Global medical tourism is a rapidly growing sector with around 6 million patients worldwide travelling for treatments every year. The value of the medical tourism industry is estimated to grow to US$32.5 billion by 2019, and with such strong growth expectations, Cyprus has also recognised the great economic potential of this niche sector. The Mediterranean island was one of the first entrants into the European medical tourism sector, and rapidly established a national initiative to promote its services. For this reason the Cyprus Health Services Promotion Board, which is a non-profit organization was founded in 2006 after an initiative taken by the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI), aiming mainly to the development and promotion of Cyprus as a medical centre. Already boasting a sophisticated medical infrastructure and renowned as a popular tourist destination, Cyprus has strong foundations to develop into a thriving centre for medical tourism – offering high-quality treatment in a safe and enjoyable environment.
Top Quality Care
For the size of the country, Cyprus has a substantial private health care sector with around 80 private hospitals and clinics, state-of-the-art medical centres and the latest high-tech equipment and ER facilities. But most importantly, the small EU member state offers quality medical services at affordable prices, often a fraction of US and UK costs. Around 10% of EU patients seek some form of healthcare beyond the borders of their country, a trend Cyprus could capitalise on as it conveniently combines excellent healthcare with great opportunities for recuperation, as well as holidays for family or carers accompanying a patient.
One of Cyprus’ most significant assets is human capital. The country’s medical professionals are highly qualified and experienced, with most trained abroad in renowned medical schools. Strictly regulated and fully in line with EU legislation, medical industry standards are high in Cyprus. With increased competition in the global medical tourism market, international patients expect quality care at a low cost. Considering these demands, Cyprus is already set to meet – if not exceed – these requirements. Around 85% of the global medical travel market consists of patients seeking affordable cosmetic surgery, dentistry, infertility treatments and obesity surgery. Fast and cost-effective treatments provided by experienced physicians are the ideal product for this niche sector and Cyprus has a strong track-record in providing these services.
Some of the most popular medical treatments available in Cyprus are check-ups and diagnostic tests, elective surgery, dentistry, cosmetic and plastic surgery, fertility treatment and eye surgery. Cyprus is also a significantly cheaper option for cardiovascular and orthopaedic surgery. The country has already seen an increase in interest, attracting health travellers from Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia and the Middle East. The island has strong capabilities to develop niche services in the healthcare industry also thanks to its mild Mediterranean climate and specific microclimates within the country. For example, the region of Kyperounda is renowned for its beneficial environment for asthma patients. Developing specialised treatments, such as rehabilitation and phototherapy, could accelerate Cyprus’ brand recognition as a unique medical tourism destination.
Cyprus has the competitive edge of convenience and accessibility. Waiting times are short, same day appointments are the norm and it is possible to see a range of medical specialists in a single centre or within a quick drive, thanks to the short distances on the island. Also a considerable number of clinical laboratories offer speedy results for a wide range of both routine and specialised diagnostic tests. An added benefit for patients is the convenience of being treated in a multilingual country. Communicating medical conditions and concerns is done with ease, as English is widely spoken and most physicians and nurses are trained in the US and the UK. A large proportion of medical professionals also speak German, French, Russian or Arabic.
The implementation of the 2011 EU directive on cross-border healthcare could bring additional business to Cyprus. The directive, incorporated into Cyprus law, allows EU citizens the choice of country and healthcare provider to receive treatment within the EU. The freedom to choose medical procedures based on cost and quality, establishes Cyprus as an attractive option for many patients. Also other EU national healthcare systems suffering from long waiting lists or high costs could potentially transfer patients to Cyprus to deliver cost-effective treatment faster.
One of the greatest advantages Cyprus has to offer is the attractive combination of treatment and leisure travel. Offering diverse attractions and entertainment opportunities, post-treatment recuperation for patients and accompanying family can be a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Factors such as its strategic location, existing high standard of medical professionals and facilities, mild climate and its full range of hotels are elements that further improve the country’s prospects. Cyprus has also emerged as one of the leading Mediterranean spa destinations, thanks to its excellent selection of hotels with holistic wellness and spa services. This coupled with the health-promoting Mediterranean diet and the natural beauty of Cyprus, allow medical tourists to indulge in healing both the body and the soul.
Investing in Medical Tourism
Cyprus is also an interesting location from an investor point of view. Although the tourism and health sectors are already established, untapped possibilities remain. For example, specific areas such as rehabilitation centres and elderly care services have not reached their full potential. As a favourite destination for retirees, particularly from the UK, and with the aging population of Cyprus, these types of services are seen as ideal investment opportunities.
With the aim to become a top-class regional medical centre serving Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Asia, the island provides attractive opportunities for leading international medical institutions to access these markets, while remaining in a convenient EU jurisdiction. An added benefit for setting up business operations in and through Cyprus is the country’s advantageous tax and regulatory framework and its extensive network of double tax agreements. Synergies and affiliations developed between Cypriot and international medical facilities could be a win-win proposition.
A number of developers are already combining health services and medical aspects to resorts and real estate complexes, proving there are good investment prospects for large scale projects combining these two elements. Many hotels are also looking at possibilities of incorporating health centres or expanding cooperation with existing clinics and hospitals. Deeper collaboration between hotels and medical referral agencies, as well as tour operators, is increasingly becoming the means to develop an integrated package. The real advantage for innovators and investors with ideas and experience in the medical tourism industry is that Cyprus is still a fledgling market and in the process of refining its product, making this an opportune time to invest.
Challenges and the Future
With strong aspirations to develop into a destination of choice for medical tourists, Cyprus already has firm foundations to capture a slice of the global market and establish itself as a worthy competitor. The current challenge for Cyprus is to work collectively with all stakeholders to establish a competitive product and a clear strategy for the promotion of medical tourism. There is already serious interest from foreign investors, but to capitalise on this, the cooperation between all major stakeholders is vital to turn interest into real investment. Equally important is the political will to support the development of this industry through incentives, simplified and efficient procedures and increasing the accessibility of Cyprus via strategic air connections and medical visas. Countries that have already succeeded in branding themselves as reputable medical tourism destinations have shown that it is essential to establish medical tourism as a key economic sector with a robust support infrastructure in place.
Pooling the expertise Cyprus already has, as well as recruiting more talent and establishing affiliations with international medical institutions and insurance providers, could generate innovative solutions and an exciting medical tourism product. Accessibility, quality and affordability are the three pillars of success in attracting medical tourism – and Cyprus is working hard to ensure these goals are achieved. Already enjoying an excellent standard of care and a thriving tourism industry with record-breaking numbers of arrivals this year, Cyprus is determined to reach its potential. With all its comparative advantages, the Mediterranean island has great prospects to flourish and firmly place the country on the global medical tourism map.