Lebanon is now seeking to become a centre for medical tourism. Making Lebanon the hospital of the East is the ambition of the Tourism Council. With 11,505 physicians and 177 hospitals, the country wants to attract overseas customers. According to a report published by the Agency for Investment Development in Lebanon (IDAL), the growth of medical tourism is expected to be around 30% on average between 2009 and 2011. DAL’s mission is to promote Lebanon as a viable investment destination.
Le Royal Beirut Hotel is an example of a hotel that has made partnerships with clinics, travel agencies and airlines to offer packages for medical tourism. It wants to be at the forefront of the business. Wellness refers to the spa with holistic treatments from mud baths to facials, a concept that has been operating successfully at the hotel for several years. Two years ago the hotel introduced sophisticated slimming equipment and an in-house dietician, designing programmes for travellers who wished to lose weight, change their lifestyle and regain their health. Recently it went a step further and launched a complete health tourism package with a range of partners. Joyce Mouawad explains. “The programme was launched in February and Middle East Airlines will be responsible for the airline ticket, Nakhal will take care of transportation inside Lebanon and the hotel will host the client/patient before and after treatment. The patient will be treated at the Bellevue Medical Centre, a general hospital with advanced equipment, which excels in diagnosis and different types of surgery, including cosmetic surgery. With the country having hit a record number of tourists last year, there is no doubt that non-seasonal medical tourism is set to increase and boost the hospitality industry.”
The package is aimed initially at Arab travellers who visit Lebanon for anything from cosmetic surgery and dental care to intestinal bypass operations, but also wants to attract European tourists, particularly from Cyprus and Greece. . There are also partnerships with other specialised medical centres that will be launched soon. The new package has met with official approval from the country’s Ministry of Tourism as an initiative that is set to help Lebanon’s reputation as a wellness and health destination improve even further.
Attracting European medical tourists is difficult. Although the situation overall in Lebanon is calm, it is fragile. On several occasions in recent years, the security situation has deteriorated quickly. Several European governments, including the UK –whose lead on travel advice most follow- currently advises against all travel to some areas of Lebanon and all but essential travel to other areas of Lebanon.