The Muslim market, 72 percent of which originates from OIC countries, is the second largest travel market next
only to China ($168 billion) and ahead of the United States ($147 billion). “ T h i s u pwa rd t re n d p re s e n t s g o o d b u s i n e s s opportunities for the industry. However, stakeholders should start addressing challenges to make the most of the momentum and boost tourism activities,” Badri said.
Not only has the UAE topped in terms of being a Halal travel destination, it has also gained a name as the top
place to be considered for medical tourism among Arabs and Africans and even Westerners who find the treatments here more pocket-friendly and convenient.
For many Arabs and Africans, traveling to Asia, Europe or Americas for medical purposes entails long-haul
flights, costly accommodations and cost of living, and limited access to families and friends in case of any eventualities due to distant geographic boundaries.
Dubai, on the other hand, is ideally located within hours around the Middle East and North Africa, giving patients
ease of travel and their families with close access in case of any emergency.
Dubai, the nation’s tourist hub for shopping and sightseeing, envisions welcoming half-a-million medical tourists by 2020, the same year that it’s hosting the World Expo 2020.
The emirate had since adopted medical-friendly policies to compliment the best practices and facilities the country has to offer.
These include launching a medical complaints portal for patients within the country and those coming for medical tourism purposes.
Dr. Layla Al Marzouqi, Director of Health Regulation and Dubai Medical Tourism Project at the Dubai Health
Authority, said, “We already have a robust medical complaints procedure in place and the move towards an e-complaints system will further enhance efficiencies and streamline processes.
“Our aim is patient satisfaction and implementing mechanisms that ensure delivery of world-class healthcare in the Emirate and electronic integration for all our regulatory processes is an important criterion to achieve our goals,” she added.
Patients can go to DHA website and log into the medical complaints portal option which has a separate tab for
UAE residents and medical tourists
There are more than 2,780 healthcare facilities in the country which accept universal health insurance
policies to cover patients’ medical treatments.
These hospitals and clinics are well-equipped to handle all sorts of medical situations with emphasis in seven
areas: or thopaedics, ophthalmology, assisted reproductive techniques, dermatology, bariatric and weight-loss surgeries, plastic surgeries and dental care.
Under the project, Dubai: A Global Destination for Medical Tourism, offshore patients seeking medical treatments in the UAE can remotely plan for their trip to the country via the DXH.ae website.
This first-of-its-kind website has all the relevant medical tourism services including: medical tourism packages,
booking tickets, buying medical insurance and hotel booking, etc.
DHA said the health insurance would include medical insurance covering all travel costs and health complications as well as the cost of emergency cases and return tickets should a medical tourist need it. The insurance is activated as soon as the booking is made through DXH’s website.
DXH provides a package of specialized medical services in collaboration with strategic partners that include Emirates Airlines, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and General Directorate of
Residency and Foreigners Affairs in Dubai as well as other private sector entities, the government said.
UP FOR MORE GROWTH
Colliers International, a global leader in real estate and research in various industries, estimates the population of Dubai to reach 3.48 million by 2020. With such growth, coupled with rising average income levels, the demand
for better infrastructure and services, is inevitable. And all of these would have positive impacts on the economy and the healthcare sector.
“The UAE is an attractive market for investors and companies, reinforcing its position as a leading global business hub. While economic growth in developed countries remains sluggish, the UAE’s GDP is forecast to grow between 3.4 percent and 3.9 percent annually for the next 5 years,” Colliers said in its report entitled “Dubai Healthcare Overview.
“With the third best air transport infrastructure in the world according to World Economic Forum, and being 8
hours from two-thirds of the world’s population, Dubai is an ideal place for medical tourism,” it added. Colliers said with Dubai’s population up for more growth, the demand for a more efficient healthcare system would also rise and that would also positively impact services available for medical tourism.
Colliers International estimates the value of Dubai’s private hospitals reached US$430 million in 2005 and US$870 million in 2013. It is anticipated to reach US$ 1.62 billion by 2020.
Despite this marked increase, the UAE remains a small player with the global medical tourism industry valued
at up to $60 billion a year.
“If medical tourism in Dubai were to capture 2% of its international tourists in 2015, an additional US$1 billion in revenues would be generated by the healthcare sector,” said Colliers.
CRAFTING A NICHE
Linda Abdullah, head of Dubai Medical Tourism Office, said the emirate’s plans centre on crafting its own niche
in a broad international market, which includes centers of excellence like Singapore, Switzerland and the United
Kingdom, and cheaper more geo-centric destinations like India.
“What we have done, and what’s different here, is we have put together a product of medical tourism to fit those who would like to enjoy tourism as well as good quality elective healthcare,” she said in a statement.
“Although it is important, the cost is not our focus, our focus is more to give the quality of the healthcare service and to couple it with the tourism side.”
Yet if Dubai is not looking to compete with other medical tourism hubs on price terms it is in other metrics. On top of the 500,000 tourists target for 2020, another goal of the emirate is to enter the top 10 in the Medical Tourism Association’s Global Medical Tourism Index, which assesses countries based on their environment, attractiveness, costs and facilities and services.
In the 2016 index, Dubai ranked 16th with a score of 67.54, in a list topped by Canada (76.62) and the UK (74.87). It will need to overtake the likes of the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Panama, Japan, Spain and Colombia to enter the top 10.
Experts suggest the path to doing so will involve filling the middle ground between more expensive Western treatment and cheaper alternatives in Asia, but without compromising on quality.