Is medical tourism experiencing a shift from 'have to' to 'want to'


I need to reiterate that I am a strong believer in, and a champion of medical travel, as evidenced by my continued investment of time, effort and money in the health tourism sector in general. Nevertheless, I continue to disagree with some of the medical travel purists and their thesis.

This thesis predicts and forecasts the continued growth (“in leaps and bounds”) of the “have to” version of medical travel. “Have to” because of cost or maybe “waiting times”. The proponents of this thesis are betting (and hoping) that the local or nearby healthcare providers cannot get their act together to bring down costs and prices and increase their efficiency (to reduce waiting times).

I strongly believe they are “brain blind” and wrong.

And contrary to the predictions of quite a few, economic recession does not necessarily provide a boost to medical tourism. In fact, we have seen the opposite happen.

From “have to” to “want to”

“Have to” medical travel has run its course. My bet is that local (or nearby) providers have received and digested the message and are getting their act together (in order to stem the outflow of patients). At the same time, I am betting that health consumers will still do health-related travel but that this will be because they want to (as opposed to “have to”).

Prepare to usher in the era of “want to”.

Industry-driven versus market-driven

For far too long, the medical travel Industry has been arrogantly telling consumers what they need to do. Now it is the turn of the market to tell the industry what consumers want to do.

And the industry needs to listen.

Consumers clearly prefer to do things because they want to… not because they have to. And this applies to medical travel.

 “Travel for Health” versus “Travel also for Health”

…and “tourism” as a dirty word?

My other “bet” is that more will be travelling “also for health” as opposed to “exclusively for health”… which is also one more reason that I prefer the term “tourism” to “travel”. Of course, for many of those in the medical profession, the word “tourism” is anathema and its use borders on heresy. They feel that the word trivialises a very serious (life and death) activity.

Even though I, too, am a member of the medical fraternity, my contention has been that many in the profession suffer from a complex of “self-importance”.

The leveling off of globality-induced travel for health

We have been attributing the growth of medical travel not only to “need” but also on globality which makes the movement of people and the sourcing of services abroad easier. My impression is that today, globality-driven “needs-based travel for health” may have peaked. But tourism which may include the consumption of health-related services has by no means peaked.

A change in the direction of flow of medical travel

Finally, I need to refer to the change in direction of flow with regards to medical travel). Whether it is as a result of the “West’s Revenge” or other reasons (the growing affluence amongst the Chinese and Russians, for example), we are now, undeniably, seeing more East to West flow. We are also seeing a rise in East to East activity (from one Asian country to another “better” Asian country).

And it is time for us to stop regarding countries purely as “destinations” or “sources”. Today, practically all are both!


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