Significant appetite for fertility travel

There remains a significant appetite for fertility travel, and cost does not appear to be the most important driver. Andrew Coutts, Managing Director of the International Fertility Company draws conclusions from one of the largest ever surveys examining the motivation behind fertility tourism for individuals and couples around the world.

There appears to be very little substantive work on the numbers of fertility patients who travel for treatment and a similar lack of work around what motivates patients to travel.

The 2020 online research project was undertaken by the International Fertility Company, in partnership with Fertility Network, UK, and and was conducted in May 2020, against the backdrop of border closures and COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The project received 527 completed responses, 77% of whom had never previously travelled for fertility treatment, and this response makes it, we believe, one of the largest ever undertaken examining the motivation behind fertility tourism for individuals and couples around the world.

This research comes at a time when there is uncertainty about travel, at least in the short term. Fertility clinics are now beginning to treat patients again after many months of inactivity due to the pandemic. A period which understandably has created more anxiety and frustration for a patient group that already experiences high levels of stress associated with infertility.

Return to practice will certainly result in a surge of patients trying to access treatment and we hope the report from the survey will act as a catalyst for improving choice, standards and best practice for all those patients who are seeking to travel.

Conclusions from the survey

The overriding conclusion from the research is that there remains a significant appetite for fertility travel – over 97% of respondents saying they are actively considering it.

Cost does not appear to be the most important driver for all travellers with the possible exception of younger patients who do not have comparable access to funds than their older counterparts.

Surprisingly, the provision of anonymous donors is also not the main determinant for the fertility traveller – although important for some. The availability of donors; the option of different treatments and feedback from patients who have returned from treatment are, however, significant drivers for people.

Setting aside travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, travel had become easier and cheaper. As a result, more fertility clinics were opening in diverse locations and the fertility tourist was really spoilt for choice. Countries that have traditionally done well in treating international patients continue to do so – Spain, Greece and Cyprus remain popular but new markets such as the Czech Republic and Ukraine are increasing in popularity.

Efficient and reliable regulatory frameworks are also key drivers for patients, and this is a reason for patients seeking treatments in countries like the United States and the UK. Visitors to treatment providers in these countries are not necessarily driven by price but by the reassurance and perception that they will receive high quality regulated treatment which is delivered professionally.

There are no guarantees in fertility. Successful treatment depends on multiple factors and is delivered by well trained, experienced professionals who use the most advanced scientific techniques to help patients. It is consequently not cheap. This survey demonstrates that amongst those who travel for treatment there is an acceptance that most treatments will exceed £5,000. Many who can, will self-fund via savings, bank loans and help from friends and family. For those that cannot, crowd funding, re-mortgaging and credit card payments are used.

There is not a generic fertility tourist. Each has a different portfolio of needs, requirements, expectations, doubts and anxieties and needs to be treated as an individual. This survey indicates that the younger patient tends to be more anxious about perceived difficulties like language issues whereas the older patient tends to be more concerned about the legal and statutory framework in which the clinic works.

Similarly, the older patient is more inclined to use the services of a third party to help with finding a clinic, communicating with clinics staff as well as travel and accommodation arrangements.

Some will want digital and virtual contact; others are looking for physical interactions with clinics; some will travel and remain at the clinic for the shortest time possible; others are looking for a longer ‘spa like’ experience.

Why would you travel is a question we will continue to ask patients. For some it is difficult to comprehend why someone would travel hundreds or even thousands of miles for a medical procedure. For many however it is an option.