The growth of medical tourism in the UAE

The growth of medical tourism in the UAEMedical tourism, more precisely health and wellness tourism, refers to the industry where people from across the globe travel to other countries for medical and surgical care, and at the same time, visit the local attractions of that country. Karen Osman shares some key highlights of medical tourism in Dubai hat could shape the future of the emirates’ economy and healthcare.

Although globally, medical tourism is still in its early stages, it’s cited as one of the fastest growing industries, especially in the UAE. According to the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), medical tourists contributed about 8.7 per cent of the total health sector revenue in 2012. Euromonitor International has calculated that the UAE medical tourism market is worth $1.58 billion (Dh5.8 billion) and is expected to grow a further 6.5 per cent this year to $1.69 billion. Impressive figures – so what are the key factors driving this growth?

The UAE is amongst the world’s top 20 destinations for medical tourism partly due to the country establishing itself as an international tourism destination for leisure and business travellers, boasting luxury resorts, countless attractions and impressive shopping malls. In addition to the UAE being the ideal holiday destination, it has also invested billions of dollars in the healthcare system, establishing accredited and internationally recognised hospitals and clinics with Western standards of healthcare and facilities such as Dubai Healthcare City, The Cleveland Clinic and Moorfields Hospital. Adding to the lure of the UAE, is its ideal location, being situated between East and West with national carriers flying over a third of the world’s population within four hours of Dubai and two-thirds within an eight-hour flight, the UAE is accessible to most people.

Although the UAE is fast becoming a prominent player within the medical tourism sector, it does face heavy competition from more traditional medical tourism destinations such as Switzerland, Germany, Thailand and the UK. In order to further strengthen the UAE’s position as the leading health-care destination, the UAE government has recently approved a comprehensive strategy which was presented by the DHA. The strategy focuses on establishing a health system that provides excellent services, focusing on highly qualified medical practitioners and building 22 state-of-the-art hospitals. The initiative also includes the launch of Dubai’s medical tourism e-portal promoting Dubai as well as presenting medical packages that include visa, hotel stay, and activities to do. With the Ministry of Health projecting over a million medical tourists visiting Dubai every year by 2020, the DHA and the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs have recently decided to extend medical tourist visas in order to further facilitate and support the medical tourism initiative. Targeting patients from Russia, CIS countries, South Asia and neighbouring GCC countries, the UAE medical tourism marketing strategy will be implemented in various languages, enabling patients to have access to the information in their own language.

It’s the UAE’s commitment to providing excellent healthcare services, packaged with the promise of sun, sand and shopping along with an aggressive growth and marketing strategy that will undoubtedly position the UAE as one of the world’s most popular medical tourism destination.

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