Developments in the Philippine Medical Tourism

Philippines estate developer, Century Properties Inc, has ventured into medical tourism, starting off with the construction of a $100-million facility. Jose E.B Antonio of Century Properties explains, "The potential of healthcare as a business is unimaginable. It will be an outpatient medical centre focusing on anti-ageing and wellness programmes. Centuria Medical Makati is a mixed-use medical tourism project. The 28-storey Centuria building will cater to both local patients and medical travellers.

High-spending clients from the Middle East are giving a much needed boost to Philippine medical tourism. The main market is still Filipinos who work abroad or have migrated, mainly to the US and Canada, but numbers coming from the Middle East are increasing. These are medical tourists from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman. They come with at least one companion (many with their families), stay in hotels, travel and shop a lot – meaning, they spend more than just for medical expenses. Middle East clients include corporate buyers, such as the petroleum giant Aramco. In 2010, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health spent $60,000 each for 80 patients it sent to Manila. That’s $4.8 million, excluding the expenses of travel companions for transportation, food and accommodation. Elizabeth Nelle at the Department of Tourism (DOT) says,” In a matter of months since we entered the Arab market, they started eye surgery visits to the Philippines and this opened their eyes to discover that the country has modern hospitals with state-of-the-art equipment and excellent doctors. This makes the Arab market a very good potential for medical tourism."

The next niche markets are Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Guam, Palau and Micronesia whose citizens can use health facilities and procedures in the Philippines that are not available at home. The secondary markets, where price not availability is the driver, are Australia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Europe. The Philippines is trying to attract the secondary markets by showcasing tourist attractions and special itineraries for those who are interested in combining treatment with leisure. The DoT estimates that 100,000 medical tourists visited the Philippines in 2009, and on average spent $2000.The DOT target for the Philippine Medical Tourism Program is 200,000 medical tourists a year by 2015.The main attraction for tourists from the United States, Japan, Korea and the Middle East is cosmetic surgery.

To put health and wellness tourism in perspective, inbound visitors to the Philippines in 2010 reached 3.52 million surpassing the target of 3.3 million earlier set by the DOT.Visitors from East Asia accounted for 44.4% of the total visitor count in 2010 with Korea having the biggest share at 21% or 740,622 arrivals. This market grew by a hefty 48.7% against its 2009 volume of 497,936 arrivals, regaining its number one position among the major source markets. The USA ranked as the second main source market with 600,165 visitors for a share of 17% of total tourist traffic. Taiwan and Japan, which in the past years posted declines in arrivals, have rebounded with double-digit growth of 39.2% and 10.3%, respectively. Arrivals from China and Hong Kong posted 20.9% and 8.9% increases; this market is anticipated to pose continued growth as the DOT undertakes aggressive marketing and promotions to regain and re-establish confidence in the Philippines as a safe and secure tourist destination. Visitors from Australia recorded an all time high of 147,469 arrivals during the year, making it the fifth source market with 11.4% growth rate and one of the fastest growing. This market is expected to increase as JetStar Air commences flights between Darwin and Clark in 2011.Most European markets recorded double digit gain in 2010 with the Russian Federation growing faster at 33.6% followed by the Scandinavian countries (12%), France (11%), United Kingdom (6.5%), and Germany (5%). For the Middle East region, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia remained the key source markets as visitor arrivals grew by 21.4% and 16.3%. In addition, arrivals from Qatar and Bahrain exhibited significant growth at 15.2% and 10.6%.