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MU-Varna Participated in a Discussion on "Bulgaria as a Destination for Medical, Health and SPA Tourism"

The topic of human resources and their preparation in the field of medical and health tourism was included in the plenary reports and in the discussion of the first institutional conference on this topic. The conference was organized by the Ministry of Tourism in Bulgaria, in partnership with the Bulgarian Medical Association, and was held in Sofia.

This initiative has been synchronized with other conferences and congresses in the field of SPA and wellness tourism in Bulgaria, organized by the Bulgarian Union of Balneology and SPA Tourism, the Association of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, "Bulgaria Awaits You" Programme, etc. However, for the first time now the basic questions related to the potential and resource readiness of Bulgaria to develop medical and health tourism have been raised at an institutional level, represented by the Ministry of Tourism.

The participants at the conference and the international experts expressed their unanimous opinion that Bulgaria is a country with a very high potential for development of medical and health tourism and can be a desired partner of the Western European countries in this field. The unique natural resources, good healing facilities for balneology, rehabilitation and SPA tourism, equipped for the needs of the patients, highly qualified specialists and competitive prices are strong market advantages, which could lead Bulgaria to the first places in the preferences of tourists and patients from different countries.

One of the major goals of the forum was to present the experience and views of different representatives - the state, the Medical Union, universities, businesses, non-governmental organizations, consumers, for the development of a complex Bulgarian tourism product in the field of healthcare.

The discussion focused on three main areas - "Factors for the Development of Medical and Health Tourism. Opportunities for Treatment of Foreigners in Bulgaria", "Prospects for Creating a Complex Tourism Product in the Field of Medical and Health Tourism, Including Preparation of Human Resources", and "Innovation and Good Practices in Medical and Health Tourism". Valuable international practices were shared by guest lecturers from Austria, Serbia and Israel.

Medical University - Varna was presented by Assoc. Prof. Emanuela Mutafova - Dean of the Faculty of Public Health and Prof. Todorka Kostadinova – Vice Rector for International Cooperation and Quality Accreditation. They presented, in a team of colleagues from St. St. Konstantin and Elena, useful practices for partnership between universities and businesses in the field of training and maintenance of the qualification of human resources in health and medical tourism. The presentation was entitled "The Responsibility of Universities and Businesses for Training and Maintaining the Qualification of Human Resources for Medical and Health Tourism"

This topic is a logical continuation of the discussion at the Fourth Congress of the Bulgarian Union of Balneology and SPA Tourism in Kyustendil (26-27.09.2017), where the team of Medical University-Varna and St. St. Konstantin and Elena Holding presented the topic on human resources training and development of innovative SPA products. The main topic at the Congress in Kyustendil was "Innovation and Development of Bulgarian SPA Destinations. Problems Confronting Municipalities and Businesses", and innovations, both in their creation and implementation, are primarily related to human resources and the quality of their work performance.

These initiatives, congresses and conferences are evidence of the relevance of the topic of health, medical and SPA tourism and are a good foundation for cooperation between the state institutions, businesses, universities, local authorities and non-governmental organizations to achieve the common goal of establishing Bulgaria as a destination for health and better quality of life on the international market. Following our path to that goal, we have very good international partners in the face of the European Spas Association (ESPA), reputable European and world experts. They are willing to work in cooperation with us for branding of Europe as a tourist destination for the period of 2018 -2022, where some of the most sought-after areas are cultural and historical tourism, in combination with SPA, medical SPA and health services.

At end of the conference in Sofia, suggestions were made for training modules (monthly, pre-season and at the workplace); mandatory first aid training for the teams in tourism, improvement of the communication between the stakeholders, and elaboration of a communication strategy for the presentation of Bulgaria on the international tourist and health markets.