Health Tourism: A missing link in foreign investment

An increasing number of foreign trade delegations are traveling to Iran to claim a stake in the country’s emerging market following the lifting of economic sanctions earlier this year. The delegates, who are mostly business leaders and senior government officials, discuss a variety of areas to do business but when it comes to tourism, discussions rarely include details.

And that is a problem, according to Alireza Khaef of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture.

“Tourism in general is almost always talked about, but there are few if any discussions about specific types of tourism,” Khaef told the official TCCIM website.

In February, during a meeting in Iran between members of an Italian delegation and Nemotallah Torki, director of Tehran Province’s Management and Planning Organization, the Italians expressed interest in building hospitals in Iran.

“But nobody even mentioned health tourism because it’s never a main topic of discussion in these meetings,” Khaef rued, adding that to discuss medical tourism the visiting delegations should include medical professionals/experts. “But [the delegations] are full of businesspeople.”

Pointing to Italy’s international reputation as a top producer of medical equipment, he said it is imperative to encourage investors from the European nation to finance medical tourism projects in Iran.

“Countries like Italy, France and Germany (which are world leaders in healthcare) can help us become a regional hub for medical tourism,” Khaef said.
The number of tourists traveling to Iran for advanced medical attention has grown by almost 40% in the past five years.

Why Iran?

High cost of private treatment and low quality health systems in countries in the region means there is real demand for medical services available in Iran. Those from Islamic countries are particularly attracted as they feel safer and more satisfied in Iran than in Arab or Asian countries offering similar services.

Geographical proximity, hot and cold mineral springs in various parts of the country as well as low-cost and high quality health services in the fields of fertility treatment, stem cell treatment, dialysis, heart surgery, cosmetic surgery and eye surgery are contributing to new opportunities in Iran’s health tourism — a growth industry in many countries.

Iranian officials have put a lot of stock in the potential for medical tourism to help boost the economy and help create jobs.

The Health Ministry, in cooperation with Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, is set to launch an English-language website in the near future which allows potential foreign patients to directly apply for medical tourism visas. The ministry says the website will speed up the visa process and allow it to monitor the process of the patients’ treatment.

Furthermore, healthcare facilities must have the proper permits to be able to admit medical tourists. Of the 270 hospitals in Iran active in health tourism, 125 centers have so far acquired licenses from the Health Tourism Strategic Council. Formed in early 2015, the council sets rules and regulations for health tourism providers.

Iran’s annual revenue from health tourism is between $400 million and $500 million, which is expected to reach $2.5 billion in the foreseeable future.
According to a report last month by Big Market Research, the global medical tourism market is expected to reach $143 billion by 2022.

By Financial Tribune