Sea, sun and surgery

Dubai has set its sights on becoming one of the world’s leading medical tourism hubs, creating entire districts dedicated to visitors seeking a wide range of treatments, from plastic surgery to wellness procedures

 The Dubai Government’s goal to attract 20 million visitors by 2020 is on target with tourist numbers currently growing at seven to nine percent annually, according to the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).

In 2014, 13.2 million tourists visited the emirate, up 8.2 percent year-on-year, and the number is expected to exceed 14 million in 2015, despite market challenges.

“We have a diverse set of source markets that allows us to meet those challenges and allows us to grow,” says the DTCM’s director general, Helal Saeed Almarri.

These markets are not only geographical, but sector driven too, and one of the fastest-growing sources of business is medical tourism.

Dubai is set to attract at least 500,000 medical tourists in 2015, reaching the half a million mark the emirate targeted for 2020 five years ahead of schedule, demonstrating this sector’s vast potential.

During the first half of the year, 16 of the city’s hospitals provided treatment to 256,097 international and domestic medical tourists, generating AED1billion in revenue, according to Dubai Healthy Authority (DHA) director of regulation Layla Al Marzouqi.

“We expect that number to double when we collect data from across all the 30 hospitals and other facilities at the end of the year,” she says.

“We expect to increase the number of medical tourists by 12 to 13 percent every year.”

Around 40 percent of medical tourists treated at the city’s hospitals during the first half of the year hailed from international markets and the remainder from across the UAE, said the authority’s head of medical tourism, Linda Abdullah Ali.

The emirate’s dedicated Dubai Healthcare City (DHC) district, which is the largest healthcare free zone in the world, recorded 1.2 million patient visits in 2014 – up 20% from one million visits in 2013 – and of those visits, 15 percent were medical tourists.

A medical tourism survey commissioned by the free zone last year found that 80 percent of medical tourists visited Dubai because of its quality of care and 61 percent due to the city’s experienced physicians. In addition, 48% of respondents highlighted the availability of specialist treatments as a reason for visiting Dubai and seeking care at DHC.

Infertility procedures are in high demand at DHC while across the emirate, wellness treatments and plastic surgery are amongst the most popular services sought by medical tourists. Orthopaedic surgeries tend to be the top revenue generators, say medical professionals.

Given the positive response to DHC’s facilities and its role as a growth driver for Dubai’s burgeoning medical tourism industry, the free zone has become a focal point for expansion, and this year DHC developed wellness concepts and preventative care as part of its Phase 2 expansion strategy.

Plans were recently revealed to expand the scope of phase 2 to include a mixed-use development comprising apartments, luxury hotels and retail and leisure facilities. The development will span some 2.9 million square feet, according to DHC.

This latest project will help Dubai achieve its goal of becoming one of the top 15 destinations for medical tourism in the world and the top hub in the region.

According to the Medical Tourism Destination Index (MTDI) which was published by the Medical Tourism Association in 2014, Dubai ranked 17th globally.

To help boost its ranking, the DTCM, Emirates Holidays and Dubai Immigration recently launched medical tourism packages that include flights, hotel accommodation and medical treatments.

"In the first phase we will only roll out packages for wellness and health-checkups. As more and more people adopt a wellness lifestyle, travel agents can expect to see an increasing number of clients who want to incorporate wellness into their trip planning. This is a fast-growing field in the tourism sector," says Dr Ramadan Ibrahim, director of health regulation and medical tourism at DHA.

Weight-loss packages that include consultations with a dietician and the provision of diet plans are also being offered.

The next phase will see treatments added across six key areas including dermatology, dental procedures, preventative health check ups, plastic surgery, orthopedics and ophthalmology.

Plans are also afoot to roll out a dedicated medical tourism portal enabling visitors considering Dubai for treatments to check out the emirate’s credentials and special offers.

Meanwhile, Dubai Investments has revealed plans to invest in a multi-disciplinary hospital and several daycare clinics in Dubai for King’s College Hospital London, the world-renowned British teaching hospital. The firm has partnered with other investors and is contributing 26.75 percent of the total equity financing for the project, which is valued at around US$200 million.

The 80-100 bed hospital and day care clinics in Dubai will be fully integrated with King’s College Hospital’s facilities in London. The clinics will be opened at prime locations in Dubai towards the end of 2016 and in 2017 while the multi-specialty King’s College Hospital at Dubai Hills will become operational in 2018.

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