The country may overtake France as the second most popular European holiday destination after Spain thanks to its booming medical tourism industry, according to experts.
Last year, Türkiye welcomed a record 1.2 million medical tourists, up from more than 670,000 in 2021.
The number of medical tourists vising the country was around 408,000 in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the global travel and tourism industries. Back in 2015, only 395,000 foreigners visited Türkiye to receive health services.
Revenues from medial tourism climbed to $2.1 billion in 2022, rising from $1.7 billion in the previous year. Medical tourism revenues stood at $638,000 in 2015.
In the first half of 2023, 746,290 international medical tourists flocked to Türkiye, while the industry’s revenues from health tourism already surpassed $1 billion.
The most preferred clinical branches by international patients are gynecology, internal diseases, ophthalmology, medical biochemistry, general surgery, dentistry, orthopedics and traumatology, according to the International Health Services Inc. (USHAŞ).
Over the past years, Türkiye has become hugely popular among foreigners seeking hair transplants.
As part of efforts to boost revenues from medical tourism to $3 billion, a trade fair will be held in the capital Ankara between Nov. 16-19.
Vice President Cevdet Yılmaz will attend the opening of the event, while Health Minister Fahrettin Koca will deliver a speech.
Some 100 procurement representatives from 20 countries’ health sector are expected to attend the sixth edition of the TRAVELEXPO. Those countries include France, Germany, the U.K., the Netherlands, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Iran, Iraq, Cameroon, Uganda, Zambia and Kenya.
Turkish private and public hospitals located in Ankara will promote their services at the event.
“The trade fair will be a milestone for Ankara to open to the global medical tourism market,” said Ahmet Aksu, the president of the Health Diplomacy Association.
Ankara is expected to serve 24 percent of the international medical tourists in 2024, which means more than 500,000 patients and over $750 million in revenues, according to Aksu.
Last year, Türkiye welcomed 44.6 million foreign tourists, marking an 80 percent increase from 2021.
In the first nine months of 2023, the number of international holidaymakers vising the country increased nearly 13 percent from a year ago 39.2 million.
The country’s 9-month tourism revenues rose by 20 percent year-on-year to $42 billion.
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The industry had started to recover fast from the fallout of COVID-19, but the February earthquakes were a blow to the sector.
Reservations were canceled, hotels in Istanbul were empty and the health tourism revenues declined to around $1.4 billion in the first half of 2023, according to Terziler.
“We are hoping to generate at least $2.6 billion in revenues in the rest of the year and close the year with a total revenue of $4 billion,” Terziler said, adding that the export revenues target for 2025 is set at $10 billion.
The size of the global health tourism sector has reached $100 billion, while Türkiye’s share in this market is around 4 percent, he noted. “We are making investments in order to increase our share in the global market to 10 percent.”
The number of health tourists visiting Türkiye was around 300,000 people 10 years ago, but it reached 1.26 million in 2022, Terziler noted. “This number continues to grow in 2023 with visitors rising 24 percent in the first half to 746,290.”
Foreign visitors’ health spending also increased by around 9 percent in the January-June period to exceed $1 billion, according to Terziler.
“Some 70 percent of visitors are from Europe, while people from the Arab countries account for 30 percent. The U.S. and Canadian markets are growing. We even have patients from Australia.”
Istanbul, which attracts most of the health tourists, has the potential to become the center of global health tourism, Terziler said. “Antalya and İzmir are also on their way to becoming important destinations for health tourism.”
“We expect to receive over 1.8 million health tourists in 2023 with an increase of approximately 30 percent,” said Firuz Bağlıkaya, president of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB). “Likewise, we anticipate an increase in health tourism revenue.”
Bağlıkaya noted that according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK), the number of visitors who came to Türkiye for health and medical reasons, including citizens living abroad, exceeded 1.4 million last year.
Stating that the upward trend continued this year, Bağlıkaya said, “In the first three months of 2023, the number of visitors coming to our country for health and medical reasons increased by 37.5 percent compared to the same period in 2022, reaching 474,114. We expect the growth of health tourism to continue in the coming period.”
She emphasized that Türkiye is one of the world’s most important destinations in the field of health tourism.
“Gynecology, internal medicine, ophthalmology, medical biochemistry, general surgery, dentistry, orthopedics and traumatology, infectious diseases and ENT are the most preferred clinical specialties by international patients coming for health tourism,” Bağlıkaya said.
“Apart from these, hair transplantation, aesthetic and beauty applications are also of great interest.”
Bağlıkaya added that according to the information from travel agencies working as authorized intermediary organizations in the field of health tourism, a significant portion of the guests visiting Türkiye for health purposes come for hair transplantation.
“The most important center for hair transplantation in terms of destination is Istanbul,” she said.
“Due to the increasing demand, Antalya and İzmir have also started to receive a large number of health tourists for hair transplantation. This is an extremely pleasing development. We expect the number of people coming for hair transplantation to increase by around 20 percent this year compared to 2022.”
Bağlıkaya said that Türkiye is growing in double digits in the field of health tourism.
“We expect to receive more than 1.8 million health tourists in 2023, with an increase of about 30 percent. We also expect an increase in health tourism revenues. The figures confirm our expectation of this increase. In the first quarter of this year, health tourism revenues increased by 10.7 percent compared to the same period in 2022, reaching $453.7 million. Therefore, we can say that the upward trend in health tourism revenues will continue,” she added.
Bağlıkaya noted that Türkiye, which has a very high potential in the field of health tourism, can continue its rise in this field with the promotion and marketing activities to be carried out.
“It is also very important to support the travel agencies, which play a very important role at this point,” she said.
“At the same time, the support of the Trade Ministry is also very important. The ministry also provides serious incentives to our agencies and health institutions for the development of health tourism."
Every year thousands of tourists visit Turkey where innovative health infrastructure make the country the best option for several treatments from eye and plastic surgeries to dental health services and hair transplant.
Turkey, one of the most popular touristic destinations worldwide with its spectacular beaches along the Mediterranean and the Aegean coasts, along with its historic and cultural richness, is also gaining fame for health tourism in recent years, and that has taken on new significance with the COVID-19 outbreak.
The country is among those that have performed the best against the coronavirus pandemic and is being praised for its health infrastructure. Reforms kicked off in the field in recent years, health facilities and private hospital investments also strengthened Turkey's health tourism.
Doc's Health Tourism Agency CEO Yusuf Temrel told Anadolu Agency (AA) Sunday that health tourism adds approximately $1 billion (TL 7.5 billion) income yearly to the country's economy.
Some 60% of the income is obtained from plastic surgery, he added.
A total of 662,087 patients received service in the country last year within the scope of health tourism.
Temrel said the number of patients coming to the country for health services was 143,266 during the first quarter of 2020, providing $187.9 million in income. Tourism revenue obtained from foreign visitors coming for health and medical reasons and citizens residing abroad was $1.6 billion in 2019, he added.
Iraq, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan ranked first among the countries where the greatest number of visitors applied for Turkey’s health services during the first three months of the year.
Temrel emphasized that the Turkish Health Ministry aims to increase the number of the health tourists to 1.5 million until 2023 with a revenue of $10 billion, noting: “Our works have been continuing with regard to making Turkey one of the most preferred countries in terms of health tourism.”
He underlined that the country has been providing health services at par with international standards in many areas from eye surgeries and plastic surgeries to general health operations and dental treatment.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the health infrastructures of the countries have been, in a way, tested, Temrel pointed out, noting that Turkey is among the successful ones and a “shining star in terms of health tourism.”
“Our country is one of the countries that survived this process with the least damage with its well-equipped hospitals, experienced doctors and health personnel,” he said.
Temrel who said that Turkey outpaced some European countries, including France, Italy, Spain and the U.K in terms of safe countries during the pandemic, according to research, noted the U.S. – which faces criticism as it took too long to implement necessary measures against the pandemic – is in 58th place.
Stating that flights were suspended all over the world due to the pandemic and patients could not go to the countries where they wished to be treated, Temrel said that at Doc's Health Tourism Agency they provided the option of an air ambulance or private land ambulance and brought the patients to Turkey, escorted by doctors and health officials.
The prices of those services varied according to the requested country's distance while the land ambulances charges were $5,000 or more, and private aircraft ambulances start from $30,000.
U.K. bears great potential
Temrel said the United Kingdom, one of the countries most affected by the pandemic, holds great potential for Turkey’s health tourism sector.
The number of patients who were waiting to receive health services in the U.K. before the pandemic was 4.4 million, he said, citing the country’s national health services body NHS Confederation data.
"We predict that this number will exceed 10 million by the end of the year. There is a waiting list for treatments such as dental treatments, hernia, cataracts, hip and knee replacement surgeries,” Temrel noted.