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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs