The 4th World Health Tourism Congress closed on Saturday with the Tourism secretary’s aim, expressed last year when the Philippines won the honor to host this year’s congress, achieved.
Sales and prospects of sales, as well as investment in the Philippines, estimated to be in the hundred millions of US dollars were clinched during the March 26 to 28 congress at the Sofitel in Pasay City.
Before the congress opened, Tourism Secretary Ace Durano had explained to media that the congress would be “an opportunity, a potential tipping point, to convince major decision makers in the global health industry that we in the Philippines possess the professionalism and expertise to address the needs of their clientele.”
Durano had also seen the congress as a good opportunity and “the best time for us to reinforce our reputation as a caring people—a character trait that humanizes medicine and positively affects the wellbeing of patients.”
Delegates from foreign countries who attended the congress were seen to have been amply convinced.
The congress was attended and manned by leading domestic health and wellness providers and hospitality and tourism-industry players were also present. They all promoted their services to overseas buyers. Foreign and local buyers of products and services networked and a great many ended up sealing actual contracts.
Among the corporate buyers who came to the Philippines for the congress were health officials and executives of companies in the Middle East, the United States, Europe and Australia, such as Continental Medical Solutions, Global Med Choices LLC, Health Travel Guides, the Federal Ministry of Health of Sudan, Kapico Travels & Tourism, the Ministry of Health of Libya, National Health Insurance (Daman), Qatar Insurance Company, Resort Destination Marketing LLC, the Saudi Armed Forces Medical Services and Surgery Planet.
Other foreign-owned medical and wellness corporations with branches in the Philippines also had delegates to the conference.
The local and basically Filipino-owned participants came from hospitals and medical centers, wellness clinics, medical travel facilitator firms, spas, health resorts, ambulance companies and tourist agencies.
Among these were The Medical City, St. Luke’s Medical Center, George Dewey Medical Center, Makati Medical Center, Asian Hospital and Medical Center, Asian Eye Institute, Health and Leisure-Gulf Express Corp., The Zen Institute (Medical Spa), Capitol Medical Center, Global Vital Source, Manila Doctor’s Hospital, Medical Center Manila, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, Philippine Heart Center, St. Frances Cabrini Medical Center, Tagaytay Hospitals, University of Sto. Tomas Hospital, World Citi Medical Center, Philippine Retirement Authority, Noli Center for Alzheimer’s and Elderly Care, Philippine Dental Association, Cebu Doctor’s Hospital, Chong Hua Hospital and Perpetual Succour Hospital.
$1 billion per year
Medical tourism has been quite a success, judging from the increase from 60,000 in 2007 to 100,000 in 2008 of patients and wellness-seekers from foreign countries who came to the Philippines. Even with the global financial crisis and deepening economic gloom, it does not look like medical-tourist arrivals will be severely constricted this year.
Since the Department of Tourism’s medical tourism program started in 2006 to the end of 2008, total spending by patient-tourists and wellness seekers has reached an estimated $350 million per year, or an average spending per medical tourist of about $3,500 during his or her stay.
The Tourism department’s goal is to hit $1 billion by 2012 which means about 300,000 medical tourists coming to the Philippines and spending about $3,500 on average.
The Philippines perfecting the one-stop shop model is seen as the way for the country to become the world’s medical-tourism mecca.
“We should be able to provide every medical tourist the total package and seamless experience the moment they arrive in our country,” Durano explained. “The one-stop shop model will address this strategy. With this system in place, visitors will have a worry-free stay, [enabling them to] focus their energy and resources on the treatment, on relaxing while recuperating and then enjoying themselves afterwards.”
This means, he said, making the medical tourist get not only treatment and wellness services but also all the leisure, fun and shopping components of overseas travel.
Tourism Undersecretary Cynthia Carrion elaborates. “The one-stop shop model offers integrated services all the way from airline and hotel arrangements to medical and wellness treatments up to the related leisure components,” she said.
“Even before the world was gripped by financial crisis,” Carrion added, “the Philippines, with the full backing of the Philippine government and the strong support of the private sector, has quietly been stepping up to the challenge of providing world-class, competent and caring health and wellness services and products to the rest of the world.”
The government, particularly the Office of the President and the Tourism and Health departments, has been working closely with the private sector, the Tourism undersecretary explained, “Our our best hospitals, our spa associations and other stakeholders in the health, wellness and tourism sectors have been very enthusiastic in working with the government.”
The first three World Health Tourism Congresses were held in Germany, Cyprus and Spain.