also characterized by a vague definition and a lack of coherence between the activities shaping the destinations. This is against the tourism sector in terms of innovation and value chain management, especially in the case of the Peloponnese, which performs lower than other geographic units of the country (Crete, South Aegean, Attica, Central Macedonia, Ionion)

 

4. Research Methodology

 The Peloponnese Health Tourism Network (PHTC) provides a different and innovative vision for tourism in the Peloponnese. The aim is to integrate businesses from different sectors such as accommodation, restaurants, urban / rural / coastal domestic and international facilities, retailers, attractions, transport, producers, sport and leisure organizations, local authorities to increase the synergies and productivity of SMEs , the transfer of knowledge, the production of innovative services, the promotion of employment and joint marketing in the context of a common theme of 'health tourism'.

The geographic position of the Peloponnese chosen is representative for much of Greece, therefore sufficient as a pilot area of ​​study. With a mild climate and a unique natural environment, it offers the perfect conditions for both local food production and recreational activities.

The secondary data was collected at the preliminary stage of the survey to identify the issue and learn about market trends. The local authorities (Peloponnese Region, Western Greece Region, Peloponnese Municipalities) have been taken into account to operate in the context of local and regional tourism for the future.

The first 3 months of the survey (from September to November 2013) concerned business registration and the current situation.Chambers' information bases and telephone directories were the main sources for identifying potential Network members. In total 55 contacts were made in the pilot area. A steering group was set up with the participation of a number of entrepreneurs and representatives of local authorities who provided preliminary contacts and ideas to the mediator.

Most links were formed mainly by referral, which brought the number of contacts made to 90. The main difficulty in responding to the survey was the lack of time because they had a limited available workforce and were most highly employed. Once the Network was created and the resources were funded by the local media themselves being the project managers, the dialogue became much more productive.By January 2014, the Network had 43 members, some of which played an important role in further network growth.

Within three months, very important primary data was collected, with the active involvement of local entrepreneurs and local authorities, which provided valuable results and guidelines for the development of the Network. A newsletter and a website are used as tools to inform cluster members about development and management, events and other information about the area where the Network is being tested.

Emails are used as a way of communicating with Network members as they have proved to be the most effective in terms of time and cost. Members' comments are encouraged and fully implemented, where appropriate.

 

5.  CONCLUSION

The creation of PHTN represents a sustainable set of tourism opportunities that will enable local SMEs to tap into their resources and maximize their sustainability. The exchange of ideas through exchange of views, the exchange of expertise through expertise and the exchange of resources between local businesses, educational / research institutions and local authorities was considered the best way to ensure the good progress of any innovative initiative.

Pioneering research has been channeled into the group to promote cluster learning so that members understand the clustering process and the way in which innovative tourism products and services could be developed and managed. The long-term vision was to increase prosperity and strengthen the natural, economic and social regeneration of the region through PHTC.

PHTC responds to market needs in the field of health-specific experiences, which are in a developmental approach based on tourism activities rather than a destination approach. The "customer" is able to "choose and choose" the one that best meets his / her prospects and needs.

In this regard, the need to diversify the portfolio of activities in the Peloponnese became an obvious objective for building synergies between rural, urban and coastal environments, encouraging social inclusion and identifying best practices within the PHTC.

From a business point of view, PHTC has brought significant benefits for individually-operating SMEs, which now work with other local actors involved in different industrial areas (eg agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, hospitality, retail, etc.). ). Their alliances have created improved service quality, improved visibility, cross-marketing activities with other members of the cluster.

Network and cluster theories can help the innovation process of tourism SMEs and can contribute to regional development through the simple results generated by network and cluster activities. However, due to the diverse nature of the SMEs involved, the development of the tourist cluster should not be considered as a simple and easy task.

 

 

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