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Is Greek Crisis Affecting Medical Tourism?
Some say traveling to Greece during a time of economic uncertainty could mean a more interesting and meaningful trip. Others say the way that the media portray Greece has a huge impact on how potential tourists and medical tourists see Greece. While Greek tourism officials are concerned about the effects of the debt crisis on the industry, they are working hard to keep everything running smoothly for visitors.
Healthcare has been hit the worst by the crisis
The Greek healthcare system is in meltdown after years of austerity. Basic supplies such as gloves, syringes, gauze, cotton wool, catheters and paper towels have long been in low supply. The numbers of doctors and nurses is critically low.
Rising poverty and rocketing unemployment has left 2.5 million Greeks – a quarter of the population – without national state healthcare coverage (health benefits are only available for up to a year after losing a job, after which patients must pay for their own treatment). Screening for some diseases have been reduced, and with struggling patients unable to seek out primary care, patients are arriving for treatment at late stages when serious conditions have already taken hold.
Is tourism in Greece still strong?
Last year, a record 24 million tourists visited Greece, spending 13.5 billion euros. About 25 million visitors and more than 14 billion euros in spending are anticipated this year. Tourism is a vital industry in Greece, representing about 17% of the country’s gross domestic product and supporting an estimated 70,000 jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, a London-based nonprofit that researches the global impact of tourism.
Although foreign visitor numbers have been volatile over the past 20 years, tourism has been on the rise recently. The country is expected to attract 20.6 million international visitors this year, with 26.7 million expected by 2025, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
The most recent data note that about 377,000 U.S. citizens visited Greece in 2013, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office of the U.S. Department of Commerce. It may be too early to see the effect of the Greek financial crisis on tourists’ plans to visit the country because most trips are scheduled several months in advance.
Tourism in Greece is as healthy as it has ever been, and while travellers may have some minor worries, business from an agent and tour operator’s point of view remains unaffected. Despite banks closing and a limit of 60 euros imposed on ATMs across the country, international tourists traveling with credit cards and bank cards still have access to cash. Only people with accounts inside Greece are affected, unless the Greek banks fail.
Greece can become an international destination for medical tourism
Staying within the Eurozone is a short-term fix and sooner or later Greece will have to leave and bring back their own currency. This will bring chaos for a while. The quickest economic build will come from tourism.
Medical tourism could be next up, as with a stable economy and prices at rock bottom, the country would be very attractive if the quality of care can be offered. More medical and dental tourists to Greece could impact destinations such as Turkey, Hungary and a host of former Russian states.
But with people wary of Africa and the Middle East, plus the already strong Russian connection it could attract new medical tourists too. If Greece could offer value for money and promote the safety factor, it would also play well in Russia as being another country seen in Russian eyes as standing up to the Americans and Germans, according to imtj.com.
A new currency and the inevitable devaluation would make Greece an attractive place for overseas investors also. China sees Greece as a way into the EU market and in the longer term Russia sees potential too.
Rebuilding the economy with new investment projects such as roads, airports, hospitals, clinics and hotels with Chinese money would bring jobs to Greece and make it an attractive destination for medical tourists if the right high quality places are built.
According to Greek tourism minister Olga Kefalogianni, Greece can become an international destination for medical tourism in the future.
“The aim is to provide high quality medical tourism services. Certification inspires confidence for the safety and the quality of services and it also reduces the fear of the unknown felt by an international patient”, she said.
The deal between the tourism and health ministries is that medical providers must be certified in accordance to international medical tourism certification standards while units and doctors must be insured for professional liability issues.
Benefits expected to result from the development of medical tourism in Greece include the gain of extra revenue for the struggling Greek economy, modernization of the health sector, extension of the tourism season, development of city break tourism and creation of jobs.
Greece’s hospital infrastructure and medical resources combined with the country’s climate and hotels, can put together a highly competitive medical tourism product. The adaptation of infrastructure to meet international standards and requirements of medical tourism over the last two years has been impressive. Many Greek hospitals have internationally recognized certifications and many companies that market medical tourism have joined forces with tourism professionals. Greece, although late, is entering the medical tourism market.