by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- Türkiye's medical tourism is growing fast, as the shrinking Turkish lira has brought down the cost of treatments while cosmetic surgeries are giving the sector a competitive niche in the ever-evolving global market, professionals have said.
Alper Capanoglu runs two clinics in Istanbul, Türkiye's largest city and commercial hub, and in the northwestern city of Bursa, serving some 3,000 patients annually, mostly foreigners from European, the Middle Eastern region, and Northern Africa countries.
"The decline of the lira made our services more affordable, and Türkiye has a very good medical infrastructure with skilled doctors," Capanoglu told Xinhua.
Türkiye is seeking to boost revenues from tourism to help finance a current account deficit that has widened alarmingly this year due to interest rate cuts and a surge in imports. The rate cuts made despite inflation have also pressured the lira to lose much of its value since 2021.
According to official figures, the first quarter of this year has seen some 285,000 medical tourists arriving in Türkiye. It is estimated that by the end of this year, income from the branch will top 3 billion U.S. dollars.
Among cosmetic surgeries, hair implantation brought in some 550,000 foreign customers in the first half of 2022, compared to 750,000 in the entire of 2019, leading the sector to post-pandemic recovery, said Servet Terziler, head of the Turkish Health Tourism Association.
In Türkiye, hair loss treatments cost between 3,000 and 7,000 euros, whereas "in Europe, doctors do it for about 8,000 to 10,000 euros," Terziler added.
About a decade ago, Ankara recognized the importance of medical tourism and encouraged the establishment of private clinics and hospitals as well as private treatment wings in state-owned hospitals.
These facilities thus receive tax breaks and certain exemptions from customs duties. Some of them also operate as travel agencies that offer streamlined medical tourism packages including flights, local transport, and top-notch accommodations, even a holiday in Türkiye's many resorts.
In 2002, the share of tourists' health expenditures in national tourism revenues was only 1 percent. In 2020, it's 4.5 percent.
But medical procedures don't consist merely of facelifts and hair makeovers, people are also coming to have life-saving surgical interventions, according to business owners.
"The cost of treatments in serious cases, such as cancer, organ transplant and other life-threatening illnesses here is only a fraction of the price in some European countries," said Aziz Ciga, chairman of a long-standing health service firm in Istanbul.
"Medical tourism, including wellness, thermal therapies and geriatric care, amounts to an annual spending of 1.2 trillion dollars globally, according to surveys," he said. "Our country has easily the potential of cashing on 10 percent of this global pie."
Türkiye could get a much larger share of the global healthcare pie, given its infrastructure and geographical position, meanwhile, it needs to adopt more modern regulations and standards with stronger insurance clauses for patients, Ciga explained.
Following the end of COVID-19 restrictions, the local health tourism industry now puts a total of 60 countries on its radar as potential target markets.
Turkish Trade Minister Mehmet Mus said in July that with the government's support, revenues from health tourism may increase to 5 billion dollars in the short term and rise further to 10 billion dollars in the medium term.