Dental tourism in Armenia?
The idea doesn’t sound too far-fetched in the minds of three young men from Armenia. In fact, they argue that Armenia can make its mark in this field if the venture is approached with some proper planning and financing.
Two of the budding entrepreneurs, 22 year-old Gor Hovakimyan and Artur Gasparyan, got the chance to study overseas with a Luys Foundation scholarship.
Gor studied at the London University College, receiving a Masters in Economics and Business. He’s since returned to Armenia.
It was Artur who came up with the idea while studying at Zurich University. He’s now in Canada.
The third member of the team is Ashot Khourdgaryan, now in Russia trying to drum up financial backing for the initiative.
Dental tourism, as the three men point out, has become a worldwide phenomenon. Hungary is considered the epicenter of the industry. Every year, more than 100,000 people flock to Hungary for low cost quality dental work. The country has captured 42% of the European dental tourism market.
Gor says that while Armenia offers quality dental services and is competitive by international standards, it still hasn’t garnered a foothold in the market.
“During our research we came across one or two organizations in Armenia whose websites advertise that they provide such dental tourism services. But they are clinics with daily walk-in clients. There provided no information as to whether they had succeeded in attracting clients from overseas. This, we believe, presents a problem and a challenge. Thus, we decided to promote the sector in Armenia,” says Gor.
The three visionaries have named their initiative Dental Travel Armenia. Arguing that while the idea of dental tourism exists in Armenia, they note that the sector’s full potential is being utilized.
Thus, they have entered into a collaborative relationship with dental tourism agencies in Europe to direct some of their business to Armenia.
Dental Travel Armenia already has a website in English where potential customers can interface with dentists in Armenia, receive information regarding the types of dental treatments available, and see what various procedures will cost.
The website even lets customers rate their dentists in terms of quality of service, thus allowing new clients to choose a dentist according to their rating.
“We don’t have a dental clinic to promote. We collaborate with everyone. Quality is our standard. Today, we collaborate with ten clinics in Armenia that we researched in detail, interviewing the dentists as well,” Gor says.
After studying the international market, the three young men realized that tourists could receive the same services at less cost in Armenia. Gor notes that a single implant in Hungary or the Czech Republic, each considered the center of dental tourism, costs US$150 more than in Armenia. That’s a sizeable savings for someone who needs more than one implant.
Gor also notes that overseas clients coming to Armenia would get the secondary benefit of visiting the country’s scenic wonders. He says that such arrangements could be worked out with specialized agencies here in Armenia.
Their initial target audience won’t be diaspora Armenians, but non-Armenians. They argue that Armenians from overseas can be directed to quality dentists through friends and family while non-Armenians can’t rely on such resources.
And they want to start by attracting customers from countries where dental services are costly – Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, the US and Canada. To sweeten the pot, overseas customers will be picked up and returned to the airport for free and receive a dental cleaning for free.
Gor didn’t want to say how much money would be invested in the venture, arguing that it’s a business secret. He did confess that neither he nor his two partners have deep pockets.
The money sent by Ashot barely pays for the basics. They’ve applied for some grant seed financing and are awaiting a reply.
They’re also waiting for their first customer.
“If you have an idea that you believe has legs for the long-term you have to struggle on all fronts to achieve it, Gor says confidently.
Photo – Gor Hovakimyan (Facebook page)