New EU report on health and medical tourism

European Parliament committee has produced a research paper on health tourism in the 28 EU countries.

The Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN), a committee of the European Parliament, has produced a research paper on health tourism in the 28 EU countries.

This study defines and explores health tourism and its three main components: medical, wellness, and spa tourism.

Medical tourism involves people travelling expressly to access medical treatment. People travel for wellness tourism to maintain or enhance their personal health and well-being. Spa tourism focuses on healing, relaxation or beautifying of the body that is preventative and/or curative in nature.

Due to limited, fragmented and often unreliable data, as well as varying definitions of health tourism and its components, it is difficult to estimate the size and growth of health tourism as a market.

Within the EU28, 56 million domestic and 5.1 million international trips in total were recorded for 2014. Health tourism’s share of these trips is small at 4.3% of all arrivals. 5.8% of all domestic arrivals and only 1.1% of all international arrivals are health tourism trips, according to the report.

Health tourism revenues total approximately €34 billion, which represents 4.6% of all tourism revenues, Health tourism helps counter seasonality in tourism. The share of health tourists arriving from outside the EU amounts to an estimated 6%.

Health tourism will develop at an average 2% growth per year, equal to overall growth in EU28 tourism. Wellness tourism accounts for roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of all health tourism.

France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Poland are economically important destinations for health tourism. Finland, Bulgaria, Germany, Spain and Ireland all have a relatively high supply of wellness facilities in their accommodations, while the highest geographical densities of health and wellness facilities are found in Central and Eastern Europe and the Spanish and southern Baltic coasts.

The largest source and destination markets are France, Germany and Sweden.

The lack of clear and unified definitions of health tourism makes it difficult to include health tourism in tourism statistics. Generally, national or local tourism statistics fail to accommodate health tourism. Even economic tourism statistics do not define or distinguish health tourism. This makes it difficult to assess the importance, growth, impacts and effects of health tourism.

The report figures have to be taken with care as they both include domestic and international health tourism figures and rely on printed sources rather then new material.

EU policies exist for patient mobility, but not for health tourism as such. The European Regional Development Fund funds several health tourism projects. Health tourism policies (as part of tourism, or health policies, or as a separate policy) on a national and regional level are common in EU countries.

There are doubts about the governmental support to sustain medical tourism. Even though Italy and France each have the ambition to become a medical tourism destination, this desire has not materialised in their policies. Often, there is a sense of distrust and an inability to cooperate.

The report makes some tentative policy recommendations:

  • Increase the number of member states that include spa treatments in their national healthcare system and policies.
  • Remove upfront payments in the case of cross-border healthcare, as this is a barrier for low-income patients.
  • Improve the effectiveness of the cross border healthcare directive in its implementation in national healthcare systems.
  • Consider the benefits of a joint EU promotion of wellness and spa tourism
  • Regulate procedures in medical tourism to prevent undesirable incidents such as in cosmetic surgery, as this generates negative press and creates a problematic image for all medical tourism
  • Continue funding health tourism projects.