Is Germany’s medical travel boom over?

Some believe Germany remains a key destination for Gulf medical tourists, but some voices, including IMTJ contributors, have challenged that this view is out of date. At present the country is not open to medical and health tourists from the Gulf and North Africa and the doors may not open until 2021. Has the German medical tourism boom, fuelled by Gulf countries and oil money, gone forever?

Jens Juszczak of the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences argues that after 2015 medical treatment trips from the Gulf States plummeted. His research said that in 2016 there were significant falls in volume from the United Arab Emirates (-8%), Saudi Arabia (-20%), Qatar (-13%) and Oman (-36%). The drop in numbers from the Gulf continued in 2017.

The Dubai Health Authority sent 330 patients to Germany in 2017.

Arabs originally went to Germany for medical treatment, as the Gulf States were rich but had comparatively weak health systems, so they generously subsidised hospital stays abroad. For German clinics this was a real windfall. But in recent years, fewer and fewer guests have come for medical treatment, even to Munich.

Medical tourism is still an important reason for tourists from the Gulf States to travel. But demand has declined in recent years. The global financial crisis hit the Gulf States hard. They cut subsidies for hospital stays abroad and spent huge sums setting up functioning healthcare systems in their own countries, plus introducing compulsory health insurance in many states.

The number of patients from the Gulf States traditionally depends heavily on the political and economic situation in their home countries. With a global downturn, a collapse in the price of oil, and few able to rebuild economies so that they are no longer oil dependent, the once rich states can no longer spend huge sums on treatment in Europe when they have hospitals at home. Several are even turning from sources to medical tourism destinations.