Looking for a new audience to target? Travellers heading to foreign lands for a healthy experience may be the answer

Feeling the need to recover from New Year overindulgence? Unsurprisingly, in our stressed world, wellness tourism is, says Lonely Planet, the industry’s fastest growing sector with a 10% rise this year making it a plus $500bn market. Within that, the specialist medical segment is growing even more rapidly, as travellers attempt to cut bills or waiting times. Forecasts vary, but suggest that this is rising at around 20% annually and is currently worth $45 -$72bn.

“There are so many new combinations of travel destinations that focus on … ‘healthy’ experiences – that appeal to both men and women and come at much more affordable price-points,” says Susie Ellis, CEO of the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) on the growth in wellness tourism.

‘Mindfulness’, seems to be replacing ‘wellness’ currently, and no one seems to want to be without an offer. Even British Airways has a ‘Mindfulness of Travel’ programme”. This was aimed at creating a calm Atlantic-long-haul flight (though that may be a contradiction in terms) with meditative videos. Etihad, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic are among airlines with spa services in their lounges. Hyatt acquired wellness resort and spa group Miraval; InterContinental Hotels Group has its EVEN Hotels brand.

The US is the largest national wellness tourism market by far, but China is making huge gains

Source: Global Wellness Institute

The US, says the GWI, is the largest national wellness tourism market by far (with an annual $200bn-plus when last counted), followed by Germany (with $60bn). But China has been making huge gains, the last figures showing an annual jump from $12bn to $30bn. Globally, most trips are domestic (83%) but international/inbound wellness travel has been growing at a much faster rate. The last figures from the GWI showed growth of 22% in trips and 20% in revenues for international, compared to 17% and 11% for domestic.

In the UK, which has the longest NHS waiting times in a decade, healthcare traveller numbers have risen from 48,000 in 2014 to almost 144,000. According to the Daily Telegraph a few weeks ago, medical travel website Medigo was reporting a 200% rise in queries about orthopaedic treatment and rising numbers going to countries such as France and Switzerland.

Exponential growth

Internationally, the most frequently sought and profitable services include dental care, elective surgery, fertility treatment, and cosmetic surgery, according to US-based Orbis Research. Developed nations like the US Germany, UK, Japan, Canada, and France are offering highly advanced treatments, attracting patients from countries less well serviced. Developing countries are focusing on medical tourism as a growth industry.

Dubai currently ranks No.1 in the Arab world and 16th globally, based on the 2016 Medical Tourism Index, and aims to attract half a million a year by 2020. South Africa has become a popular destination. Thailand is soaring as a medical destination for the UAE, and the country expects to have received nearly a million international medical tourists this year as a part of the country’s tourism strategy. Malaysia has also been promoting its medical tourism internationally. India has been spending heavily to gain market share and making it easy to obtain visas.

Estimates are that the worldwide medical tourism market is growing at a rate of 15-25%, with inbound patient flows highest in Mexico, south and southeast Asia

“Even though Asian countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore have started moving ahead of India, the distinct healthcare facilities and the initiatives taken by India's prime minister will mark the exponential growth in the upcoming years," Indian medical website CareGuru quotes Dr Ruchi Gupta, founder and CEO of diagnostic testing centre 3hcare, as saying. The market is expected to quadruple to reach $10-15bn by 2020.

Patients Beyond Borders, the US-based international medical travel publishers, say the world’s top destinations are (in alphabetical order): Costa Rica, India, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United States. It adds on its website:

“We estimate the worldwide medical tourism market is growing at a rate of 15-25%, with inbound patient flows highest in Mexico, south and southeast Asia”.

Its believes around 14 million patients a year cross borders worldwide, spending an average of $3,800-6,000 per visit, including medically-related costs, cross-border and local transport, inpatient stay and accommodations. Largest savings, for US patients at least, it calculates, are in India (65-90%), Malaysia (65-80%) Thailand (50-75% and Turkey (50-65%). Very healthy for the bank account!

EyeforTravel Europe 2018

June 2018, London

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