The article ‘Medical tourism: Sea, sun, sand and…surgery’ was written by John Connell in 2005 and published on in 2006.

In this article the author discusses the emergence of a new and distinct niche in the tourist industry: medical tourism. “[…] the attempt to achieve better health while on holiday […] has been taken to a new level […]” , leading to medical tourism that can be defined as an industry “[…] where people travel often long distances to overseas countries to obtain medical, dental and surgical care while simultaneously being holiday makers, in a more conventional sense.”

In the opinion of the author this consumer trend has emerged due to various reasons such as the constant aging of the society and will only develop further in the future. As the main market he identifies Asia, with countries like Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and especially India as key countries.

Essay by Eva Maria Störmer
Master in Tourism Destination Management student 2008/2009

In the article it is being said the high costs of treatment in rich, world’s countries, long waiting lists, the affordability of international travel, favorable exchange rates as well as the aging of the society lead to the development of this consumer trend. Facilitated by e.g. the rise of the Internet and the improvement of health systems in some key countries, the growing interest in cosmetic surgery and the fact that various forms are not covered by Insurance in many countries, medical tourism grows rapidly. This happens especially in Asia, where many countries deliberately link medical care to tourism. India is often regarded as the most important global player. The country managed to offer a variety of services, upgrade its technology, adapt to western medical protocols and emphasize low cost and immediate attention.

While economic benefits are certainly essential to the success of medical tourism, they are not the only factors. Long waiting lists, the fact that the distance offers anonymity and that some procedures are not being offered in the home countries trigger this trend as well. The most extreme form of this travel and where the word tourism might fit least easily is therefore identified as patients seeking euthanasia (e.g. in Switzerland or the Netherlands). A final version of this tourism ‘transnational retirement’ is identified, meaning the establishment of nursing homes.

Although the whole infrastructure of the tourist industry benefits considerably from this consumer trend, it also has downsides. Ethical issues have been put forward, such as the fact that India as one of the leading countries of the world is healing foreigners but that the majority of their own people can not afford any medical care.

The topic of this article is directky linked to international tourism consumer trends, the first topic of this subject. As described in chapter two of the literature “Tourism management dynamics” by Buhalis and Costa, the key demographic factor affecting the future of tourism will be the aging of the society. “Given the vast majority of the world’s tourists come from developed countries, an aging population will clearly have substantial implications for the international tourism industry.”  This theory is confirmed by the article at hand as medical tourism also emerged due to the constantly aging society.

Medical tourism also directly relates to globalization, being discussed in chapter 15 of the book. Not only are patients willing and able to travel 1000 of miles in order to get treatment they could also get next door, one can also look from it from the supply side: a French doctor who studied in England is offering his service to German clients in India.

Moreover, this consumer trend influences destination competitiveness. Rich countries can rarely compete with the low prices of e.g. Asia and fierce competition is emerging in the global context of the health care industry. Global competition will eventually lower the cost of some medical procedures, at the same time labour costs could increase due to the international competition for qualified medical staff.

Amongst the key destinations in Asia a spcialisation in markets can be seen, as e.g. Thailand has deliberatly sought the Japanese market, since many of their doctors have been trained there. Contracts and trade missions with other countries will play an essential role in the destination competitivenss as well.

To conclude it can be said that the trade in health services is expanding, becoming more competitive and creating new dimensions of gloablisation. Medical tourism is a consumer trend closesly linked to demogrphic change as well as globalization and will influence destination competitevness in the future.