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Medical tourism is set to grow globally by an estimated 15% annually, yet remains a segment that is frequently overlooked when considering tourism in South Africa.
Research conducted by South African Tourism (SAT) indicates that foreign spending on medical care in South Africa has increased from R582 million (€39m) when? to R961 million (€64m) in 2015, as the number of tourists originating from Europe and those coming by air from various other African countries has increased.
“Travellers coming to South Africa for medical treatments do so for cost savings, South Africa’s infrastructure, medical technology, qualified and skilled doctors at an international standard, and most advantageous is the fact that English is widely spoken in South Africa,” says Charnel Kara, Tourism Specialist at FNB Business.
Medical tourism globally is estimated to be worth between $45 billion (€37bn) and $72 billion (€59bn). It is estimated that the industry will continue to show growth, between 15% and 25% each year, according to SAT.
She adds that the downstream impact of medical tourism acts as an important feed into the rest of the tourism industry.
“The average tourist stays in SA for an estimated six days. This means hospitality services, tour operators, transport, retail, wildlife and seaside attractions, spas and wellness centres all have an opportunity to gain from a medical tourist visiting SA.”
“Businesses can tailor or enhance their product offering to cater for this growing demand. Offering products with pricing and services tailored to suit the needs and requirements of travellers who are going to have, or have had, medical procedures can diversify a business’s product offering and add to their revenue stream,” she adds.
SA has both the infrastructure and the medical professionals in order to unlock the potential of medical tourism. SAT suggests that the success of medical tourism in SA will largely depend on the exchange rate, prices, quality and diversification of procedures, in tandem with medical care and hospitality services offered to potential medical tourists.
“For South Africa to become a leading and sought-after medical tourism destination globally, it is imperative that businesses within the medical and tourism spheres leverage off synergies and work together to provide a seamless and holistic offering to this growing sub sector. We have all the moving pieces in place, now we just need to put them together to amplify it,” concludes Kara.