Hawaii is perfect for 'Longevity Tourism'


POSTED: Thursday, December 17, 2009

During the Cayetano administration, “;medical tourism”; was touted as the wave of the future. Hawaii was to be branded as a medical travel destination: the “;health center of the Pacific.”; The plan was to attract a world-class facility such as the Mayo or Cleveland Clinic to Honolulu and draw high-end patients from around the world.

The concept was good but didn't work for a number of reasons. We weren't able to get a platinum-plated medical entity to set up shop here. It also became obvious we couldn't compete price-wise with other established medical “;destinations”; such as Thailand, India and Brazil.

The idea still has merit and even former Gov. Ben Cayetano resuscitated it in a recent interview with a local business magazine where he was quoted as saying: “;Hawaii can become the premier health care center of the Pacific Rim as well as a center for the development of biotechnology.”;

I agree, but we need to refine the concept in a manner that will leverage our strengths.

Most people on the mainland don't realize that our population is longer lived than anywhere in the nation. We have more centenarians per capita in the Aloha State than anywhere in the U.S. We also have cutting edge research on healthy aging here in Honolulu led by one of the top gerontologists in the world: Dr. Bradley Willcox, author of the best-seller, “;The Okinawa Program.”;

With the interest in healthy aging at an all-time high and the wealthiest demographic in the history of the world—the Baby Boomers moving into their golden years—the timing is right to initiate a new genre of medical tourism. Call it “;Longevity Tourism.”;

How would Hawaii capitalize on this?

Longevity tourism could leverage our global tourism reputation while offering lifestyle guidance and services to individuals interested in healthy aging.

For example, through Dr. Willcox and his colleagues, we could bring a bit of Okinawa, home of the longest-lived people in the world, to Hawaii by offering visitors a crash course in Okinawan health secrets. These could entail lectures on healing foods and herbs, Okinawan cooking classes, exercise, meditation instruction, gardening and other components of Willcox's “;Okinawan Program.”;

The Okinawan longevity “;regime”; could be combined with other facets of “;transformational tourism,”; which would add tremendous value to a visitor's stay. These are services or activities that can physically, spiritually or psychologically change a person or help them establish a healthier lifestyle.

There are countless services available from physicians, acupuncturists, nutritionists, yoga or tai chi instructors, massage therapists and other professionals that could also be folded into a Longevity Tourism program.

Naturally the farmers who grow our specialty crops and our wonderfully creative chefs would be incorporated in Longevity Tourism.

There's no reason just to have strictly an Okinawan healthy aging option. Experts like Dr. Willcox could also provide programs that provide insight from other long-lived people, such as the Sardinians in the Mediterranean, or the Miao tribe of China, who credit their consumption of Moso bamboo leaves for their renowned longevity.

I believe the time for Longevity Tourism has come. Let's play to our strengths: world-class research on aging, a healthy climate, tasty fruits and vegetables grown from our rich volcanic soil, and research on healthy aging conducted right in our backyard.

Les Iczkovitz is founder of Honolulu-based Laser EnergyWorks, LLC, which specializes in using FDA-approved lasers to treat post-surgical pain, burns and wounds.