Dubai is looking to cement its position as the region’s go-to hub for medical tourism, but does it have what it takes to compete on a global level?
In days gone by Gulf countries struggled to attract even their own citizens for treatment. Concerns over the quality of local facilities and staff meant millions or even billions of dollars were spent sending nationals to Europe or the United States for procedures.
“Trust was one of the biggest issues,” recalls the deputy CEO of the UAE-based American Center of Psychiatry and Neurology (ACPN), Dr Adel Karrani.
“Patients felt they received better treatment and improved diagnosis outside of the UAE in spite of there being an availability of world renowned doctors and physicians within the country itself.”
But now times are changing. The regional healthcare market is booming, international medical institutions are flocking to set up local operations, and Dubai is seeking to convince not just locals but international visitors that it can compete as a global destination for treatment.
The emirate is aiming to attract half a million international medical tourists by 2020, to take its share of a global market estimated to be worth $439bn by Visa and Oxford Economics in the Mapping the Future of Global Travel and Tourism study.
According to Linda Abdullah, head of Dubai Medical Tourism Office, the emirate’s plans centre on crafting its own niche in a broad international market, which includes centres of excellence like Singapore, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and cheaper more geo-centric destinations like India.
“What we have done, and what’s different here, is we have put together a product of medical tourism to fit those who would like to enjoy tourism as well as good quality elective healthcare,” she says.
“Although it is important, the cost is not our focus, our focus is more to give the quality of the healthcare service and to couple it with the tourism side.”
Yet if Dubai is not looking to compete with other medical tourism hubs on price terms it is in other metrics. On top of the 500,000 tourists target for 2020, another goal of the emirate is to enter the top 10 in the Medical Tourism Association’s Global Medical Tourism Index, which assesses countries based on their environment, attractiveness, costs and facilities and services.
In the 2016 index, Dubai ranked 16th with a score of 67.54, in a list topped by Canada (76.62) and the UK (74.87). It will need to overtake the likes of the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Panama, Japan, Spain and Colombia to enter the top 10.