Medical tourism is a growing phenomenon in the 21st century. The developing countries have seen a substantial rise in the number of visitors from the developed West for health and medical purposes. It can be referred to as a travel activity that promotes the well being of the tourist or an activity that involves a medical procedure (Lee and Spisto, 2007). The OECD reports that medical tourism as a main component of international trade in health services has been attracting increased amount of attention from the medical profession, health analysts, trade, tourism promotion agencies and public health policy makers.
Countries active in promotion of medical tourism
Some of the countries currently promoting it are India, Israel, Cuba, Costa Rica, Hungary, Jordan, Malaysia, The Philippines and Lithuania. All of these nations have adopted a unique strategy to promote itself as a medical tourism destination. In Thailand, the Thai Authority for Tourism (TAT) promotes itself more as a euphemistic ‘wellness tourism’ destination through naturopathy, spas and relaxation. Whereas in India, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) promotes ‘medical tourism’ through expertise in surgeries and cost-efficiency. South Africa has undertaken a different approach by promoting “medical tourism” with “medical safaris”: come see African wildlife and get a face lift in the same trip (Singh, 2008; Kronenfeld, 2009).
How do they promote?
The internet has played a crucial role in the overall development of this phenomenon (Woodside and Martin, 2008). Marketing and promotion of medical tourism is also done by companies serving as brokers between hospital networks and international patients (Henderson, 2004). As a means of increasing popularity, countries have also taken to advanced technology, more liberty to the private sector in the tourism industry, advancement in services of higher demand such as cosmetic surgery, liposuction, rhinoplasty, etc. They are not covered by insurance companies in the developed countries like Australia and USA.
Most medical tourism advertisements stress on advantageous factors like reliability, quality, technology and overseas training. For instance, the advert in Air Mauritius’ in-flight magazine called Islander depict a model’s ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs emphasizing on the quality of plastic surgery and technology imported from Europe. Cuba, whose main strengths are plastic surgery and dentistry, states through promotional campaigns aggressively that its quality is ‘unquestionable’ as per the health indices published by the WHO (World Health Organisation), particularly through its website. South Africa chants the tagline ‘surgeon and safari’. Whereas Antigua emphasizes on cosmetic dentistry as well as the Caribbean experience with ‘Antigua Smiles’. In an effort to divert tourists to itself from Asia, Dubai established the Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC), stressing on the quality. Whereas Saudi Arabia links medical tourism with pilgrimage (hajj) visit to the country. Japan which sends most of its countrymen to Thailand for medical check-ups finds a unique place in Thailand with an exclusive Japanese wing and a number of Japanese nursing homes.