Medical tourism seen as solution to falling tourism numbers

 

Declining tourism numbers are causing major problems for countries where the economy has become dependent on a continual rise in tourism numbers.

Several countries in the Caribbean are desperately seeking a “ magic bullet” to cure their tourism ills. They have seen the projections of 21 million American medical tourists going overseas for treatment every year. Some countries are being swayed by these magic numbers and are keen to capitalise on the anticipated hordes of medical tourists desperate to leave the US to come to their country for treatment.

Should we be amused or saddened when we see another politician or tourism official planning to solve their tourism problems through medical tourism? The lack of infrastructure, medical tourism experience and accredited hospitals in some Caribbean countries has to be taken into consideration.

The Bahamas wants medical tourists to replace lost holidaymakers. Their  target market is the 3 million Florida residents over 65. With the Jamaican economy suffering several recent setbacks, one financial analyst is calling for significant investments in health tourism to replace lost earnings. According to Keith Collister, purpose-built hospitals to attract foreign clients would more than make up for the earnings lost from bauxite and other ailing sectors, “ One such hospital based in Jamaica could replace the minimum likely damage to export earnings from the collapse of the bauxite industry whilst two such hospitals could generate enough revenues to replace the entire bauxite industry," he said at the launch of The Roxborough Institute, a new think tank. Another country where politicians are talking up the potential is the Bahamas, although more locals go to the US for treatment than come from the US. Antigua has made similar noises, despite the only attraction being one celebrity dominated recovery centre. The Barbados government has been talking for years of producing a health and tourism policy – we are still waiting. At present, health spas and fertility treatment are available in Barbados. As an established holiday destination for the very rich, clinics and hospitals in Barbados targeting this sector may be a possibility. Trinidad and Tobago lacks medical facilities but is aiming to attract medical tourists. The Turks and Caicos Islands plan to enter the medical travel market when a new hospital is completed.

Few of these countries have so far provided any detail on what they will offer.

They face stiff competition from established medical tourism destinations who have spent time and money on promotion and accreditation.

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