Keith Pollard gives his view of the recent International
Health Tourism Congress in Istanbul and the wealth of opportunities for Turkey
in the health tourism market. In a difficult medical tourism market, Turkey is
one destination that is making progress.
View this article in Turkish
Last weekend’s International Health Tourism
Congress in Istanbul communicated both the continuing success of Turkey in the tourism market in
general, and highlighted the wealth of
opportunities open to Turkey within the health tourism sector. The event was
organised by the Health Tourism
Association of Turkey and HealthcareTour.
The Congress was attended by 470 delegates from 22 countries.
The event was truly international with over 100 overseas delegates from Afghanistan,
Bahrain, Jordan, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Iran, Libya, Sudan,
USA, Malta, United Arab Emirates, UK, Greece, Germany, Korea, Kyrgyzstan,
Russia, Latvia, and Syria. 40 hospitals, clinics and healthcare organisations
exhibited at the event.
The Congress covered a broader range of areas within health
tourism than is normal, but the content did not suffer from this. Avoiding the
temptation to include a series of “promotional” presentations from hospitals,
clinics and healthcare services, the Congress presented many different views of
health and medical tourism and covered
areas which are often (wrongly) absent from the medical tourism conference
programme, such as patient
The overall message appeared to be about “how can Turkey
perform better” in the health tourism sector rather than “this is what we are
Growth in tourism...
Turkey is one of the few tourism destinations which has experienced
growth in recent years in the worldwide tourism market. Despite the slowdown in
the world economy, Turkey achieved 9% growth in tourism numbers in the most
recent quarter of 2011. In 2010, around
28.6 million foreigners visited Turkey; the top three nations - Germany, Russia and the UK - accounted for
35% of the total, followed by Iran, Bulgaria and Georgia. In addition, there
has been significant growth in visitor numbers from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Health and medical tourism patterns usually relate closely
to those in traditional holiday tourism. Culture, language and accessibility
are an important factor in both. So, the priorities for the Turkish medical
tourism sector appear to be Germany, Russia and the UK with growing interest from
the Middle East.
... and steady growth in health tourism
According to an audit conducted by the Health Ministry and
Gazi University, 74,093 patients came to Turkey in 2008, 91,952 in 2009 and
109,678 in 2010. The vast majority (94%) were treated in Turkey’s extensive
private hospital system. Growth of around 15% is expected in 2011. The main
source for medical tourists to Turkey in recent years is believed to be
Germany, the Netherlands and France where the population of people with Turkish
roots is high; emigrants and their offspring return to Turkey for low cost
Opportunity, opportunity, opportunity...
Possibly the greatest challenge for Turkey is deciding which
opportunities it should pursue. It is spoiled for choice both in terms of the
countries it should target and the health tourism services that it should focus
At the crossroads of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Turkey is faced
with multiple options. Draw a circle on a map, representing a three hour flight
time from Istanbul and you will appreciate the problem that they face. Do the
Turks look to established markets in Europe such as Germany , Russia, and the
UK or do they follow their cultural links with the Arabic and Middle Eastern
markets? These are very different markets, and Turkey may need to adopt a
“split personality” to succeed in both. Faced with a wealth of opportunities on
its doorstep, there is little reason for Turkey to pursue the medical tourism “pot
of gold” in distant markets such as the USA and Asia.
In terms of hospital, dental and medical services, Turkey has caught up with standards
in other European countries; significant investment has been made in JCI
accreditation by the major Turkish hospitals. This may mean very little to
patients from the target countries in its catchment area, but it will have
contributed to improvements in quality and standards.
Thermal tourism – the rising star of health tourism to Turkey
Thermal treatments, healing mud and spa treatments are an
important part of Turkey’s health tourism offering. The country has over 1,000
thermal springs with mineral rich content, many of which are used for “thermal
tourism”, one of the growing sectors in the health and wellness tourism market.
There are 190 thermal results in 46 Turkish cities and towns. According to Global Spa and Wellness, around 8 million people worldwide visit a
thermal spring each year.
With its wealth of natural resources, competitive pricing
and ease of access, Turkey has the opportunity to lead the world in thermal
tourism. The Tourism Ministry has set 50,000 thermal tourism beds as the short
term target for provision, and 250,000 beds in the medium term.
Greece, Bulgaria, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran, account
for about 25 % of all wellness-related visitors. Established markets such as Germany
where spa and wellness tourism is readily “adopted” represent immediate
opportunities, but the potential that lies in developing markets within the Turkic
Republics and the high value Middle East can be exploited in the long term.
Probably the liveliest debate in Istanbul was around the
session on patient communication. Various contributors gave their views on the
role of patient communication in health tourism and in healthcare in
general. There was an extensive Q and A
session in which there was general agreement that it is an area that Turkey
needs to work hard at if it wants to maximise its success. Having achieved
clinical standards that would be acceptable to most patients and payors, it now
needs to consider the total international patient experience.
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