Spotlight: Turkey aims for global leadership in health tourism

Source: Xinhua| 2018-05-27 00:47:33|Editor: yan
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by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, May 26 (Xinhua) -- As a country known as an ideal destination for enjoying sun-bathing beach holidays, Turkey is also aiming to become a global leader in health tourism with a series of recent measures introduced by the government.

Suffering a long wait before getting treatment or surgery in their own countries, foreigners, especially the Europeans, prefer Turkey's medical institutions because of their fast-track procedures.

Turkey is ranked fourth in the global list for healthcare tourism in terms of the number of patients served, and third in terms of the revenue generated.

"Some 756,000 health tourists were welcomed in 2017, generating 7.2 billion U.S dollars," Emin Cakmak, founding chairman of the Turkish Healthcare Travel Council, told Xinhua.

Citing the state-of-the-art oncology equipment used in Turkey, he hailed the serious investment in the health industry in the past 15 years, which "has completely upgraded Turkey's infrastructure and technology."

In order to further the booming health tourism, the Turkish government announced a series of new investment regulations and incentives for the sector last month.

According to Turkish Finance Minister Naci Agbal, the recently enacted value added tax (VAT) rules specify a VAT exemption for Turkey's foreign patients who receive services in this sector.

Turkey, which has set a higher standard of success with the concept it created in the sector in recent years, saw a 31-percent increase in health tourism in 2017, at a time when the country's economy is facing difficulties with the depreciation of its currency.

"Health and care for the elderly is a very costly business. Many countries are looking for ways to reduce the high costs. With its sun, qualified medical facilities, as well as personnel and thermal facilities, Turkey has had a great opportunity," Agbal said.

For 2018, the medical tourism industry in Turkey aims to attract 800,000 patients and 8 billion dollars in revenue, with East Asia as one of the most promising markets.

According to Cakmak, Turkey received 200 Chinese tourists for esthetic or anti-aging therapies in 2017, and expects 1,000 Chinese tourists this year as the cost here is 50 percent less than Switzerland and the United States.

In fact, treatments are offered in almost all fields of medicine ranging from organ transplants, cardiovascular treatments to obesity and eye surgery.

"I had to wait up to a year in the Netherlands to have a cataract surgery for my eyes, but here it was done in a matter of days and I am really happy with the result," Joost Van der Bosh, a foreign patient who had his surgery in Turkey's southern city of Antalya, told Xinhua.

Turkey has also become a pioneer in hair implantation, with people from more than 70 countries seeking hair implant services in the trans-continental country.

"Turkey is one of the leading countries in the world in the field of hair transplantation. Our doctors dealing with health tourism have serious hand skills," said Ozlem Safiye Kurt, a professional in the medical tourism sector.

Turkey's high quality and success in hair transplantation has drawn huge interest from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East, as well as Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France in Europe, Kurt added.

According to Kurt, tourists receive hair transplantation services in Turkey at half of the price in their own countries.

"We had thousands of patients from Europe in the past five years and some of them came back for a top-up to have more luscious hair," a clinic representative in Istanbul, who did not reveal her name, told Xinhua.

The treatment costs also cover a two-night stay in a nice hotel for patients to go sightseeing in Istanbul, Turkey's historical heartland, she added.

Besides good coordination between multiple ministries, Turkey's flag carrier Turkish Airlines with an increasing number of destinations also contributes significantly to the thriving sector.

"Turkish Airlines flies to more than 300 destinations so it is a big asset. Patients can also get visa online, making travel an easy thing," Cakmak noted.