The new logo of DestinationCare San Diego, which through internet marketing looks to appeal to well-heeled tourists in search of health and wellness care. Courtesy of DestinationCare San Diego

The new logo of DestinationCare San Diego, which through internet marketing looks to appeal to well-heeled tourists in search of health and wellness care. Courtesy of DestinationCare San Diego

— For visitors, San Diego offers much more than beaches, craft beer and convention space.

That’s the message of a new medical tourism campaign unveiled this week in the heart of San Diego’s biotech community. Backed by business leaders and civic groups, DestinationCare San Diego seeks to attract wealthy tourists in search of the top health and wellness care.

“In a lot of ways we do a great job in selling group meetings. We do a great job at selling our attractions and San Diego as a leisure destination. This is a whole different component. It really hasn’t been marketed and aggregated in San Diego,” San Diego Tourism Authority president & CEO Joe Terzi said.

Through a new website — — and internet marketing, the recently launched initiative promotes the specialties of major San Diego medical providers. The list so far includes UC San Diego Health, Scripps Health, Sharp HealthCare and Rady Children’s Hospital.

DestinationCare looks to tap into the fast-growing medical tourism industry, on pace to hit $100 billion globally. Nationally, it’s already a big deal in places like Minnesota, home to the Mayo Clinic.

What does San Diego bring to the table?

Terzi said the city not only has highly ranked medical institutions, but a world-class life sciences scene, which will also be marketed as part of the campaign down the line. He pointed to the pioneering work of J. Craig Venter, the executive chairman of Human Longevity, a San Diego company creating the world’s largest database of genome, phenotype and clinical data to detect health issues early on.

“Treatment care is part of the equation. The other component is prevention, helping people understand what they might face and how they can change their habits so they’re less susceptible to some of these illnesses,” Terzi said.

Based on Quality

While some cities’ medical tourism initiatives compete on price, this one touts quality of care. And San Diego has something few areas can claim: ideal weather year-round.

“Would you rather be in San Diego or Minnesota in the winter?” Terzi said, noting this is also a selling point for patients’ families that often accompany them on visits. Businessman and philanthropist Malin Burnham, who gave $100,000 in seed funding, has been leading the effort. That includes meeting with hospital officials a few years ago to explore the idea of marketing San Diego as a premier spot for care.

The Tourism Marketing District, funded by hotel surcharges and the main source of funding for the Tourism Authority, kicked in an additional $50,000.

By year two or three, the hope is that partners like hospitals and hotels contribute financially, making the initiative self-sustaining.

The campaign initially will focus nationally, with plans to reach international audiences.

It’s built on digital marketing and analytics that direct patients toward providers specializing in their condition. More specifically, search engine marketing and algorithms create individualized splash pages based on search queries.

The website, launched in September, has attracted thousands of visitors and delivered inquires to each of the four medical institutions, according to the initiative.

The campaign, Terzi said, took a digital approach considering many in need of care go online to research the top treatment places.

He said San Diego’s growing hotel industry has the capacity to accommodate an influx of medical travelers, and he’s heard hospitals also have the space.

Hospitals Advertising

“The best hospitals in the country are still advertising to try and acquire patients,” Terzi said.

Rady Children’s Hospital attracts patients from outside of San Diego through a robust physician referral network, as well as acclaim like being ranked third in the country in orthopedics in a U.S. News & Annual Report’s list.

Steve Jennings, senior vice president and executive director of Rady Children’s Hospital Foundation, said this effort presents a new opportunity to get the word out.

“We already partner with a lot of these institutions. So it made a tremendous amount of sense when Malin and his team presented this to us,” Jennings said.

There’s still much to learn about the initiative, he said, but Rady is open to contributing funding in the future.

An Economic Engine

Health care services represent one of the region’s four largest economic engines, according to a 2014 study by the National University System Institute for Policy Research. This category exceeded the military in share of direct employment and was ahead of tourism in both gross regional product and direct wages.

“Our region has much to gain from aggressively marketing the quantity and quality of our entire health and wellness ecosystem,” said Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp, in a statement.