Health Tourism

Health TourismHealth Tourism

People travel abroad for various reasons: sightseeing; learn a new language; become familiar with the culture of another nation; basically, break the rut of routine for a short while. Some, however, travel to receive medical care; that is known as health (or medical) tourism.

Historically, people travelled from less developed countries to developed countries to receive top-notch medical care unavailable in their home country. The trend, however, seems to have reversed; nowadays third world nations host a significant number of visitors from developed countries due to the quality of medical services at affordable prices.

  A Growing Market

Estimated at around $50 to $65 billion dollars and growing at approximately 20 percent every year, the health tourism industry provides a unique investment opportunity for developing nations.

According to a report published by Renub Research on health tourism in Asia, health tourism has a different meaning to different countries.

For Americans it means saving on medical expenses. Those with low to average income who do not have or cannot afford health coverage travel overseas to receive medical care at a good price. According to Forbes, 1.25 million Americans traveled outside the U.S. for medical treatment in 2014. For Canadians and Europeans it means a saving as well as avoiding long waiting lines in state hospitals.

For Africans it means better healthcare facilities which are not available where they live. In Africa the affluent and upper-middle class families travel outside their countries to receive medical treatment.

For Middle Easterners it is specialist medical treatment unavailable in their respective countries. In the Middle East, average and high income citizens opt for medical tourism. While in the past it was the norm for people from the region to travel to European countries for medical treatment, recent political tensions between the two regions has made acquiring visas too much of a hassle. As a result, most Middle Easterners travel to Asia to receive medical care.

 Iran and the Competition

For Iran to fully capitalize on this booming industry, knowing its competitors is an important first step towards realizing its aspirations.

Iran’s main competitors in the Persian Gulf region are Jordan and the UAE – specifically Dubai. If reports are to be believed, Jordan’s revenue from health tourism amounts to $500 million annually, while the emirate of Dubai has been beefing itself up by establishing the Dubai Healthcare Care city, which is a healthcare free economic zone, and has started cooperating with some of the world’s most renowned medical universities to ensure quality healthcare.

Dubai is set to invest around $4.3 billion in health tourism in order to meet the goals set according to the Dubai Strategic Plan (DSP) 2015. The allocated budget is to be spent on establishing state of the art healthcare facilities and modern infrastructure to transform Dubai into the healthcare center of the Middle East. The emirate of Dubai earned approximately $2 billion in 2010 through health tourism alone.

Across Asia, Thailand, Singapore, and India are top spots for health tourism, with the former two attracting around 60% of health tourists in the continent. India was the main destination for 166,000 travelers who sought complementary medical care in 2012, and experts believe the country will earn around $6 billion per year from health tourism by 2018.

In 2004, roughly 12,000 people traveled to Iran to receive medical care, and the number reached 17,000 in 2005. However, the number of visitors in the following years is unknown due to lack of reliable data.

According to vice president Masud Soltanifar, Iran’s annual revenue from health tourism is between $400 million and $500 million; a figure which is expected to reach $2.5 billion in the foreseeable future.

  A Hotspot

Whether you are seeking high quality medical care or are in search of alternative practices, Iran is well-equipped to cater to everyone’s needs.

Most health tourists visiting Iran hail from the Persian Gulf region. Receiving infertility treatment, plastic surgery, gum tissue graft surgery, and dental implants are the top reasons why health tourists travel to Iran.

It is evident that Iran is capable of offering top-notch medical care, but why is it lagging behind its competitors?

Despite the high quality of medical facilities and comparatively low cost of services, health tourism has not flourished in Iran for a number of reasons, one of which is lack of promotion.  

A decentralized management system is another reason. Numerous official bodies have equal decision-making power in the tourism industry, which makes moving forward a far harder task than it should be.  

An additional matter that needs to be addressed is the issuance of ‘health visas’. The hassle of acquiring a visa and undergoing the usual formalities is off-putting, so facilitating travel to Iran for those who seek medical care could boost the number of tourists.

Furthermore, laws need to be defined to obligate healthcare facilities to provide reports and statistics in order to allow officials to track the number of visitors and implement changes where necessary. As it stands, hospitals and other health centers are not required to present information regarding the number of patients visiting their facilities, according to Ta’adol daily.

Health tourism in Iran is in dire need of integrated management to oversee the industry and take necessary measures in the right direction. Even though health tourism is not a new phenomenon, it has only just started to receive the attention it deserves in Iran. Learning from countries that have successfully mastered the art of tourist attraction will enable Iran to become a major destination for those who seek affordable, high quality medical care.