The falling star of medical tourism

 

Turkey was once the rising star of medical tourism with numbers rising every year, but now it faces a battle to combat the impact of  terrorism, Syria, human rights issues, embargos, refugees, and civil war.

The country has good hospitals, reasonable prices, good hotels and a tourism eco system. Medical tourism promotions boast of the many JCI accredited hospitals that have been established.

Turkish tourism and medical tourism have both suffered a considerable decrease in arrival. Exact numbers are hard to get, as there is considerable spin and damage limitation going on. There are several factors that have reversed the growth.

Russia

Russian tourists are staying away. The main causes are the political differences between Ankara and Moscow and the shooting down of a Russian jet by Turkey’s air force in North Syria. Millions of Russians, who would usually be found populating Turkish beaches, spas and hospitals, now stay away. Only the coming years will show how forgiving Russians are. President Vladimir Putin imposed a series of economic sanctions against Turkey including the removal of the visa-free travel agreement with Turkey. Travel agencies were told to stop selling holiday packages to Turkey, and a ban on chartered flights between Russia and Turkey was introduced. Russia's economic sanctions could cost Turkey up to $20 billion, 3% of Turkey's GDP. Russian bookings in 2016 are down by over 80%.

Kurds

The conflict within the country between it and the Kurds adds to the unfavourable situation, with the government bombing Kurdish locations in and outside of Turkey and leading to retaliatory attacks and terror attacks aimed at the tourist trade.
Human rights

Turkey’s government is trying hard to consolidate its rule over the country. To achieve this, it is criticised for undermining human rights, restriciting media freedom and using the constitution in order to eradicate opposition and silence critical voices.
The Turkish government has seized and suppressed critical media outlets and prosecuted journalists. In 2015 more than 30 journalists were arrested for expressing their opinion and over 2,000 citizens have been charged with “insulting the president.” The only opposition newspaper was taken over.

Syria and Iraq

Rather than staying on the side-lines Turkey is increasingly engaging in Syria and Iraq, both directly and indirectly, in ways that may invite retaliation, including bombing Kurdish regions of Iraq and Syria without the permission of either government.

Terror

The increased probability of terror attacks in popular tourist centres by a range of organisations including Kurds, communists, political opponents of Erdogan and ISIS is scaring off European tourists. German bookings are down 40%.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office says that although Turkish authorities say security has been tightened, further attacks could be indiscriminate and could affect places visited by foreigners. Tourists and medical tourists are not made to feel safer by political statements from Turkish president, Erdogan "People should not worry, the struggle against terrorism will for certain end in success and terrorism will be brought to its knees."

EU

Turkey badly wants to join the EU but wants the EU to give it special visas and deals, and to ignore the human rights issues that have prevented membership. Erdogan is seeking EU membership in return for helping the EU to deal with the migrant crisis. Turkey also demands that the EU gives it billions of euros a year to pay for the migrants upkeep.

A 2015 European Commission report on Turkey accused the Turkish government of backsliding on the rule of law, freedom of expression and judicial independence.

After a decisive victory for his AK party in late 2015, President Erdogan wants to replace the country’s parliamentary system with a presidential one. There is little prospect of an imminent end to rival party PKK violence while Turkey becomes increasingly vulnerable to new attacks by ISIS and others.

Local tourism and medical tourism businesses are reluctant to comment on the problems.

Turkey hopes that new markets of Iran and the Gulf will compensate for lost business.

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