Worldwide market put at two million medical travelers

With the healthcare travel industry poised to play an important part in Dubai's growth strategy, IIR Middle East the organisers of the first medical tourism conference in the United Arab Emirates, which concluded in Dubai recently have reported high levels of interest from a potentially huge international market.

"Research unveiled at the event indicated a global market of around two million medical travelers a year and an industry constrained by hospital capacity and lack of consumer familiarity with medical travel," said Sietske Meerloo, Marketing Manager at IIR Middle East and organiser of Healthcare Travel Exhibition & Congress.

IIR Middle East is also the organiser of the Arab Health exhibition and congress, the region's premier event for Middle East healthcare that takes place in Dubai 26-29 January 2008.

“Large numbers of hospitals and clinics around the world are attempting to tailor their health services to cater to medical tourists," Meerloo added. "Several major insurance companies offer a travel component in their policies and governments are looking closely at policies to take account of the trend."

The healthcare event was officially opened by Dr Haidar Al Yousuf, Transition Director at the Dubai Health Authority, who highlighted the importance the authority is placing on the future of medical tourism. 

"As we look to develop our domestic health strategy we also want to develop a joint strategy, with our colleagues in the Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing (DTCM), for the future of health tourism in Dubai," said Dr Al Yousuf. "The healthcare sector in Dubai will become an increasingly attractive place for international healthcare investors, providers, services, facilities and other healthcare professionals."

PlanetHospital, a California-based leader in medical tourism used the event as a platform to announce the official opening of its Jeddah Saudi Arabia office to serve inbound and outbound medical tourists from the Arabian Gulf region.

"The Gulf has the potential to drive growth in medical tourism," said Mohammed Alarifi, Managing Director for the new operation.  "It is not only a destination from where patients seek medical care abroad but is also becoming a medical tourism destination itself thanks to major hospital developments throughout the region."

The American Hospital, Dubai, also had high visibility at the event. There was "a lot of exchange of experience among colleagues from around the world," said Naser Saleh, Director of Marketing and Sales. “On the conference side the sessions were very informative."

Gary Miller, CEO of Health Travel TV, said the event had been important for them. "We have a unique product and we’re the only broadcast media here dedicated to this area," he said. I’m coming back to Arab Health in January."

Organised in association with the International Medical Travel Association, the Healthcare Travel Exhibition and Congress was supported by the UAE Ministry of Health, the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi. Platinum sponsors were Singapore Medicine. Gold sponsors were the American Hospital Dubai and Dubai Health Authority.