Marketing and commodification in medical tourism to Switzerland
In line with the growth of linguistically mediated knowledge in the neoliberal new economy, the international health care sector requires some of its workforce to be multilingual, reflecting an increasing multilingualization as a means of economic expansion and localization. Similar to other service-oriented industries that cater to an international audience, language skills and multilingual repertoires mean an added value to the products of health care providers. This invites us to further study selective multilingualization as a means to serve an affluent and highly mobile clientele. In the particular case of medical tourism to Switzerland, language accommodation does take place on a subtle level and is fundamentally different if compared to accommodation efforts in other popular destinations of medical travel such as Germany or Lithuania. Swiss health care providers lay high emphasis on individualized accommodation with the help of multilingual and highly skilled guest relations managers who mediate between patients and physicians and hospital workers. With the help of ethnographic fieldwork and interviews, this project aims to show how Swiss health care providers, private health care agencies abroad and marketing agencies valorize multilingualism and engage in the construction of an image of Switzerland that connects widely-held perceptions of the country such as quality, precision, economic wealth, a pristine environment, a multilingual population and a high emphasis on privacy with individual expectations of world-class health care. The combination of marketing strategies highlighting a distinguished ‘Swiss travel experience’ with the promotion of a specialized, capital-intensive service industry will also open up new perspectives on the valorization of national images and stereotypes in a globalized new economy.