QUEST FOR QUALITY HEALTHCARE GOES GLOBAL
People also opt for more expensive treatment as they hunt for care they don’t get in their countries
MEDICAL tourism has grown into a healthy travel sector as people shop beyond their borders for everything from dental work to plastic surgery, say experts at the ITB travel fair here.
This year is the first the global tourism show has set aside space in the halls of the German capital’s congress centre for the emerging sector.
Health tourism is already worth billions of dollars per year and set to grow at up to 25 per cent a yea over the coming decade.
Thanks to the Internet, a growing middle class, often from countries without high-quality healthcare, “know that there are treatments out there for them”, said Julie Munro, president of the Medical Travel Quality Alliance, which produces a ranking of the 10 best hospitals for medical tourists.
But medical tourism is not limited to a few countries, nor to people from wealthier nations travelling to less pricey ones.
Countries like the United States, Turkey, Thailand, Singapore, Spain and Germany see both inward and outward flows, as patients dodge waiting lists or hunt for care that is either unavailable or too expensive in their own country.
“You have medical tourism, really, globally,” said Thomas Boemkes of marketing firm and ITB partner Diversity Tourism.
“For example, you have a lot of Germans going to Poland or Croatia doing dental care because it is cheaper.
“But also a lot of Russians and Arabians coming to Germany because we have high-quality hospitals and care they don’t have in their countries.”
In 2015, 298,000 people travelled to the biggest city in the United Arab Emirates for care, 30 per cent of them from other Arab nations.
Countries, such as Portugal, are just beginning to dip their toes into the market.
“We work with travel agencies and offer complete packages including pick-up from airports,” said Jacco Vroegop, head of clinics in Amsterdam and Frankfurt for ophthalmology network Worldeye.
Launched in Turkey before expanding into Germany and, in the future, into the Netherlands, the group says it treats around 50,000 foreign patients from 107 countries each year.
Medical tourism offers range from dental care through to plastic surgery, reproductive medicine, cancer or heart treatments, rehabilitation and preventive examinations.
But Munro warns of a “growing problem” that patients travelling abroad are particularly at risk of “over-diagnosis” aimed at swelling their bills.
Medical tourists are also often concerned with security in destination countries.
Worldeye, for example, expects more clients to opt for its sites in Amsterdam or Frankfurt than for Istanbul or Antalya as Turkey struggles with political tensions.
Dubai has made big bets on medical tourism since 2012, concentrating on seven specialities where the city has the capacity to take on extra patients without affecting care for locals.
Health tourism is worth billions of dollars per year and set to grow up to 25pc annually over the coming decade.