Medical tourism is not only one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry, it is especially resilient during economic downturns, according to a new study on tourism niches.
While global economic conditions have a profound impact on such areas as cruise, business and incentive travel, medical tourism is among sectors that “continue to grow at a steady rate despite the financial crisis,” stated Specialty Tourism: A Global Outlook, a report issued by Global Industry Analysts, a market research firm.
Part of a larger trend
The report identifies specialty travel in general as having a major impact on overall tourism growth. It hails the “targeted approach” as sparking the creation of new tour products and consumer interest.
“Specialty tourism has also responded well to growing consumer interest in educational, health and active tours,” noted the report, which also cited adventure travel as a growing niche that is relatively resistant to economic trends.
Enormous potential for medical tourism
The report forecasts that by 2015 the medical tourism industry will generate revenues of nearly $168 billion.
An aging global population, rising life expectancy rates, and growing awareness about healthcare, diseases, and available therapies are contributing to demand for quality healthcare services, according to the report.
Together with growing demand for quality healthcare services at affordable costs, these forces are expected to drive the growth of medical tourism.
Huge savings for consumers
The report also cited the high cost of treatments in some regions as a major factor in driving patients to seek care in foreign countries.
Several surgical procedures performed in countries such as Thailand, India, or South Africa involve about one-tenth of the cost for such procedures in North America or Western Europe, it noted.
“For instance, a knee replacement surgery in Thailand is at least four times lesser than the cost incurred in the U.S. Likewise, dental, cosmetic and eye surgeries in Western countries cost three times as much as in Asian countries,” the report stated.
Lack of sufficient insurance coverage and the availability of high-quality and advanced services in destination countries were also cited as driving patients to overseas markets.
Most favored nations
When it comes to medical tourism destinations, the report singled out Asia and South America as regions with the most potential, “due to their low-cost healthcare facilities and availability of world-class healthcare service providers.”
“Several developing countries have emerged as favored destinations for patients seeking low cost medical services,” the report stated. “These countries are benefiting from the rapid expansion of medical infrastructure and facilities, better room care, less waiting time, higher success rates, and above all affordable costs.”
Among important medical tourism markets cited in the report are: Panama, Brazil, Costa Rica, Thailand, India, Malaysia and Singapore.
South Africa, Argentina, Cuba, Jamaica, Hungary, Latvia, Estonia, Dubai and Jordan are as emerging as destinations for medical tourism, the report said.
Certain destinations are favored by consumers for certain procedures or types of procedures. For instance, Costa Rica and Argentina are emerging as preferred destinations for American patients seeking high-quality plastic surgery. Europeans prefer South Africa for plastic surgery.
Hungary is favored for dental procedures and cosmetic surgeries among West Europeans and Americans.
Eastern Europe countries, particularly Poland, Hungary, and Czech Republic are emerging as major private medical care tourism destinations for westerners.
Challenges for medical tourism
The report also noted several challenges facing the medical tourism industry. Among them is the fact that a number of developing countries aiming to be recognized as high-quality healthcare destinations are often branded as low-cost destinations.
“Most of the developing countries are competing to grab a share of the pie rather than cooperating with each other for designing, developing and facilitating the global medical tourism industry,” the report said.
Risk mitigation was also identified as a challenge, as patients may have no course of retribution in cases of a botched medical procedure.
“In addition, security concerns of medical tourists in case of natural or political disasters need to be addressed in order to drive growth of the global medical tourism market,” the report stated.
Travelers sellers can learn more about medical tourism, including strategies for reaching the market, by attending the Well-Being Travel Conference 2012, June 20-21 at the Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. The groundbreaking educational event is co-sponsored by Well-Being Travel and Travel Market Report. To register or learn more, visit www.well-beingtravelconference.com.