ISTANBUL - Turkey should have a bigger share of the fast developing medical tourism industry, urged the country's top business association. Dr. Erdal Karamercan, a member of the acting board of Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, or TÜSİAD, said Turkey should become a strong alternative for international medical tourism, one of the fastest developing sectors in the world. Karamercan was speaking at the introduction of the opinion paper: "Medical Tourism: A New Window of Opportunity for Turkey" and said the document was prepared to introduce Turkey’s potential in this globally advancing sector. The document was prepared by Meri Bahar, Cengiz Gül, Ruşen Yıldırım, Kemal Özgirin, Enver Güney and Mehmet Derici.
Dr. Erdal Karamercan, a member of the acting board of Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, or TÜSİAD, said Turkey should become a strong alternative for international medical tourism, one of the fastest developing sectors in the world.
Karamercan recalled that health services were handled mostly by the state until the 1990’s but that the sector has started to change in structure, especially through private investments made in the last decade. He said private health institutions with strong infrastructure are continuing to grow in number and the Turkish private health sector was able to handle international competition in terms of hospital infrastructure, staff experience and technology. Karamercan said one part of medical tourism consisted of international travel for medical treatment that is less expensive and of a higher standard, and added that the global turnover of the sector for 2006 was $60 million, which was expected to grow to $100 billion by 2012.
"In several countries, such as Singapore, India and Thailand, the governments have collaborated with the private sector to turn their countries into important destinations for medical tourism," said Karamercan.
"In these times when the health sector is growing rapidly in our country, Turkey should become a strong alternative for international medical tourism. Turkey transforming into a strong brand in medical tourism and as such is receiving a maximum share from the global demand. It is not only important in terms of economic gain but also for development of health services offered to the society."
Karamercan asked for the dynamics of this multi-layered sector to be thoroughly analyzed and a joint mission to be determined. "The state, private sector and civil society should prepare and act upon a realistic strategy toward this goal. We need a program that can turn our qualities such as high technology, qualified health services, work force standards and accessibility into advantages in competition."
1 million patients by 2020
Karamercan said the document not only emphasized the importance of the subject but also offered suggestions on establishing such collaborations and legal adjustments. The study by TÜSİAD reveals that the income from two "medical tourists" is worth the same as 30 "general tourists." A medical tourist spends $8,000 on average, about 12 times more than a general tourist.
Meri Bahar, the head of the group that prepared the study said approximately 30,000 to 40,000 people come to Turkey each year as medical tourists. According to Bahar, Turkey's goal should be 1 million patients and $8 billion worth of income by 2020.
Turkey is the 11th most visited tourism destination in the world. In 2008, 31 million foreigners visited Turkey and created income worth $22 billion for the country. Although the number of tourists has increased 33 percent over the last two years, tourism income has not increased. In 2006 a tourist in Turkey spent $728 on average and now this number has slipped to $708 in 2008. The Tourism Ministry foresees 63 millon tourists in 2023 and income of $86 billion.