Medical tourism is an avenue that is often overlooked when considering tourism in South Africa, even though it is set to grow globally at an estimated 15% annually.
Research by SA Tourism indicates that foreign spending on medical care in South Africa has increased from R582m to approximately R916m in 2015, as the number of tourists originating from Europe and those coming by air from other African countries has increased.
“Travelers 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 the English language is widely spoken in South Africa,” says Charnel Kara, Tourism Specialist at FNB Business.
Globally, medical tourism is estimated to be worth between $45 billion and $72 billion. It is estimated that this industry will continue to show growth of between 15% and 25% each year, making it a growth industry that medical entrepreneurs could build a business towards.
“A substantial portion of medical tourists to South Africa originate from our neighbouring countries. We are also seeing a growing number from Europe and countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, says Kara.”
She explains that the downstream impact of medical tourism acts as an important feed into the rest of the tourism industry.
“The average tourist stays in South Africa for an estimated 6 days. This means hospitality services, tour operators, transport, retail, wildlife and seaside attractions, spas and wellness centers all have an opportunity to gain from a medical tourist visiting South Africa.”
“Businesses can tailor or enhance their product offering to cater to this growing demand. Offering products with pricing and services tailored to suit the needs and requirements of travelers that are going to have or have had medical procedures can diversify a business’s product offering and add to their revenue stream,” she adds.
South Africa has the infrastructure along with the medical professionals to take full advantage of this largely untapped market. 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.
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