Dubai urged to refocus medical tourism strategy

The high number of UAE nationals seeking medical care abroad may limit the potential of Dubai medical tourism. Dubai is increasing in popularity as a medical tourism destination owing to its location and high standards in healthcare. But a large number of UAE nationals still travel to the UK, USA, Thailand and Germany for medical services.

Reducing this number to retain these patients within the country and improve the believability of Dubai as a medical tourism destination is a challenge- according to a new report; ’Establishing Dubai as a medical and wellness tourism hub’ from Colliers International.

Mansoor Ahmed of Colliers International says, “The medical tourism business is highly profitable and Dubai being a central location attracts a large volume of tourists annually. However, there is a high percentage of UAE nationals seeking medical care abroad and it is essential to retain these patients in order to further profitability.”

Ahmed adds, “The UAE has a high number of cosmetic surgeons, which is why cosmetic surgery is a key reason people go to Dubai. “Despite this status as a medical travel destination, it is in competition with other Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and India. Medical services can cost a third there of what they do in Dubai, and it can be easier to arrange timely treatment.”

Colliers suggests that Dubai should change direction; “The healthcare system should focus on developing numerous centres of excellence in areas such as rehabilitation, cosmetology, neurology and cardiology which will help attract more medical tourists from the MENA region and other parts of the world. The price package should be an area of prime focus increasing the attractiveness and ease of medical travel for patients.”

Ahmed warns, “Dubai will struggle to reach its full potential as a global medical tourism hub unless Emiratis can be persuaded to stay at home for treatment. The medical tourism business is highly profitable but there is a high percentage of UAE nationals seeking medical care abroad so it is essential to retain these patients to further profitability.”

The report does have some good news. Dubai numbers are increasing, despite the confusion between international patient numbers and medical tourists-which is important when the UAE has many working expatriates- and actual medical tourist numbers are less than suggested as the official figures include domestic medical tourists.

Other good news is that the reputation of Dubai is good, mad measures to increase numbers with special visas and packages have worked. But most medical tourists seek dental care or cosmetic surgery so the original aim of a conglomeration of hospitals and clinics offering a vast range of surgery is not getting predicted numbers due to high costs and concerns over quality when so many locals go elsewhere. Many medical personnel are expatriates on fixed term contracts, so local hospitals and clinics are not developing reputations to equal that of their overseas rivals.

The bottom line is that while thousands of Emiratis go overseas, often paid for by government or local insurers, then the ability of Dubai to market itself as a medical tourism destination is seriously compromised.