Dubai to roll out medical tourism packages

Analysts believe the city’s health offering will draw medical tourists from around the world.
Doctors perform cosmetic surgery at the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital in Dubai. Courtesy AACSH
Doctors perform cosmetic surgery at the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital in Dubai. Courtesy AACSH

Dubai is preparing to roll out medical tourism packages covering procedures from sports medicine to cosmetic surgery.

Despite rapidly rising room rates across the emirate, analysts believe the city’s health offering will draw medical tourists from around the world.

From September, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) will seek applications from hospitals in the emirate to participate in medical tourism packages which would include costs of treatment, visa, hotel stays and even recreational activities for accompanying family members.

Medical tourism, which relies on affordable quality treatment, is also dependent on ancillary services such as hotels and recreational infrastructure.

“What is important is the delivery of more mid-market and longer stay accommodation proximate to the hospitals so that patients and their carers have more of an option in terms of the accommodation available to them,” said John Podaras, a partner at Hotel Development Resources.

And these need to be patient-friendly, he says.

While Dubai is becoming more expensive for hotel guests, it is perceived as having an edge over other medical tourism destinations such as Lebanon, known as a cosmetic surgery hub, Bangkok or New Delhi, in terms of security, shopping and leisure activities.

“Dubai is counting on its brand and its additional attractions plus the relatively shorter commuting times from its core target markets,” said Mr Podaras. He believes Dubai still appears competitive when compared with more traditional medical tourism destinations such as Switzerland, Germany and the UK.

“Medical tourism is more elastic on pricing than other forms of tourism,” Mr Podaras said. “In any case, Dubai is benchmarking itself against medical destinations that are even more expensive.”

Dubai Health Care City’s first medical tourism agency agrees.

“We are targeting markets within eight hours of flying time,” said Ibrahim Abu Gharbieh, the managing director of Salamatak, a medical tourism facilitator.

The company, which started operations last month, welcomes most of its patients from Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.

It has already signed up with tour operators in Sudan, Nigeria and Ukraine.

Last year, Dubai’s average room rate was US$368.22, according to Hotstats data, as compared to Dh369 in Mumbai and Dh460 in New Delhi, according to the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India. In Beirut it was $169, according to Ernst and Young. In Bangkok, it was €64.93 (Dh326), while in Singapore room rates were €144.53, according to a survey from HRS Hotel Portal reported in the trade publication .

Still, the number of medical tourists to Dubai has been rising despite the city becoming a more expensive option.

In 2012, an estimated 107,500 medical tourists came for treatment at Dubai’s 23 hospitals, five day surgery facilities and 1,181 clinics. The figure is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 15 per cent, said DHA in February. The top source markets include Russia, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UK, India and Pakistan.

And many of these tourists have expensive tastes.

“Some say pick us up from the airport, have their passports done, walk them into a first-class lounge, take them out to their hotel in a Jaguar or a BMW,” Mr Abu Gharbieh said. “You might not expect that in Bangkok, but in Dubai people demand that.”

The company is promoting IVF and cosmetic treatments.

Its nose reshaping and lip augmentation package starts at Dh6,500, but does not include visas, accommodation or transportation. Its IVF packages start at Dh32,000.

It has partnered with six hospitals, including Bourn Hall Fertility Clinic Dubai and American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital. Salamatak plans to raise that number to at least 20 by the end of the year.

Dubai is initially targeting wellness and preventive care treatment, including orthopaedic and sports medicine, plastic surgery, ophthalmology, dental procedures and full-body check-ups.

“Dubai in general is attuned to providing therapies in beauty and often quick-fix health issues such as gastric banding and liposuction,” Mr Podaras said. “The more holistic wellness approach offered by the many health retreats found in countries such as India and Thailand is not something that is particularly prevalent in Dubai.”

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Published: May 18, 2014 04:00 AM


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