To become an established medical tourism destination, Cyprus must find more innovative ways to combine the tourism and health sectors, says Christos Petsides from the Cyprus Health Services Promotion Board.
Today, many countries are promoting themselves as medical tourism destinations. How is Cyprus developing this growing segment of tourism?
We have been actively developing our strategy for this niche sector since 2007 by bringing together the private health care and tourism industries in Cyprus. As a country we have a high standard of health care and are already known as a popular tourist destination, which puts us in a great position to cater to medical tourists.
The Cyprus Health Services Promotion Board (CHSPB) was established after an initiative taken by the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry and in close cooperation with the relevant stakeholders, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) and the Ministry of Energy, Commerce, Industry and Tourism, are working hard to put Cyprus firmly on the medical tourism map. Cyprus is currently one of top five countries for British medical tourists to travel to for medical reasons – specifically for dental, cosmetic and fertility treatments. Cyprus is well-known for providing excellent health care, but competition is fierce and we still have a lot to do to develop this sector to its full potential.
We have the advantage of already being an established destination for holidaymakers, but we must find more innovative ways to combine these two sectors and establish a strong image as a medical tourism destination.
What are the key selling points of Cyprus as a medical tourism destination?
We have well-organised and state-of-the-art private hospitals and clinics fully in line with EU regulations and standards. Our winning combination of cost effective procedures and highly educated health professionals, with most of them educated in EU countries, mainly the UK and Germany and also in the US, is a major selling point. Also our strategic position between three continents – the Middle East, Africa and Europe – puts us in a convenient location for international patients seeking quality health care outside their home countries. The year-round temperate climate of Cyprus has great benefits for recuperation and rehabilitation. Historically, the region of Kyperounda was an ideal location for people suffering from asthma and other respiratory illnesses and many of our mountain villages have natural springs, which have long attracted visitors to find relief for many conditions. Cyprus also offers a safe and calm environment, where English is widely spoken, making the patients’ time here pleasant and easy to navigate.
What kind of potential does medical tourism in Cyprus have and what kind of revenue could this segment contribute to the economy?
It is very difficult to get reliable estimates of the medical tourism market internationally, and Cyprus is only in the first stages of developing its medical tourism market. However, approximate figures globally indicate it could give a significant boost to our economy. Worldwide medical tourism is a growing industry, with around 20% growth each year and with around €12 billion generated annually. Cyprus has great prospects to enter into this market with around 5 million patients around the world travelling abroad for treatments every year. We are cooperating with the CTO and the private health care industry to develop a way to record the numbers of medical tourist coming to Cyprus and hope to have some indicative figures for 2014. Even if we get a small percentage of this global market, it could have great benefits for the Cypriot economy and we need to work hard to tap into this opportunity. We have the advantage of already having the necessary infrastructure in place, both on the medical and tourism side, and now it is a matter of bringing these two sides together in an efficient way to harness the potential of medical tourism for Cyprus.
It is imperative to identify our strong points from a marketing perspective. Of course Cyprus’ health sector has the expertise to offer a wide range of medical treatments, but in terms of medical tourism we need to brand the country and identify what kind of treatments should be promoted and to which markets. For example, for some countries struggling with long waiting lists for certain procedures such as dental or orthopaedics, we can focus on promoting Cyprus as a viable and cost-effective alternative to receive those treatments.
In Cyprus we have a great opportunity to offer not only treatments, but also an ideal location to recuperate. Patients can holiday while having medical procedures, thanks to our established tourism infrastructure and short distances between our towns and cities. This is also a big factor for patients, who are accompanied by their families, as there are many great ways to spend their time in Cyprus.
There is a lot of hype about medical tourism worldwide with an increasing number of countries promoting themselves as destinations. What kind of quality assurances and systems does Cyprus have in place to reassure potential medical tourists?
First of all we are an EU member state and have all the necessary regulation in place. All the doctors and clinics in Cyprus are licenced and supervised by the Ministry of Health. Most of the clinics and hospitals also have their own industry accreditations, but we are encouraging them to get more international accreditations to give our facilities wider recognition worldwide. This is a process that a number of our top hospitals have already started and some have completed. All our health care providers are regulated and supervised, but gaining more international accreditations can only upgrade and further promote these establishments, as well as help reassure potential patients from around the world.
There is already interest from medical tourists in Cyprus, but are you also seeing interest from the international medical profession in conducting procedures in Cyprus or establishing cooperation with local doctors or hospitals?
We have seen an increase in interest from foreign doctors to come to Cyprus as well as from international companies who help patients find hospitals and doctors abroad. Most recently we have seen a number of doctors from Israel coming to Cyprus, both bringing their own patients here and providing new treatments that have not previously been available in Cyprus. We have also seen some doctors from the USA bringing their patients here to conduct procedures. There are many reasons for this increasing trend, but one is privacy and confidentiality. Cyprus has both a high-quality medical and tourism infrastructure, but also offers a safe and private location for patients to have sensitive treatments outside of their own country.
Which areas provide the most opportunity for foreign investment, strategic alliances and cooperation in Cyprus in terms of medical tourism?
Establishing rehabilitation centres as well as holiday resorts incorporating medical facilities are areas of great opportunity in Cyprus. We have major projects worth around €8 billion underway, which will help upgrade our product and boost our image as a destination for these services as well as attract more foreign investment into Cyprus. The insurance sector is also a deciding factor in medical tourism. Being a cost-effective destination for procedures, Cyprus could be a great location for insurers to consider sending patients, which is why it is essential to gain more international accreditations for our facilities. Also on the medical side, it is important to create alliances and more agreements with health care providers and national health care systems elsewhere in Europe to facilitate more cooperation. The EU cross-border health care directive already ensures the right for Europeans to seek medical care anywhere in the EU, but further agreements between countries will make the process easier and smoother for both patients and doctors and will help to target specific procedures for specific markets, making it a win-win situation.
How do you see medical tourism developing Cyprus in the next five years and what important milestones do you hope to achieve in this timeframe?
I want to see Cyprus as an established medical tourism destination of choice, and I believe we can achieve this in five years. It is however crucial to see solid commitment from all the stake holders within Cyprus, such as the government, hospitals and hoteliers. Cyprus is going through tough economic times today, but this growing segment of tourism could bring significant and much-needed revenue that would also filter into the wider economy. We have great potential as all the right elements are in place, but to succeed it is crucial to bring together our two strong economic sectors – tourism and health – and work on establishing our own identity and building a solid image as a medical tourism destination.