Mud and spas become healthy resources for Turkish tourism
Reported April 01, 2009
ANTALYA – Millons of tourists rush to Turkey ever year, and not all of them are choosing the country for its bright sun, long beaches, hospitable people and fairly economic travel deals. For a growing number of tourists, medical procedures are the main reason why they travel, and Turkey is looking to up its game and cash in on the growing demand health tourists
Turkey is increasingly interested in health tourism and ready to tap into a relatively new travel sector, worth about $100 billion globally.
Every year, around 100,000 tourists come to Turkey to have medical procedures done, bringing in about $5 million G far below the real potential, according to Dr. Dursun Aydin.
“We are talking about the movement of 780 million people from one country to another every year”, said Aydin, chairman of the Heath Tourism Development Association. “Although we have great potential to explore health tourism, the percentage we have of the world pie is less than 1 percent.”
Although government officials agree more can be done to do to promote health tourism, they are more optimistic. Gül Soydan, coordinator for Turkish health tourism, claims the country is seven or eight years ahead of its rivals.
On top of its general tourism attractions G the natural beauty, historic sites, and holiday facilities G Turkey has also several natural thermal sources, an important asset for health tourism. But what really gives Turkey an advantage over other countries are its medical expertise and reasonable pricing policy.
“Turkey has made significant progress, especially in eye surgery and in hair transplants,” Aydin said. “The high technology plays an important role in the preferences of foreign patients.”
At Medical Park Antalya Hospital, which has allocated a separate department for health tourism, the most popular branches for foreign patients are “organ- and stem-cell transplantation, medical and radiation oncology, dentistry, orthopedics, brain surgery, plastic and aesthetic surgery and eye diseases,” said Eylem B. Bucak, who is responsible for the hospitals corporate communications. ,
The health tourism department comprises 10 doctors with expertise in different fields. The hospital not only offers health care but also coordinates the screening, the flights to Turkey, accommodation for the duration of treatment and post-op medical safeguards. Bucak said Medical Park works in collaboration with many international health centers, which enables the hospital to reach important benchmarking reports, and to be represented at reputable medical fairs and conventions.
“We performed an ophthalmologic treatment on a foreign patient a short time ago,” Bucak says. “The treatment cost amounted to $10,000. This is quite reasonable when compared to many European countries.”
Reasonable prices also helped Kauls Osterhagen decide to have his tumor operation at Antalya Anadolu Hospital. “The total medical costs are much less than those in Europe, ” said Osterhagen, who said Turkey has almost become a second home country since he started coming here for holiday every year.
“The medical staff is quite experienced, and uses the highest technology,” he said. “I have already recovered, and now am having a holiday in one of the best hotels in the city. I can also spend a few weeks touring the beaches of Turkey, which are sunny even in the middle of December. I could never find this opportunity back in Germany.”
Though the prices for foreign patients are 15 percent higher than those for the domestic patients to pay for the marketing, “Turkey still has a competitive pricing policy when compared to many other countries”, said country coordinator Gül Soydan. Some competitors, like India, do have lower prices than Turkey today. But Osterhagen, for one, has no intention of going to India for his open-heart surgery next year. He will be coming back to Turkey.
German patients are the most likely to seek health services in Turkey, according to Soydan, followed by American, Dutch, English and Japanese ones. Some health tourism also involves health care for the elderly, for which the highest demand comes from Denmark, Norway and Sweden, Aydin said.
Extending their stay
The benefits of health tourism go both ways, obviously. It offers the tourist/patient a reasonable price and benefits the host country by creating revenue. “While people can postpone many other needs at a time of economic crisis, health is not one of these needs, so should be met whenever it arises,” Aydin said. “While an economic crisis has hit the world economy, we can overcome the hardships by further developing health tourism.”
The sector also provides jobs in many other sub-sectors, including health insurance, accommodation and brokerage services, employing thousands of people total, Soydan said. “The health sector is the only sector that the current economic crisis has not negatively affected.”
Health tourism is also beneficial to the economy because it lasts throughout the year. “Tourism in Turkey is stuck in four months,” said Aydin. “We should try to extend the tourism season to all 12 months, and health tourism is a good way to do that.”
From spas to springs, medical tourism rising
“Medical tourism,” also called “health tourism” or “global healthcare,” is a term used to describe the rapidly developing practice of traveling across international borders to benefit from healthcare offered in another country. First conjuring up images of spa centers and thermal springs, the practice also includes plastic and aesthetic surgery, hair transplantation, eye surgery, in-vitro fertilization, open-heart surgery, skin diseases, check-ups, cancer treatments, head and neck surgery, dialysis and cardiovascular surgery, gynecology, tumor operations, brain surgery, orthopedics, dentistry and many other treatments.
As a way of merging a holiday with medical treatment on a reasonable budget, the practice has been gaining popularity across the world. Most patients prefer packages that include treatment, holiday, accommodation and transportation all in one, giving the foreign tourists the chance to be treated either at a seaside resort or in a bigger city, thus learning about the countrys culture, historical values and diet and getting to know some of its people.