Official figures paint realistic picture


The Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) recently released the official number of foreign patients who visited the country for medical treatment and finally gives a more realistic accurate picture of its inbound medical travel business.

In a report on 2008 tourist arrivals, the Philippines welcomed 1,071 overseas-based patients who generated about Php108.8 million (US$2.3 million) in revenues for DOT-accredited medical tourism facilities.

“The majority of the 885 tourist-patients came from Guam, Palau and Saipan. Other markets were Japan, Korea, and the USA. Average gross receipt per foreign patient was Php101,582 (US$2,136),” said DOT.

These figures show the country has a long way to go to before it can become a serious player in medical tourism. But the publication of official medical tourism figures is an indication that the industry is maturing.

For years, the size of the industry has been the subject of heated debate. The Philippines has long been a battleground between those claiming - purely on estimates with no actual figures - that the country was in the top half-a-dozen destinations and those that rebutted the figures.

At one extreme was the Department of Health that said that 250,000 foreigners went to the Philippines in 2006, mostly for cosmetic surgery, while others placed the number to 400,000.  Furthermore, politicians attempting to hype the business claimed 100,000 or 200,000. But again, these were figures plucked out of thin air.

At the opposite extreme were academics who argued that the figures were grossly inflated.  Once you take out Filipino workers returning home and expatriate retirees, the figure was only 2,000 to 3,000 a year. There were arguments too about where medical tourists came from.  Several people and organisations claim, without supporting evidence, that the main markets were the USA and Europe.

To its credit, the government saw that these public debates and other problems, such as illegal organ transplants and recent medical scandals are undermining efforts to build the country’s medical tourism business.

In October 2008 the government began a programme to actually count the number of medical and health travellers. And the government and healthcare facilities in the country participated in major medical tourism fairs in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States.

The DOT will host the fourth annual World Health Tourism Congress in Manila next month, which hopefully gives the industry the springboard it needs.

Over the last few years, the country’s medical tourism industry has seen countless committees, conferences and politicians pontificating on how to attract medical tourists.

The 2008 figures clearly show that the talking must stop and some professional marketing and advertising must be put in place.



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