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

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid