This is the second in a two-part series about medical tourism to Mexico.
Although Mexico’s much-publicized drug-related violence has hurt medical tourism in some regions, strong factors favor the continued growth of medical travel to Mexico – and with it, opportunities for travel agents.
Tops among these factors is the high cost of healthcare in the U.S.
Another factor favoring medical tourism to Mexico – government and private groups in Mexico are undertaking initiatives to promote Mexico for medical travel. (See sidebar.)
Experts also note that medical travel to Mexico’s resort destinations remains strong, despite security concerns elsewhere in the country.
Still, travelers’ concerns about violence undeniably are shaping medical tourism in Mexico.
“Medical tourism to Mexico parallels tourism to Mexico in general. It has definitely declined in those places with security concerns,” said David Vequist, Ph.D., founder and director of the Center for Medical Tourism Research in San Antonio, Texas. (Editor’s note: Vequist is a featured speaker at the Well-Being and Medical Travel Conference, June 20-21, in Scottsdale, Ariz.)
Patrick Osio, vice president and co-founder of the Baja California Medical Tourism Association, noted that “Monterrey is definitely suffering. And, Baja has seen a major decrease in medical tourism as well. Some specialties, such as dental care are down by 50%.”
One expert who doesn’t see a precipitous drop in medical tourism to Mexico is Robert Page, vice president of operations of MedtoGo International. The Temple, Ariz., company is one of the growing numbers of facilitators that advise would-be medical tourists about treatments and care in foreign countries.
“There have been some incidents of violence in Mexico affecting Canadians recently. So, we’ve seen fewer Canadians looking to go to Mexico right now. But we’re seeing a consistent flow of Americans,” said Page.
Warning has little impact
The U.S. State Department Travel Warning for Mexico, issued on Feb. 8, 2012, has not had much impact, he said.
“For the most part, the State Department warnings haven’t affected the destinations we use substantially, such as Puerto Vallarta, Leon and Mexico City. We did formerly send people to a hospital in Hermosillo, but now some don’t want to be so close to the border.”
Affordability still key
Page noted that security concerns are counterbalanced by other factors. “Higher insurance deductibles are an incentive to go to Mexico. And, any time you have a savings of 60% or so, that’s enough to attract folks.”
“The key is making people realize that they are going to be taken care of from the moment they step off the plane,” said Page.
Osio added that “medical travel to Mexico may be weakened, but unless health care suddenly becomes affordable in the U.S., it will find a way to come back.”
Resort areas & medical tourism
Resort destinations that offer medical tourism, such as Cancun, Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta, have fared much better in maintaining a steady clientele of medical travelers.
Those cities were cited as having “no security advisories in effect” in the latest State Department Warning.
And their appeal as beach destinations doesn’t hurt, either.
Travel agent opportunities
Despite the challenges, Mexico’s medical tourism creates opportunities for travel agents.
Medical tourism facilitators often work with agents to arrange travel for clients. Companies such as MedtoGo International also offer referral fees to travel agents.
“We’ve had a number of agents send out e-blasts about medical tourism to their client list. Some of them have even put banner ads for us on their web site, and we pay them a fee for referrals,” said Page.
Vequist offered this advice: “Keep in mind that the Internet is the number one source of information about medical travel. Studies show that it’s the third-most common online activity; right after email and social media, people look for health care information.
“So, it’s not a bad idea (for travel agents) to develop an online presence as a medical travel expert,” said Vequist.
Please see Part One, “Mexico’s Medical Tourism Keeps Pace With the Times,” March 21, 2012.