JEDDAH – In spite of a rapidly developing health care sector, which includes world-class medical centers and some of the most modern and state-of-the-art facilities in the world, the Kingdom has yet to make its mark in the booming medical tourism industry. A greater paradox lies in the fact that the nation’s own citizens often look outwards when it comes to medical help for some specific problems. However, according to Dr. Sami Badawood, Director for Jeddah Health Affairs, the number of such people are less than they used to be, and more people, particularly from Gulf countries, are coming to the Kingdom to receive medical care.
Speaking exclusively to Saudi Gazette, Dr. Badawood talked about the government’s initiatives to boost medical tourism, which includes five-year plans to develop medical cities in Jeddah and related workshops that are in progress.
“The number of people going abroad for medical treatment has decreased by around 20 to 30 percent over the last three years. This is because of two reasons. One, the global economic downturn, and two, the fact that better medical services are now available in the Kingdom itself,” he said.
Admitting that there has not been enough marketing for the Kingdom’s heath sector as the government “pays more attention to services to nationals,” Dr. Badawood said there are strategic plans afoot and that special attention is being given to build a brand for medical tourism in Jeddah, the country’s commercial hub and gateway to the Two Holy Mosques.
“The strategic five-year plans seek to develop medical cities in Jeddah that will have concentrated medical services, similar to those in other countries, and this will attract people,” he said, stressing that more private sector investment and cooperation with specialized companies is required.
Jeddah’s summer festivals also attract tourists from different regions, and medical tourism is at a peak time at this time of the year with a dramatic increase in the number of patients seeking appointments.
Jeddah’s medical tourism, if promoted alongside tourism in Jeddah, which has 40 hospitals and a whole array of mushrooming private clinics, can reap the benefits from its association with the tourism industry.
“A workshop between the Ministry of Health and the Jeddah Governorate is scheduled to boost medical tourism in Jeddah. Formal conclusions from this gathering will be forwarded to the SCTA (Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities),” said Dr. Badawood.
Medical tourism, in view of the huge economic potential that it offers, is reportedly the fastest growing outbound tourism sector in the Middle East.
Recent research conducted by author Josef Woodman suggests that the Middle East, Saudi Arabia in particular, is one of the fastest growing markets for an industry that already attracts over three million tourists a year. And it’s no surprise that Saudi Arabia, like other Middle Eastern countries, such as, Jordan and the UAE, is gearing up to meet this growing demand by launching initiatives to establish itself as a top-notch cost-effective destination for the medical tourism market.