By: Maryam Azish

Iran enjoys high health potentials

News ID: 4147421 -
TEHRAN, Nov. 17 (MNA) – Iran’s ultimate goal is to earn $25 billion a year through tourism by 2025, around $2.5 billion of which will come from medical tourism.

Iran has potentials to promote health tourism since medical costs in Iran ranges between one-third and one-fifth of the expenses in European countries. Affordable prices have encouraged health tourists, particularly Muslims, to come to Iran for medical treatment.

Hospitals in Iranian cities offer medical and healthcare services for foreign health tourists. Medical services in Iran are comparable with those offered in advanced countries.

Geographical closeness and cultural and religious commonalities have turned Iran into one of the best and most economically attractive destinations for health tourists.

Iran has a highly educated workforce and is a local leader in scientific and health development. It is one of the top five countries in the world in biotech and nine out of 15 high-usage biotech molecules are produced in Iran.

The existence of mineral springs in many parts of the country makes it an ideal health tourism market.

Other potential areas include fertility treatment, stem cell treatment, dialysis, heart surgery, cosmetic surgery and eye surgery. It also produces unique medicines such as the anti-AIDS drug IMOD, and other high-tech drugs.

Based on the Sixth Economic Development Plan (2017-22), Iran is projected to attract between 500,000 and 600,000 medical tourists every year. However, some officials have questioned whether this target is feasible.

Iran’s ultimate goal is to earn $25 billion a year through tourism by 2025, around $2.5 billion of which will come from medical tourism. The Health Tourism Strategic Council comprises representatives of health and foreign ministries, the Medical Council of Iran and Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization.

Medical Tourists

Iran's revenue from health tourism in the last fiscal year (ended March 20, 2017) is nearly double the $500 million commonly reported in the media.

Speaking to ISNA, Mohammad Ali Fayyazi, secretary of Health Tourism Strategic Council, said 150,000 medical tourists visited Iran last year.

"The figure only refers to tourists who traveled to Iran for medical purposes and applied for the relevant visa," he said.

However, he said there are plenty of people who travel to Iran for plastic surgery and other health services, but are not registered as medical tourists.

"They either don't apply for a health tourism visa or hospitals don't keep the patients' details, so their data never makes it to the Health Ministry," Fayyazi said.

"This is why [health tourism officials] estimate the country's actual revenue from the sector to be around $1 billion."

The last time Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization released official figures pertaining to health tourism was in 2013, when Iran reportedly earned $1.2 billion.

All figures reported since then were by officials, and not the organization itself, which explains the discrepancies. For instance, it was reported that 105,000 health tourists had traveled to Iran last year, not the 150,000 announced by Fayyazi. Most of the tourists came from Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Persian Gulf littoral countries, Financialtribune wrote.

Revenues Double

According to a report on January 2017, Iran’s revenues from medical tourism have more than doubled over the last 12 months, according to the vice president of the Association for Development of Medical Tourism Services.

Speaking to the travel news website Safar, Mohammad Panahi added that revenues from health tourism were “around $1.2 billion last year”, stressing that Iran is slowly realizing its potential as a medical tourism hub in the region.

However, Panahi noted that there were no precise data on the number of medical tourists who visited Iran in 2016, which brings into question the source of the reported figure.

Nevertheless, there is little reason to doubt that the country’s annual health tourism revenue is now well over the $400-500 million reported for several years.

By some accounts, the number of tourists traveling to Iran for advanced medical attention has grown by almost 40% in the past five years.

Tourism experts and economists agree that medical tourists spend up to three times more than the average leisure tourist, as healthcare costs more than leisure expenses.

Nonetheless, medical costs are considerably cheaper in Iran than in most other regional countries, which is key to attracting health tourists.

“The other factors are our quality services and state-of-the-art facilities,” Panahi said.

Neglected for years, health tourism was brought into the limelight following the election of President Hassan Rouhani in 2013. Two years later, a council was formed with representatives of the health and foreign ministries, the Medical Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization to organize the country’s health tourism sector.

About 98 hospitals and 14 travel companies have so far been issued health tourism permits across the country.

Furthermore, Iran’s Tourism Development Association has been formed by the council to help attract investment and garner the support of government entities.

Iran’s ultimate goal is to earn around $25 billion a year through tourism by 2025, around $2.5 billion of which will come from medical tourism.

According to a report in 2016 by Big Market Research, the global medical tourism market is expected to reach $143 billion by 2022. It was reported in May that the number of tourists traveling to Iran for advanced medical services has grown by 40% in the past five years.

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