Rising numbers in outbound medical tourism

Outbound medical tourism from the UAE to Europe and North America is on the rise as visitors from the Emirates combine treatments with vacation plans, according to the travel industry.

Visitors from the Middle East arrive for their check-ups at a clinic in Thailand, for years a popular destination for medical tourists. Saeed Khan / AF
Powered by automated translation

Outbound medical tourism from the UAE to Europe and North America is on the rise as visitors from the Emirates combine treatments with vacation plans, according to the travel industry.

That is despite travel agencies in the UAE being mandated since 2011 not to promote such tourism without authorisation from destination countries.

In response to the trend, the Fairmont hotel operator has been customising its properties in Europe and North America to include halal menus and prayer mats as well as having Arabic-speaking sales teams.

"Over the past year, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has witnessed a growing market of tourists from the UAE and across the Middle East travelling to properties in Europe and North America for medical purposes," said Meenaz Lilani, the executive director of global sales for Europe, Middle East and Africa for Fairmont Raffles Hotels International in London.

Fairmont properties in Europe and those in Chicago and Boston report more guests coming from the UAE and Arabian Gulf specifically seeking medical treatment, but figures were not available.

Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten in Hamburg, for instance, has partnered with Lans Medicum, a preventative medical examination centre that helps to identify early stage cancer, cardiovascular disease and metabolic illness.

According to the resort its guests are primarily from the Middle East and Russia and are typically male and over 40 years of age.

In the United States, medical tourism at Fairmont hotels in Boston and Chicago usually centres on women's health care, paediatrics and cancer care.

In Switzerland, Fairmont Le Montreux Palace reports its Middle Eastern guests seek treatment at the nearby private clinics offering routine medical exams, dental and cosmetic surgeries and anti-ageing treatments.

In the Swiss city of Lausanne, which is popular for its wellness and cosmetic surgery clinics, tourist arrivals from the UAE jumped 16 per cent in the past year to 1,388 guests.

The top three source markets for Lausanne, which this year has a tie-up with an Abu Dhabi travel agent to promote the city as a medical destination to the UAE, are Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt.

Lausanne is the sixth most popular destination in Switzerland with Geneva the leader.

Traditionally popular medical tourism destinations such as India, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia have been joined by Germany and North America, says one Dubai-based travel agency.

Last year, 100 Emiratis and expats went abroad through the travel management company Anta GlobalStar.

"That number has been rising between eight and 12 per cent every year over the last three years across all destinations," said Ajay Nair, the head of corporate travel and sales for Anta GlobalStar.

The Anta group partners with the London-based travel company GlobalStar in the UAE.

"With the national and budget carriers expanding their routes and this segment being seen as a lucrative opportunity for various countries within the Gulf and abroad, I do see considerable traction in outbound medical tourism rising over the next coming years," he said.

Every week, Mr Nair's travel management agency gets two to three medical tourists through their insurance company and via word of mouth, Mr Nair said.

At the same time, the UAE is positioning itself as an upcoming destination for medical tourists for Middle Eastern patients as well as those from the Commonwealth of Independent States, he added.