Visa-Free Travel to Europe for Emiratis to Boost Medical Tourism
Emiratis can now travel through Europe without applying for visas after the European Parliament recently waived requirements. The waiver allows UAE citizens to travel through the 26 Schengen countries without applying for visas, as well as eight non-Schengen states: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania, the Vatican, Andorra, San Marino and Monaco.
The 26 Schengen states are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Destinations that UAE citizens choose for vacation
Outbound medical tourism from the UAE to Europe and North America is on the rise as visitors from the Emirates combine treatments with vacation plans. That is despite travel agencies in the UAE being mandated since 2011 not to promote such tourism without authorisation from destination countries.
In 2012, 530,000 visitors from the GCC traveled to the UK, up 6 % on the previous year. Gulf visitors are the biggest spenders, parting with more than Dh12,000 ($3,200) per person per visit, according to VisitBritain. The number of visits to the UK by Emiratis has doubled in the past decade. The United Kingdom granted visa free travel to Emiratis in November 2013.
In 2014, more than 35,000 visas for Italy were issued last year from Dubai, and 12,000 from Abu Dhabi. These include UAE citizens and expatriates.
UAE tourists would like to visit Turkey as their next European holiday destination in new research which looked at past and future travel behaviour across the Middle East and Far East. The Muslim Travel Index Europe 2014 has shown that Turkey is the number one country of choice for tourists in UAE as a future place to visit.
The biggest reason tourists said they wanted to travel to Turkey (71 %) was to visit the country for the first time and experience what it had to offer. This was followed by 59 % wanting to know about its Islamic heritage.
The research found England was the most popular destination previously with 42 % having visited the country.
93 % of Emiratis said it was important that the country they were visiting had facilities that catered for a halal lifestyle. The halal tourism sector was worth €103 billion in 2013 representing around 13 % of global travel expenditures. This figure is expected to reach €141 billion by 2020.
The Muslim Travel Index Europe 201 was conducted using research from residents from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Malaysian residents.
UAE citizens still travel abroad for medical treatment
A Gallup survey of more than 4,000 GCC nationals found 87 % of Emiratis are satisfied with the quality and accessibility of healthcare in the UAE. The country came second behind Qatar. Despite the large majority claiming happiness with the health system, 39 % would still prefer to be treated abroad.
Earlier surveys repeatedly showed dissatisfaction with the UAE’s health care. In a 2009 survey for The National, over half of Emiratis said they would travel abroad for treatment.
Figures released by the Health Authority – Abu Dhabi, show the number of Emiratis sent abroad for healthcare dropped by nearly half between 2010 and 2011. From 2,858 in 2010 to 1,451 in 2011. Oncology and orthopedic surgery accounted for a large proportion of referrals abroad.
Figures from the International Medical Travel Journal show nearly 30,000 Emiratis travel abroad for medical treatment every year. The still somewhat high number is due to lack of local specialist knowledge and gaps in service. In Abu Dhabi staffing remains a challenge to maintaining the high standard of care.
In 2012, a study surveyed more than 2,000 people - about one quarter of them expatriates - who traveled abroad for treatment from 2009 until the end of 2011. Emiratis and expatriates who had gone overseas for health care were questioned for Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and results analysed by the Dubai Statistics Centre.
In many countries, patients rely on the 'family doctor' or general practitioner, who will diagnose the symptoms and refer the patient to the suited specialist. In the UAE, people tend to rely on what they hear from friends, or what they read online, and they do not acquire the correct information, according to Laila Al Jassmi, CEO Health Policy & Strategy Sector at Dubai Health Authority.
Why and where do UAE citizens travel abroad for their treatment
When deciding for a treatment abroad patients usually look for the following information: the doctor's experience (23.4%), reputation of the medical center/hospital (21.0%), previous experience of the patient (16.6%), qualifications of the doctor (12.0%), the availability of advanced therapeutic technology (6.5%), availability of different treatment modalities (5.6%), and some other criteria.
However, the decision to choose for a particular country is made based on advice from others (66%), a welcoming environment (36%), previous visits to that country (30%), the cost of treatment being lower than in the UAE (26%) and the geographical approximation to the UAE (15%).
The top six travel destinations for medical patients in the UAE are Germany (43.1%), Thailand (21.4%), UK (10.6%), India (8.6%), USA (3.9%), Singapore (3.6%).
An information gap between the public and available healthcare in the UAE is the prime reason behind potential patients looking to go abroad for medical treatment. 8% of the people who traveled abroad for treatment do not seek medical advice in the UAE for the following reasons: unavailability of medical skills and equipment (56%), long waiting time (19%), not knowing where to go (19%), cost is too high (4%).
Patients who traveled abroad for treatment were impressed by the following factors related to medical services and wish they were available in the health services in the UAE: easy to book appointment when needed (55.8%), treating doctor listened (94.4%), polite and kind medical staff (94.9%), treating doctor talked clearly about condition (48.9%), reasonable waiting time (42.8%), treating doctor explained what might happen in the future (35.0%), consultation and diagnostic tests available in one building (32.5%), treating doctor explained how to live with medical condition (30.3%), medical staff able to answer all questions (28.9%).
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