The Turkish government will soon decide where, or perhaps if, to place one or more new free health zones. The Ministries of Health, Economy, Tourism are deciding the alternative merits of Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya, and Diyarbakir. The logic is to base it on the Dubai Healthcare City
free zone so that new hospitals and clinics targeting medical tourists are in one area along with teaching hospitals and medical companies.
Diyarbakır claims that its economic and health infrastructure for patients and health tourists from Iraq, Syria and Iran, make it the best location. Free zones are areas in which special regulatory treatment exists for companies inside, to promote exports of goods and services. Much may depend on whether or not US investors are prepared to put money behind so far vague promises of interest. Other problems are that Turkey’s health and medical tourism sector is scattered, and may see this as unfair competition; while despite enormous expenditure Dubai has mainly attracted locals and expatriates and very few real medical tourists.
The number of medical tourists in Turkey is now 130,000 annually, and another 250,000 go for thermal tourism, rehabilitation and services for the elderly. Turkey provides both quality and affordable health services. Many people that live in the region travel to Turkey to take advantage of these services. Often overlooked are the retirement communities and services that cater to the elderly population who go to Turkey for many months each year during the coldest winter months at home, particularly from Scandinavian countries.
Another growth area is the increasing number of people going to Turkey for dental treatment. The vast majority of medical and health tourists come from Western Europe, but increasing number come from the former Soviet bloc and Middle East countries – the latter often switching to Turkey from Gulf/Middle East countries that are at war or in political turmoil.