International spending on global medical tourism products and services rose from $2.4bn to $11bn, between 2000 and 2017, marking a 358% growth in nominal terms, with the US leading the way. 

In a recent report from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), ‘A prescription for a healthier economy’, shows the staggering growth of global medical tourism that accounted for 1.2% of all international visitor spending in 2017, thereby doubling the 0.6% seen in 2000.

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As the world’s leading outbound medical tourism market, US citizens spent $2.3bn on medical tourism services abroad in 2017, representing 20% of the market. The country is also the largest destination market for inbound medical tourists, with spending reaching almost $4bn in 2017, and accounting for nearly 36% of global medical tourism spending.

Kuwait is the second largest outbound source market, spending more than $1.5bn, mainly because its government policy supports and finances medical procedures abroad. Nigeria, as the third largest source market for outbound medical tourism, spent $783m in 2017, representing 13.5% of total outbound spend.

France, as the second largest destination market for inbound medical tourists, attracted $800m spending from global medical tourists. In third place is Turkey, with $763m spending in inbound medical tourism. The country is also home to 43 Joint Commission International-accredited healthcare institutions, which boast rigorous standards of healthcare. Additionally, Thailand, Costa Rica and Mexico were also revealed as some of the leading emerging economies for medical tourism inbound spending. 

Five European countries are listed in the top 10 largest markets for outbound spending: the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Austria and Germany. Their capital expenditure ranged between $300m and $678m in 2017. The top 10 largest markets for inbound spending, also include five European countries, as Belgium, the UK and Hungary join France and Turkey in receiving between $417m and $636m.

“As we can see from our latest research, medical tourism is an important and emerging area of interest for the travel and tourism sector. It is important that we continue to understand the reasons that people travel, and in many cases work to support policies that enhance the ability for travellers to seek treatment abroad,” says Gloria Guevara, WTTC president and CEO. 

The WTTC recommends governments that work towards developing their medical tourism sub-sector consider some elements, for instance, establishing smart regulation and recognised certification of medical practitioners and facilities, and developing enabling visa facilitation policies that support the development of this sub-sector.