THE SECRET RECIPE

Ras Al Khaimah 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: MEDICAL TOURISM

The rapid globalization of tourism and healthcare, the increasing dependence on technology, the unequal access to health resources, and the privatization of healthcare have led to an unprecedented growth in medical tourism. The UAE, unable to compete on price with the leading medical tourism destinations, has capitalized on quality, no queues for treatments, and English-speaking medical staff.

As travel has been made easier, patients have been able to access higher standards of care and improved technology outside their home countries. Medical tourism has become one of the fastest growing industries thanks to the globalization of healthcare, with 3-4% of the world's population traveling abroad for treatment. According to a research conducted by VISA and Oxford Economics, medical tourism is a USD439 billion market that is expected to grow up to 25% YoY over the next 10 years.

The reasons why 11 million people per annum seek medical services internationally vary from patient to patient, but the most common ones are to access advanced technology, better healthcare, faster medical services, and lower costs. Most medical tourists come from areas such as North America, Western Europe, and the Middle East. However, the often over-saturated public hospitals from Western Europe cannot cope with the inflow of patients and people look for alternatives to the long waiting lists for non-essential surgery.

The UAE has dramatically improved its medical services over the past few years in order to not only develop its own medical tourism industry but also to reverse the flow of residents seeking treatment outside the country. Africa presents itself as a key source of medical tourists but the UAE needs to outpace key medical tourism markets such as India or Thailand. For this reason, the UAE has already implemented measures that will help position the country as a leading medical tourism destination, such as specific visas or healthcare specialty areas.

The key ingredient for medical tourism development is top-notch hospitality. RAK Hospital is prioritizing this, positioning itself to serve patients that are seeking treatment and a comfortable place to recover while in the company of their loved ones.

The Emirate is working aggressively to become a medical tourism hotspot in the region through key partnerships with travel agencies and airlines in order to offer tailor made packages. RAK Hospital, for example, partnered with Ethiopian Airlines to promote specialized treatments for African medical tourists, as well as setting representative offices in different countries across the continent such as Nigeria, Tanzania, and Kenya. Partnerships with airlines are beneficial for patients who in return can access cheaper deals while easing the burden of travel arrangements.

Recently, RAK Hospital's premium hospitality and healthcare have been praised at the CMO Asia Healthcare Excellence Awards 2016, where the hospital won the Best Design in Healthcare Award and its CEO, Dr Raza Siddiqi, won the Brand Builder Award. Currently, the hospital is treating patients from countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Ghana, Kenya, Iraq, and the CIS countries, and is now seeking to open markets like Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Patients are slowly changing their perceptions of RAK as a healthcare provider as awareness of its offering increases. Medical tourism packages offer Ras Al Khaimah the opportunity to showcase the quality of its healthcare treatments at optimum costs in comparison to other destinations. Already the Emirate's location gives Ras Al Khaimah a unique selling point; however, this project could be taken even further by successfully bringing together the healthcare and tourism industries through partnerships with tour operators and travel agents.