Türkiye’s medical tourism aims for a bigger slice of the global pie

A Turkish doctor performs hair implantation for a patient in Bursa, Türkiye, Aug. 11, 2022. Photo: Xinhua

A Turkish doctor performs hair implantation for a patient in Bursa, Türkiye, Aug. 11, 2022. Photo: Xinhua

A Turkish doctor performs hair implantation for a patient in Bursa, Türkiye, Aug. 11, 2022. Photo: Xinhua

Medical tourism in Turkey is growing rapidly as the falling Turkish lira has driven down the cost of treatment while cosmetic surgeries give the sector a competitive niche in an ever-changing global market, professionals said.

Alper Capanoglu runs two clinics in Istanbul, the largest city and commercial center of Türkiye, and in the northwest city of Bursa, serving some 3,000 patients a year, mostly foreigners from European countries, the region of Middle East and North Africa.

“The fall in the lira has made our services more affordable, and Turkey has a very good medical infrastructure with qualified doctors,” Capanoglu told Xinhua.

Turkey is seeking to boost tourism revenue to help finance a current account deficit that has widened alarmingly this year due to falling interest rates and an increase in imports. Rate cuts despite inflation have also caused the lira to lose much of its value since 2021.

According to official figures, the first quarter of this year saw some 285,000 medical tourists arrive in Turkey. It is estimated that by the end of this year, the branch’s revenue will reach US$3 billion.

Among cosmetic surgeries, hair transplantation attracted some 550,000 foreign customers in the first half of 2022, compared to 750,000 in all of 2019, leading the sector to a post-pandemic recovery, said Servet Terziler, head of the Turkish Health Tourism Association.

In Turkey, hair loss treatments cost between 3,000 and 7,000 euros, while “in Europe doctors do it for around 8,000 to 10,000 euros,” Terziler added.

A decade ago, Ankara recognized the importance of medical tourism and encouraged the establishment of private clinics and hospitals as well as private treatment wings in public hospitals.

These installations thus benefit from tax advantages and certain exemptions from customs duties. Some of them also operate as travel agencies that offer streamlined medical tourism packages that include flights, local transport and top-notch accommodations, even vacations at Türkiye’s many resorts.

In 2002, the share of tourist health expenditure in national tourism receipts was only 1%. In 2020, it is 4.5%.

But the medical procedures aren’t just about facelifts and hair makeovers, people are also coming in to have life-saving surgeries, according to business owners.

“The cost of treatment in serious cases, such as cancer, organ transplantation and other life-threatening diseases, is only a fraction of the price here in some European countries,” said Aziz Ciga, president of a long-standing health service company in Istanbul. .

“Medical tourism, including wellness, spa therapies and geriatric care, accounts for an annual expenditure of $1.2 trillion globally, according to surveys,” he said. “Our country easily has the potential to cash in on 10% of this global pie.”

Turkey could get a much larger share of the global healthcare pie, given its infrastructure and geographical position, meanwhile, it needs to adopt more modern regulations and standards with stricter insurance clauses for patients, Ciga explained.

After the end of COVID-19 restrictions, the local health tourism industry now has a total of 60 countries on its radar as potential target markets.

Turkish Commerce Minister Mehmet Mus said in July that with government support, health tourism revenues could reach $5 billion in the short term and reach $10 billion in the medium term.

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