RP emerges as wellness haven

Published by rudy Date posted on May 31, 2009

Special Report: Medical Tourism

Medical tourism is proving to be a super-bright region in our country’s darkening economic landscape. The country’s chief statistician warns that we are on the brink of a recession.

If we do slip as badly as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand have, the tourism industry—and our good old OFWs—will help us survive.

And if our country’s tourism industry becomes a savior, it will be thanks in good measure to the medical tourism-wellness haven subsector of the industry.

Our medical tourism subsector performed better in the first quarter of 2009 than in the same period in 2008 despite the global financial crisis, Tourism Undersecretary Cynthia Carrion happily says.

The 10-percent growth from January to March came from more than 200,000 foreigners who came to our medical, dental, health and wellness centers. If this trend continues, by the end of 2009, a total of 600,000 patients and wellness seekers from abroad would have arrived and stayed spending dollars and offsetting somehow the decline in exports, the decline (God forbid) of OFW remittances and other setbacks caused by the global financial crisis and economic slowdown.

$3 billion tourism revenues by 2012

The Times has estimated from Tourism statistics that each medical and wellness tourist who stays in the Philippines spends an average of $3,500 during his or her stay. If 600,000 medical tourists and wellness-seekers do stay here the gross receipts from them would be $2.1 billion.

If harder times hit our source countries and only 300,000 arrive the gross receipts would still be $1,050,000,000. In the early Department of Tourism projections of medical tourism income, the goal of $1 billion was yet to come—in 2012!

Because of these early successes, Undersecretary Carrion now projects that by 2012, the tourism industry will generate some $3 billion in revenues.

If medical tourism is such a great success, it is because many of the medical tourists actually come for treatment and surgery procedures that our best hospitals like the Capitol Medical Center do as well as or even better than those in the West, but at very much lower costs. For example, in the United States knee-replacement surgery costs at least $50,000, while it costs only $6,000 here.

A complete medical holiday package from the United States to the Philippines costs less—up to 90 percent in some cases—than what an American patient would pay for medical care in the US.

Add to the competence, excellence and price factors the sweet scent of Filipino nurses and caregivers. They are famed all over the Western world for being wonderfully caring and affectionate to their patients.

Undersecretary Carrion also said some of the wellness-seekers come for our healers—traditional massage experts (hilot)—and health spas. Our hilots are getting a good name, especially among Europeans.

Now (see article “Australians awed by RP’s dentists and dental service”) even our dental surgeons—as well as dental hygienists—are being sought by foreigners.

One-stop shop business model and strategy

Undersecretary Carrion explains that the Philippines’ medical tourism industry (or subsector) is perfecting, and can be said to have perfected, the one-stop shop model. Every medical tourist who comes to the Philippines gets not only his or her desired treatment experience—in a medical center, hospital or wellness center. The patient or wellness-seeker is also seamlessly led to enjoy the fun and leisure activities appropriate for his health level.

If golf holidays or cruises, trekking, and whatever else are called for as part of their cure, they are pampered with care in experiencing these post-treatment activities.

Tourism Secretary Ace Durano himself said, in 2008, when the Philippines had just won the bid to host the 4th World Health Tourism Congress, which ended successfully on Saturday, that the one-stop shop, as a business model and strategy, is what would make the Philippines succeed as the world’s No. 1 in medical tourism.

“We should be able to provide every medical tourist the total package and seamless experience the moment they arrive in our country,” Durano explained in 2008. “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, he said, means making the medical tourist get not only treatment and wellness services but also all the leisure, fun and shopping components of overseas travel.

4th WHTC a great success

The first three World Health Tourism Congresses (WHTC) were held in Germany, Cyprus and Spain. That the world’s tourism industry chose the Philippines and not the other countries that coveted the opportunity to host the 4th WHTC was itself a proof of our emergence as a medical tourism and wellness haven in the global consciousness.

Further proof, or actual testimonies, came from the foreign delegations who came to attend the Congress. They were not just being diplomatic. Most of the delegates who came from virtually every country in the world were travel agency businessmen who made connections and signed deals with their Philippine counterparts and the health service providers who were represented in the Congress.

For details read “4th Health Tourism Congress truly a great success” and “Sec. Durano: RP rising as prime player in medical travel”. –Rene Q. Bas, Editor in Chief, Manila Times

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