News / Europe

Medical Tourism on the Rise in Turkey

Fahad Ali, a 27-year-old medical tourist from Britain, is prepared for hair transplant at a clinic of Esteworld, an aesthetic private hospital group, in Istanbul, March 30, 2013.
Fahad Ali, a 27-year-old medical tourist from Britain, is prepared for hair transplant at a clinic of Esteworld, an aesthetic private hospital group, in Istanbul, March 30, 2013.
Reuters
Sitting in a private clinic in an upscale neighborhood of Istanbul, Saleh, a human resources executive from Qatar, is preparing to leave Turkey with a smile on his face and more hair on his head.
 
Having previously brought his wife and children to Istanbul for sightseeing and shopping, Saleh has returned as the new kind of high-spending visitor Turkey is increasingly seeking to attract: a medical tourist.
 
“There's a social pressure to look good,” the casually suited executive, declining to give his family name, told Reuters as he sat waiting for a check-up a day after having hair follicles implanted in his balding scalp. “Two of my brothers and half of my friends had hair implants in Turkey. It was an easy choice after that.”
 
As it tries to boost tourism revenues and narrow its current account deficit, its main economic weakness, Turkey is on a mission to diversify away from the all-inclusive package tours to its sun-drenched Mediterranean shores which, local businesses complain, often do too little for the local economy.
 
Of 37 million tourists visiting Turkey last year, about 270,000 came for surgical procedures, from mustache implants and liposuction to operations for serious ailments, generating $1 billion in revenues and representing a small but growing fraction of tourism receipts.
 
“They usually come for three days. We offer them shopping or skiing tours, they get well and have a short vacation,'' said Kazim Devranoglu, the medical head of Dunyagoz Group, which has 14 eye care clinics in Turkey and branches in western Europe.
 
Around 10 percent of the group's patients - some 35,000 people a year - are now coming from abroad, he said. “They are mostly from western European countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, as well as from Algeria and Azerbaijan.”
 
There are various factors behind Turkey's appeal.
 
People from countries with heavily congested health systems welcome the opportunity to choose the time of their surgeries, while those from less-developed nations are attracted by Western-trained medics and new facilities sprouting up as Turkey's private healthcare industry flourishes.
 
The mustachioed stars of Turkish soap operas, popular across the Middle East and North Africa, have also prompted an influx of men seeking a virile addition to their upper lip.
 
Health professionals and patients say plastic and corrective eye surgery costs, including travel and accommodation, can be up to 60 percent below comparable programs in Western Europe.
 
The government aims to double medical tourist numbers to half a million a year over the next two years and raise revenues to $7 billion by attracting them to higher-margin healthcare.
 
“We see Turkey as a prime destination for medical tourism,” said Dursun Aydin, head of the international patients department at the Health Ministry. “We have experienced doctors. Hospitals are new...Turkey is relatively inexpensive and the temperate climate helps too.”
 
Tax-Free Health Zones
 
The phenomenon is a boon not only for Turkey's tourism industry, which risks locking itself into a price war with rival destinations such as Greece and Spain, but also for its booming private healthcare industry.
 
Parliament passed new regulations in February to make private investment in the healthcare sector easier; a move it hopes could unlock billions of dollars of investment over the next few years.
 
Private equity investors favor Turkey's fast-growing services industries, including healthcare and education, because of a near tripling of nominal, per capita gross domestic product over the past decade and a young population of 75 million.
 
Foreign institutions including Malaysia's state investment arm Khazanah Nasional, U.S. private equity firm Carlyle, emerging markets investor ADM Capital, Qatar's First Investment Bank and the World Bank's International Finance Corp (IFC) have put money into the Turkish healthcare sector.
 
Turkey's status as a medical tourism destination could add to the allure. Though the idea is still on the drawing board, the government is considering airport-accessible, tax-free health zones which would aim to attract up to 85 percent of their patients from abroad, while offering tax incentives for investors.
 
Under the new law passed in February, which facilitates public-private partnerships, the state will rent city hospitals built and run by the private sector for 25 years.
 
“The aim is to revitalize aging hospitals. While built primarily for Turkish citizens, they'll be luxuriously equipped and will aim to draw at least some of their customers from abroad,” said the Health Ministry's Aydin.
 
Economic Dividend
 
Growth has already been phenomenal, said Tolga Umar, chief executive of Visit and Care, a patient and doctor matching service which helps visitors from the Middle East and Europe.
 
“We've been matching patients and doctors for six years now. Back then there were few other players, but now hospitals have international patient management departments doing direct marketing,” he said. “Even tour operators ask prior to a visit whether you want to have a dental exam or corrective eye surgery.”
 
Boosting tourism revenues is key to keeping a lid on Turkey's current account deficit, which narrowed to around six percent of GDP in 2012 from roughly 10 percent in 2011. Net tourism receipts reached $21.6 billion last year, while the current account deficit stood at $47 billion.
 
Turkey is the world's sixth top destination by tourist arrivals, according to the World Tourism Organization, but it may require strategies such as the medical tourism drive to maintain that status.
 
“Decreasing prices in Greece and Spain since the debt crisis mean that the competition for tourists is more intense,” said tourism consultant Fehmi Kofteoglu.
 
Timur Bayandar, head of Turkey's TUROB tourism industry association, said “What the industry needs is alternative tourism channels like medical and shopping tourism.”
 
That could mean men with red dots on their heads - a tell-tale sign of freshly implanted follicles - becoming a more common sight as they stroll through Istanbul's designer malls, snapping up a last few purchases at the end of their medical tours.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs