Declining interest in medical tourism?

After claims of medical tourism being a billion dollar market, Keith Pollard digs deep to offer an honest answer on what the medical tourism market is worth and where it’s heading.

Last month we heard from the USA that “Medical Tourism Industry Valued at $439B” and is “Poised for 25% Year-Over-Year Growth by 2025”. This month, I see that there’s a new report on the “World Medical Tourism Market” claiming that the world medical tourism market will reach $143.8 billion by 2022, with a CAGR of 15.7% from 2015 to 2022.

In contrast, Ian Youngman, an independent researcher who writes for IMTJ and has been monitoring the market for over ten years comes up with his own “best guesstimate”. In his latest report, Medical Tourism Facts and Figures 2016, Ian says “I would put it at between $5 billion and $7 billion.” Ian is probably much nearer the mark than the $143.8 billion or the $439 billion.

The honest answer is that nobody actually knows. But the hype continues. My favourite quote of the week, on the market size issue, emanated from an MTA webcast “There’s a lot of crap out there”, said the presenter. Given that the presenter’s business is making the most of publicising the latest inflated market estimates, I felt it was a little contrary.

So, is there anywhere else we can look to get an idea of how this business sector is developing?

What does Google say about medical tourism?

If you want to know who’s going to win one of those reality TV shows that go to a public vote, then Google can probably tell you. Because interest displayed via Google searches gives you a very good idea of voting patterns. When it comes to interest in medical tourism, can Google tell us anything about the sector?

Google Trends is a great tool for looking at “what’s hot” and “what’s not”, keeping track of what people want to know about, and how interest in market sectors, products and topics changes over time. The data analyses over 100-billion searches made every month on Google, and can be tracked back over many years.
Savvy marketers are making increased use of Google Trends to identify patterns in consumer demand and assess the development of new markets.

So what does Google Trends tell us about medical tourism?

Here is a graph of “interest over time” for the search topic “medical tourism” from 2004 until now.

  • Interest in the topic peaked in November 2006… ten years ago.
  • Since March 2009, interest in the topic has seen a steady decline. The current level of interest is around 40% of what it was at its peak.

    So, should we be worried about this? Probably, yes. You could argue that medical tourism has now become widely accepted and is the norm, so people don’t search to find out about it anymore. I don’t buy that. Or is it an example of a market sector that attracted a great deal of interest and then has failed to take off?

Search trends for related terms

Search volumes for related topics and terms have seen a similar decline. Whether it’s “medical tourism”, “medical travel” or “health tourism” the trend is downwards. The graph below shows the last ten years. I’ve left “wellness travel” and “wellness tourism” off the graph because the numbers are very small. Medical travel comes out top overall.

Geographic trends

Google Trends also allows you to drill down to regions and countries. I’ve left the data out of this article, but go and have a look for your own region. Here’s a few I noted:

  • Interest in medical tourism is highest in Singapore, India, UAE, Philippines and Malaysia.
  • But the trend in interest is different in each region and country:

    -Singapore has peaks and troughs.
    -For the UAE and Malaysia, it has been relatively constant over the last ten years.
    -India and , the Philippines have seen declining interest

Give it a go!

So, there you go. Something to think about when you’re planning your next international patient programme. And certainly something to think about when you see the latest PR from a conference organiser, a report publisher or a consultancy claiming exponential/staggering/massive growth for our industry.

We have quite a bit of work to do!