Health tourism is increasingly becoming very popular and is a significant sector which contributes to the improvement of people’s health and development of counties’ economies; it also enhances cultural relationships between countries. According to the estimations of Josef Woodman (2017), CEO of Patients Beyond Borders which brings visitors worldwide and accredited hospitals, doctors and specialists together, approximately 12-14 million people travel today because of health tourism.
According to the health tourism report of TURSAB (Association of Turkish Travel Agencies), it is aimed to place Turkey among top five destinations in medical tourism in medium-term and to have 10 thousand bed places for senior tourism; to attract 150 foreign tourists and to obtain 750 million dollars revenue. However, developments and crises in the last two years have impacted health tourism. Compared to previous year, there has been 5.1% decrease in the number of tourists as a whole, the number of health tourists has also declined. According to medical tourism report of Ministry of Health, the number of patients was about 500 thousand in 2011 but it declined to 360 thousand in 2016.
About 1.7% of foreign visitors who stay Turkey in for less than a year generally come to Turkey for health and medical reasons. When Turkish residents in abroad (3.5%) was added to this number, there is no doubt that around 5% of foreign visitors to Turkey prefer Turkey for health and medical purposes (TUIK 2017).
In terms of health tourism, there can be a number of reasons why patients prefer our country such as effective health tourism policies of Ministry of Health, proliferation of bilateral agreements between public and private medical tourism organizations in Turkey and other countries, improvement of physical and technical infrastructure in health institutions to ensure that medical tourists easily get access to services and have better communication, and acceleration of publicity activities related to medical tourism.
In the past, individuals who have ability to pay high used to prefer health facilities in Western countries for treatment. But now, individuals living in such countries are indeed looking for cheaper destinations because of reason such as long waiting durations and increasing health expenditures in health facilities located in developed countries such as USA and UK. In health tourism literature, this situation has been explained with the slogan of “providing treatment of first world countries (high quality) for the price of third world countries (low cost)”. For example, while a regular implant treatment costs 2500-3000 Euro on average in Europe, it costs around 1000 Euro in Turkey, which turns Turkey into an attraction centre. It is also a well-known fact that price is not effective solely while choosing health facility and the country, the choice for destination is made considering criteria such as service quality, easiness of transportation, geographic and cultural closeness, accreditation etc. India, Singapore, Malesia and Turkey are among leading countries in medical tourism preferences. Related strategies, target market choice and publicity policies are of significant importance when it comes to health tourism. Considering global health tourism market, it is seen that high amount of resources is allocated for marketing and publicity activities for health tourism, improvement of physical infrastructure of hospitals, accreditation works, and etc. in a number of countries including India. It is also known that governments support such activities.
Ministry of Health of Turkey has made great progress in developing targeted policies for health tourism in recent years. Councils, platforms and associations about health tourism have been established, and new Regulation on Health Tourism was published. (Regulation on International Health Tourism and Health of Tourist entered into force on 13th of July, 2017 to upgrade health tourism activities.) The fact that incentives for health tourism have been prioritised in 10th Development Plan shows the importance attached to health tourism in our country.
“8th International Health Tourism Congress” is going to be held between 3 and 6 May, 2015 in Kusadası-Amara Sealight Elite Hotel which is organized by Health Tourism Association of Turkey in order to contribute to development of public and private sectors including both national and international sectors, to provide new opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors by bringing together national and international stakeholders at all levels, to publicize all healthcare and thermal companies of Turkey in a national and international platform and to make Turkey one of the leading and most preferred destinations in the world for health tourism. We are looking forward to seeing you in our Congress in May, 2018.
Atılım Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler enstitüsü Müdürü,
Türkiye Sağlık Turizmi Derneği Genel Sekreteri