Medical tourism sweeps the globe

Published May 13th, 2012 - 10:44 GMT
Dubai already cares for more than 500,000 medical tourism visitors per year
Dubai already cares for more than 500,000 medical tourism visitors per year

Trout pouts, tummy tucks and breast implants. There was a time - not that many years ago - when genial German hotel manager Frank Heller would never hear such phrases in his line of work.

Now there part and parcel of his working day, as medical tourism at his Charles Hotel in the centre of the Bavarian capital Munich accounts for a whopping 80 percent of the 120,000 arrivals he receives from Dubai each year. The medical tourism industry is predicted by experts to become a $100 billion (Dhs 367.3 billion) global industry sector by the end of this year.

“When we are talking about medical tourism, it is now about 35 percent of my business,” admits Heller. “(Each year) it’s worth about six to seven million euros (Dhs 29 million to Dhs 33.8 million). “This business has increased so much over the last few years - we are talking about a double-digit growth.

 You see celebrities come over from America and then I see them two weeks later and I think ‘wow, what happened to you!’” Heller anticipates that this year will see further double-digit growth in the amount his hotel takes from medical tourists. UAE residents splash out as much as $2 billion (Dhs 7.3 billion) each year in jet-setting healthcare travel. Picturesque Munich is one of their favourite spots for a quick and quiet health check, clean-up or cosmetic cut.

Medical tourism has been well known in Munich for many, many years,” says Heller, whose hotel has tight links with top-notch surgeons who specialise in diseases prevalent in the Middle East such as heart disease and diabetes.

The hotel also provides a medical concierge fluent in Arabic to guide and escort the guest throughout their period of treatment. Heller and his staff even once looked after an obese Middle Eastern man for five months after the gentleman had major surgery to remove a large portion of his sagging stomach.

“We arranged a dietician and cooked for him and everything,” Heller says, confirming that some guests have spent more than a million euros (Dhs 4.7 million) on their bills while staying at his hotel. “You also have to consider that many bring their entire family,” Heller tells 7DAYS on a recent visit to Dubai. “We have had people coming to Munich for 20 years - now they are sending their children over to get treatment, to get a medical check-up.

“The average stay of a family that comes to Munich is 14 days.

" Sometimes he even gets more-money-than-sense parents jetting their precious, pampered offspring to Munich to get checked-out - for a cold. “It has happened,” Heller admits. “But it’s normally a bit more serious than that.”

 It’s not all one-way traffic however, Dubai and it’s healthcare system is also a magnet for patients overseas.

Ask American Josef Woodman, the author of a new book called ‘Patients Beyond Borders: Dubai Healthcare City Edition’, about the emirate’s potential for healthcare tourism and he says: “The sky’s the limit.”

 Dubai already cares for more than 500,000 medical tourism visitors per year. And that figure is only going to rise.

According to Dr. Ayesha Abdulla, managing director of Dubai Healthcare City, it’s worth a tidy Dhs6 billion annually to Dubai - and is a particular hotspot for GCC travellers seeking treatment.

And guess what the new fad is...

Pampered pet lovers are now putting their pooches under the knife for trout pout lip implants. That’s the astonishing message from one hotelier at the forefront of providing packages for guests in the burgeoning medical tourism industry.

Asked by 7DAYS whether he was aware of wealthy women demanding their surgeons provide plumped-up lips for their dogs, Frank Heller - the boss at the plush Charles Hotel in Munich - admitted he had heard of such measures.

“I have heard about this in America - not in Munich - but I have heard about this,” Heller confirmed. So, what would he do if a wealthy ‘Paris Hilton-esque’ guest from the Middle East asked for him to arrange a trout pout for her pooch? “It would be the decision of the doctor,” Heller says. “I’m an hotelier not a doctor.”

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