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The Philippines can be a hub of medical and wellness tourism

By Divina M. Edralin | Posted on September 17, 2012 | 12:01am
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One aspect of diversification in the hospitality and tourism sector in reaction to consumer and external influences is the flourishing of medical and wellness tourism.

Foster (2010) defined medical tourism as “the practice of traveling across international borders to obtain health care. This includes use of hospitals, clinics and spas specialized in fields, such as surgery (e.g. heart, liver, kidneys, joint replacement, eye and dental care, cosmetology) and rehabilitation towards recovery those recovering from illness or surgery. Besides the lower cost, shorter waiting lists, and the possibility for patients to combine treatment with conventional tourism attractions like climate, regional cuisine, local activities and culture, the growing option to link a medical stay with time in a resort for convalescence makes medical tourism important.”

On the other hand, Mueller and Kaufmann (2001) explained that wellness tourism means “the sum of all relationships and phenomena is resulting from a journey and residence by people whose main motivation is to preserve or promote their health.” Increased interest in fitness, disease prevention, maintaining good health, new age remedies and alternative treatments to alleviate various types of stress are key factors behind the rising use of spas worldwide. As cited in Foster (2010), the Global Spa Economy Study reported in 2007 that Asia-Pacific had 21,566 spas, 363,649 employees, and revenues of $11.38 billion, making it the fastest-growing spa industry worldwide.

Core offerings

In 2010, the ILO paper on the Developments and Challenges in the Hospitality and Tourism Sector indicated that “medical tourism is one of the core offerings in countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Estonia, Hungary, India, Jordan, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Poland, Thailand and Tunisia.” It estimated that 60,000 British tourists traveled abroad in 2009 for medical purposes: to receive dental care (43 percent), cosmetic surgery (29 percent) or other surgeries, and infertility treatment (28 percent). Some 750,000 Americans traveled abroad for medical purposes in 2007. India attracted many of these British and American medical tourists, as well as patients from neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, China and Pakistan. In Southeast Asia, Thailand had up to one million medical tourists per year, Malaysia more than 85,000, while Singapore plans to attract one million foreign patients per year by 2012. A private hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, for example, Bumrungrad Hospital, had more than one million patients per year; 42 percent of whom were international patients from over 190 counties and provide 55 percent of the hospital’s revenue.

By 2012, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry reported that the medical tourism market is expected to grow from $22.2 billion (5.2 percent of GDP) to $69 billion (respectively, 6.2 percent and 8.5 percent of GDP). In another report by HealthCore (2012), medical tourism is projected to achieve an annual growth rate of about 19 percent in the next three years.

In response, our Asian neighbors, like India, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, have made strategic moves to create the necessary infrastructure and policy and incentive framework for attracting visitors to go to them for medical and wellness services. In some countries, hospitals are linked to wellness clinics so patients can have personal assistance for post-hospital recovery. This condition is likely to require better care skills, as well as the adapting of service skills to respond to international tourist expectations.

A premier destination

The Philippine government, the private sector, and other stakeholders need to give serious attention to said development and a number of local challenges, as reported by various groups, so that the Philippines could also soon become a premier medical and wellness tourism destination. First of these challenges is the continuing brain drain where competent Filipino health care practitioners leave with a heavy heart for greener pastures abroad. Second, we lack adequate state-of-the-art medical equipment and constant upgrading of medical facilities to be at par with world-class standards. Third, we lack marketing strategy to create packages that integrate medical and wellness services offering complete healing and revitalization for foreign patients. Fourth, we lack concrete policies and administrative foundations across broad-ranging areas to facilitate the in-bound entry of medical tourists and to make medical tourism a preferred investment area. Fifth, we do not have clear policies, mechanisms, and incentives to install accreditation and certification quality systems and support protocols to enhance the acceptability of the Philippines as a medical and wellness tourism destination.

There are many good reasons (Filipino innate hospitality, pleasant tropical weather, beautiful tourist spots, rich healing practices, and being home to some of the best hospitals and stand alone specialty clinics) to be optimistic about the Philippines’ chances to compete in the global market. If we act soon enough and mobilize the collective support of all stakeholders, particularly the government and the private sector, our joint coherent and sustainable efforts could develop our country into a preferred hub in the global healthcare market, given the reality that our main competitive advantage is the world-class quality of medical services rendered the Filipino way of care and compassion by our health care professionals at a comparatively reasonable cost to patients.

Dr. Divina Edralin is a full professor at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. She teaches Human Behavior in Organizations, Strategic Human Resource Management, Labor Relations and Research. She is also a management consultant to SME’s, schools, and NGOs. She may be reached at

The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of De La Salle University, its faculty and administrators.

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