Certification, language and competition are the three major challenges for medical tourism in Mexico, but an unprecedented effort by government and private enterprise is working to overcome them.
The objective of the Coparmex Medical Tourism project is to make the most of the market dominance Mexico has already achieved in positioning itself as a medical tourism destination. It is second only to Thailand, says ProMexico, a government promotional agency.
An important part of the project is integrating the series of services that a foreign patient needs in order to have surgery.
It brings together managers from the health and tourism sectors and representatives of government, hospitals, tourism agencies and others to create a product that includes flight, hospital and hotel. Packages would be offered via travel agencies in the United States and Canada.
At present, facilitators currently act as intermediaries between hospitals and clients, charging between 15 and 20% of treatment costs.
Coparmex has been visiting interested businesses in cities such as Matamoros, Puerto Vallarta and Villahermosa to explain the development of clusters that would bring together the services that patients need. Meanwhile, the Secretariats of Tourism and Health have plans to support the project with marketing campaigns and financing through Bancomext, the state-owned development bank.
Medical tourism has grown over the last three decades without requiring a strategy, as many foreigners realized they could obtain treatment in Mexico at much lower cost. As a result, many Americans and Canadians travel to Mexicali, Tijuana, Monterrey, Puerto Vallarta and Cancún, among others, for cosmetic surgery and dental and weight-loss treatment.
Medical tourists are estimated to number one million annually, about 4% of total foreign tourism. Average expenditure is between US $5,000 and $20,000, rather more than the $1,200 spent by conventional visitors.
The challenges include certification by the International Joint Commission, something that only eight of more than 3,000 hospitals now have, and an important requirement to demonstrate quality of service.
Language is another: a great many medical personnel do not speak English. Competition is a third obstacle. Costa Rica was a pioneer in medical tourism, while Brazil and Colombia are gaining a reputation for cosmetic surgery.
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