About 105,000 tourists traveled to Iran in the last Iranian year (ended March 20) to receive medical care, the secretary of Health Tourism Strategic Council said.
Speaking to ISNA, Mohammad Ali Fayyazi added that the tourists had their paperwork processed by one of Iran’s 35 health tourism travel agencies licensed to operate in the sector.
The figure could be higher because many medical tourists either travel independently or are brought to Iran by unauthorized entities. In neither case do travelers obtain health tourism visas, which means they’re not registered as medical tourists.
“Most of the tourists came from Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Persian Gulf littoral countries,” he said.
According to Mohammad Hossein Mirdehqan, director of Monitoring and Accreditation of Medical Services Office at the Health Ministry, a medical tourist spends between $3,600 and $7,600 on every trip.
So, by taking the average ($5,600), Iran’s revenue from medical tourism last year amounted to $588 million, slightly more than the previously reported figures.
Based on the sixth economic development plan (2017-22), Iran is projected to attract between 500,000 and 600,000 medical tourists every year. However, some officials have questioned whether this target is feasible.
Foreign Ministry officials have urged medical tourists traveling independently to Iran to apply for a visa online at http://e_visa.mfa.ir.
Iran issues visa on arrival at 10 international airports to citizens of over 180 countries. However, to develop its health tourism industry, it requires health tourists to apply for a “T Visa”, issued only to medical travelers.
Iran says it will help it with key statistics, such as where most health tourists come from and what type of service they need.
Along with halal tourism, medical tourism is a strategic focus area for Iran to develop its travel sector due to high quality yet affordable healthcare, particularly compared with that in regional countries.
Geographical proximity, hot and cold mineral springs in various parts of the country as well as low-cost and high quality health services in the fields of fertility treatment, stem cell treatment and dialysis, as well as heart, cosmetic and eye surgeries, have created new opportunities in Iran’s health tourism—a growth industry in many countries.
Some 400 hospitals are active in the field of health tourism, but only 170 have been granted permits to set up an International Patients Department.
“Unfortunately, many hospitals still admit health tourists brought to Iran by unauthorized middlemen; they seem to be more keen to work with them,” Fayyazi said, urging the Health Ministry to take measures against healthcare facilities that hurt the development of the sector.
Neglected for years, health tourism was thrust into the limelight following the election of President Hassan Rouhani in 2013.
Two years later, Health Tourism Strategic Council was formed with the representatives of health and foreign ministries, the Medical Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization to organize the country’s health tourism sector.
The council has been able to instill discipline in the sector by regulating institutions operating in this field and pave the way from the establishment of healthcare hubs in Isfahan, Tabriz and Mashhad.
Iran’s ultimate goal is to earn around $25 billion a year through tourism by 2025, around $2.5 billion of which will come from medical tourism.