The GCC is now adding “medical tourism capital of the world” to its list of growing accolades.
The region, which has been increasingly investing in the sector, has now been recognized by Medical Tourism Association (MTA) as the number one regional destination for people travelling for health purposes, ranked on a new global index of leading destinations to seek treatment.
The UAE placed first among GCC countries, according to this index, while Oman ranked second and Bahrain came in at third. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait placed fourth and sixth respectively.
The rankings in the index are based on a variety of factors, including the destination environment, patient experience, current levels of medical tourism, and the attractiveness of traditional tourism.
Judges praised Dubai’s “comprehensive system”, while Oman was noted as a “high quality healthcare destination”. Bahrain’s high number of annual visitors and connection to neighboring Saudi Arabia via the 25-kilometre King Fahd Causeway were highlighted as key factors in its ranking as a medical tourism destination.
The MTA highlighted prominent health institutions that have been operating in the region – including the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, which operates in Bahrain, along with the planned $270 million King Abdullah Medical City, which provides opportunities for further healthcare investment.
Bahrain is becoming a regional leader in specialized healthcare – with particular strength in cardiology and oncology – offering exciting growth opportunities, a centralized location and promising talent. A focus on medical technology is driven by strong technical infrastructure, which also helps to provide more research data to enhance medical practices.
The value of the medical tourism market was about $15.5 billion in 2017, and it is expected to grow to $28 billion by the end of 2024, with a compound annual growth rate of about 8.8% between 2018 and 2024.
The top 5 destinations for medical tourism, as per the index, are:
5. United Kingdom
Dubai and Abu Dhabi placed in the global top 10 too, ranked 6th and 9th respectively.
According to the International Medical Travel Journal, global medical tourism spends on foreign treatment for GCC citizens amounts to more than $2bn per year. This high level of demand has resulted in an increase in local facilities offering new options for citizens, residents and tourists alike.
As per Omnia Health, “medical tourism is known to be growing across global markets, with estimated annual revenues of $50 to $65 billion and an annual yearly growth of approximately 15 to 20%.”
The GCC is actively growing its medical tourism sector, spearheaded by UAE efforts
As the GCC continues to diversify its economy, it is increasingly looking at new venues of investment. From tourism to education and now healthcare.
Not long ago, the Dubai government unveiled what it calls the Dubai Health Strategy 2016-2021, which seeks to transform Dubai “into a leading healthcare destination by fostering innovative and integrated care models and by enhancing community engagement.”
It has three goals:
1. Drive and ensure compliance and accountability through an Innovative Health Governance Framework
2. Protecting and Improving Population Health
3. Ensuring Patient Happiness by Providing World-class healthcare Services
“Medical tourism is expected to contribute US$708 million to the GDP by 2020, with 13 per cent predicted year-on-year revenue growth, according to the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), which is in the process of adding 40 primary healthcare centres and three new hospitals under its 12-year framework,” Omnia Health said.
As for Abu Dhabi, it has also revealed great interest in becoming a leading tourist destination as well. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in 2018 between the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT – Abu Dhabi) and the Medical Tourism Association (MTA), which will see both entities partnering together to promote Abu Dhabi as a medical tourist destination in markets such as Russia, China and the GCC.