The future of health tourism in Iran post COVID-19

 

Iran’s economy is in the midst of a recession; companies are shut down or partially closed.  People’s lives and properties are in jeopardy; small and large business plans have been suspended. Development and growth have been replaced by concerns for survival. Worse than that, it is impossible to plan clearly and accurately for the foreseeable future. This is the status quo of a world that is struggling with the Coronavirus.

Not only has this virus impacted global health, but it will also continue to affect the socio-economic and cultural aspects of human life when it is eradicated. Its impact on different aspects of our lives will probably introduce a new form of socio-economic life. 

The greatest impact of this transformation is on the economy and businesses. This transformation will also have a major impact on tourism, especially health tourism.  We, the activists of health tourism, must identify the impact and formulate plans to keep this industry firstly alive and then secondly boosted through collaboration and consultation. 

How will the world hit by the Coronavirus change the health tourism industry? More importantly, what impact will there be on Iran’s health tourism industry?

People will be more cautious worldwide.

The Coronavirus has shown us that even humans in the twenty-first century are unable to overpower and dominate nature. A zoonotic virus has halted the whole world for a few months, taken the lives of thousands of people, and made millions stay home. It has questioned the myth of human dominance over nature and indicated that greater natural perils may even threaten life on Earth in the future. This newly-perceived knowledge of human vulnerability and limitations will make us more cautious than ever before. 

This is also a grave danger to tourism, which is inherently the practice of discovering and encountering the unknown; therefore, tourism will now be associated with a kind of hidden and mild fear by many people who have experienced isolation in these pandemic days. Staying home and taking constant self-care may become a more powerful lifestyle choice than in the past, when it was considered going out and visiting different geographies was better for human health.

People will spend less worldwide.

The Coronavirus has degraded savings all over the world. Many people in forced lockdown are having to use their savings, which otherwise would have been spent on travelling and healthcare. In general, once such crises are over, individuals usually save money by reducing recreation, trips, and entertainment. Tourism is often the first thing excluded from disaster-stricken plans. Although health tourism has certain priorities and norms which cannot totally be disregarded by some people, many of the health-oriented plans related to well-being and cosmetology, as well as unnecessary health trips, will probably be cancelled or postponed.

Businesses will be smaller and low-cost.

According to the report published by McKinsey & Company that analyses economic data, the world will be struggling with COVID-19 until the second quarter of 2020 in the best-case scenario. Travel restrictions and social distancing will reduce the number of customers and make them more frugal. At the same time, business investments will be severely limited. According to the worst-case scenario predicted by McKinsey & Company, there will be a severe recession in 2020, in as much as it will be impossible for the prominent economies of the world including those of the US, Europe, and Eastern Asia to recover until the first quarter of 2021. At the same time, the delay of economic recovery to the next year will increase the global unemployment rate, bankruptcy rate, and pressure on banking and financial institutes and decrease development investments. This will postpone the emergence of new businesses in health tourism and make many hospitals and clinics cancel their development plans in the short term.

Healthcare systems and exit from the Coronavirus shock.

It is a fact that, regardless of any potential effects, the Coronavirus has severely affected global health systems so far. The exertion of a maximum demand pressure on health systems, which has exceeded capacity in many countries, has led to psychological pressures, illness and death of some physicians, nurses, and other heath staff in hospitals.   Normal procedures and processes in health centres have suffered long-lasting effects, which will delay the chances of health tourism for negotiation, interaction, or development of markets for some time. The first priority of most health centres all over the world, including Iran, will be to eliminate the devastating memory and psychological-physical effects of the Coronavirus on their human resources.  It won’t be on considering entering new economic arenas such as health tourism.

Iran’s health system mid COVID-19

Nearly all international flights to Iran have been suspended. Nobody arrives, and nobody departs. Hospitals and health centres are facing high treatment demands from the Coronavirus contraction, and people are preferring to postpone their plans for even the most common treatments.  

It is safe to state that there is no health tourism revenue, in terms of turnover from foreign patients. In other words, all of the patients attracted by Iranian medical tourism companies and all of the appointments have been cancelled.  They have probably not been postponed to later dates, due to the instability of global conditions. 

Iranian health tourism companies and relevant travel agencies have now been partially closed. Not only have most of them halted their development plans, but they have also had to lay off their staff and downsize their structures. The companies and activists in this industry only hope and attempt to survive these days and keep their expenses at minimum. They want to leave these days behind as soon as possible. 

The high hope is that these conditions are not specific only to the health tourism industry and that many other Iranian and global economic sectors are experiencing the same situation. In fact, we are all stuck in mourning together. Having the same fate facilitates the forbearance of sorrow and make us more hopeful to find a faster and more extensive solution.

A few predictions of Iran’s health tourism

I predict that we will lose the first half of 2020. A business can survive after losing half of the year only by adopting flexible strategies and making hard decisions. However, what comes next requires optimism. This is what I suggest for the future of health tourism, after the eradication of this global pandemic:

  • Iran’s health tourism market will be smaller. In two years, we will have to try to achieve what we had achieved by the end of 2019. In other words, it is probable that Iran’s health tourism industry will be nearly 30% smaller than what it is now because of the Coronavirus impact. This is bad news, which intensifies our responsibility for compensating the losses.
  • Some start-ups and newly-founded companies in this sector will probably vanish; however, those which stay will possibly turn into powerful players in the future. They may become sufficiently resilient, having experienced this crisis, that they will ensure in this industry.
  • With the resumption of international flights and declaration of the Coronavirus eradication in all cities of Iran, as well as the worldwide alleviation of this pandemic, it is possible to gradually resume the normal business procedures for health tourism. It is also possible to be hopeful to attract patients from Iran’s traditional markets including Iraq and Oman.
  • When this crisis ends, all companies must put promotions, discounts, and special offers on their agendas. A collective plan should be to reconnect Iran’s disconnected health tourism flow and resume the trend that was gradually going to be structured. To support the health tourism industry, Iran’s state can also provide companies with an opportunity to participate in the international events of 2020 at lowest costs or even free of any charge.
  • Last but not least, we, Iranian business owners, are masters at encountering economic crises. I reckon that Iran’s health tourism will pass these harsh days. Thus, we should value these days and stay home with our loved ones!

About the author: Reza Jamili is Editor-in-Chief at Medtourpress, a medical tourism news agency based in Tehran. Email [email protected].

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