Success for one out of three health tourism sectors in Turkey

Turkey is aiming to bring in US$20-$25 billion in health tourism revenue in the coming years, and has identified three medical travel and health tourism sectors as key to achieving this objective. The country has been fairly successful in attracting medical travellers, but has faced challenges in developing thermal tourism and inbound elderly and disabled wellness tourism.

Turkey is an attractive destination due to its geographical location and prices. The three sectors medical travel and health tourism sectors that Turkey is looking to develop are:

  • medical tourism (treatment and surgery in hospitals and clinics)
  • thermal tourism (rehabilitation and rest in thermal facilities) and
  • elderly and disabled tourism (long-term stays at treatment centres with social activities)

While relatively successful at attracting international patients for medical treatment, Turkey should arguably be getting a larger flow of travellers for thermal tourism.

Rheumatic diseases are widespread in northern European and Scandinavian countries, in particular, because of climatic conditions, and Turkey should be an attractive destination for treatment. In fact, some insurance companies in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands cover the costs of their patients whom they send for thermal treatment. However, European insurers do not have the final say in where customers go, and for many years patients have preferred to stay in Northern and Central Europe.

One problem with the third category is that Turkey insists on calling it ‘geriatric’ tourism. While this may be a literal translation from Turkish, it is an unattractive description if a destination is targeting an aging European population. Older people are far more active than a decade ago, with many only thinking themselves as ‘old’ once they’ve passed their 80th birthday.

Turkey has tried to convince governments to send older patients, but political tensions, the fly time, budget and legal restraints mean that only a small number of customers arrive.