Agents or intermediaries (“middlemen”) are being displaced in many markets, and in many marketplaces around the world. Travel agents are being displaced by virtual agents such as Travelocity to book airline tickets and taxi dispatchers are threatened by Uber and Lyft. Cutting out the middleman is a characteristic of a late stage, mature market, where the consumers are not intimidated by directly purchasing or negotiating for the services they desire. A recent article in The Economist, “Sellers Beware” reviews this shift in the real estate markets. What about international health tourism? In some regions, brokers or agents (sometimes called “facilitators”) are used in 25 to 40% of the planned trips, while in other regions, and for particular types of low-unit cost services, this proportion is much smaller. There are important roles that brokers and agents play in linking early consumer markets to providers. Busy hospitals may not have the time to patiently hold the hand of the consumer who has never had cosmetic surgery before, and the hospitals themselves may need coaching on how to be culturally sensitive and aware of the logistical requirements of international consumers. In any emerging or nascent market, brokers, middlemen and facilitators play an important role in helping to “cross the chasm” to mainstream use.
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