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Health and holiday

Here’s why the local beauty and wellness industry is booming, fueled not just by Filipinos, but by the constant influx of tourists and foreigners who trust our Filipino expertise and eye

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By Kaycee Reyes

Going on vacation means having some serious relaxation, but lately more and more head out to other countries to get medical procedures done. “Medical Tourism” is fast becoming a great source of income for countries, and the Philippines is proudly in the Top 10 list of countries to head to for procedures.

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In 2015, according to the International Healthcare Research Center and Medical Tourism Association, a global non-profit organization, the Philippines ranked eigthth in the world, ahead of Japan and France. While Canada topped the list, the Philippines is stated to attract around 250,000 foreign patients or clients every year. Most of the patients come from neighboring countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Guam, Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia, Australia, North and South America, Europe and the United Kingdom, and the Gulf States.

As for the Medical Tourism Index (MTI), the country ranks 19th globally. Our own Department of Health (DOH) even has Philippine Medical Tourism Program, by which it envisions the country to be “the global leader in providing quality health care for all through universal health care.”

The reasons behind such an influx? It’s a number of factors, according to a study by Horowitz, Rosenzweig, and Jones (2007). It’s based on price, the person’s insurance policy or medical policy, protection of privacy, or regarding a sensitive issue such as cultural issues or societal norms. Among the biggest factors of the continued success of medical tourism in the Philippines is our naturally hospitable nature, as well as our ability to speak and comprehend English, and the fact that we offer top quality procedures and expertise paired with affordability—there’s a price point for everyone to be comfortable with. Sometimes, procedures that you could have done in an industrialized country such as the US would only cost 10 percent to 50 percent of the price in the Philippines. The affordability is paired with top-notch doctors who continuously study their craft here and abroad, an unbeatable combination.

What procedures bring the tourists into the country? Nothing life threatening—most of them head down to the Philippines for cosmetic and dental procedures, sometimes for ophthalmological procedures. But all in all, you need only to look around your neighborhood or take a stroll at the nearest mall and see how seriously Filipinos take beauty and wellness. There’s bound to be a beauty clinic or spa just a few meters away. That’s how much we value it, inside and out.

But is there a consolidated effort to promote medical tourism as a viable reason to head over to the Philippines, say, in the tune of “Medical Tourism: It’s More Fun in the Philippines”? As of the moment, our DOH and Department of Tourism (DOT) seem to have their hands full and are understandably pushing other programs that will benefit the greater populace. Travel agencies also understandably focus on the country’s major selling points, such as our beaches, to get tourists to the country, and don’t really highlight our medical expertise.

But even without major government backing, medical tourism in the Philippines is steadily getting by and flourishing, and that’s thanks to the magic of the Internet and social media. Information about our doctors or health care providers is available to the whole wide world with a simple search. A few minutes searching for affordable healthcare online or scrolling through Instagram orFacebook will lead you to numerous options, which should attract tourists solely for the purpose of undergoing medical procedures. With hope, the government’s continuous improvement of our international airports or vacation spots, both priorities of the current administration, will turn them into “accidental medical tourists,” meaning, they are here on vacation, but with the proliferation of beauty clinics and spas, they may decide to try any of them out!

The Philippines attracts around 4.7 million tourists every year, with roughly three percent of that number heading to the country for the purpose of medical tourism. If that number goes up, even slowly, as long as steadily throughout the years, it would give our economy a great boost. Here’s hoping that, in the coming years, the Philippine government will see the untapped potential of medical tourism and push it to the forefront of our tourism agenda. It’s a great opportunity to combine health and holidays, and the Philippines will benefit greatly from it.

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