Peo­ple also opt for more ex­pen­sive treat­ment as they hunt for care they don’t get in their coun­tries

New Straits Times - - Business -

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.

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