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HEALTH TOURISM Turkish and Global Perspective

Turkey has great potential for health tourism but it has been unable to effectively market its assets and brand due to the lack of an integrated approach, a recent report has said.

“Our country is an important center of attraction for health tourism with healthcare facilities, trained human resources, technological infrastructure and accumulation of experience,” said the report, titled “Turkish and Global Perspective: Heath Tourism 2010” and published by the Health Foundation of Turkey. The country, however, could explore its real potential through stronger coordination between the government, civil society and the private sector as well as through more powerful international promotion and marketing strategies, the report added.

Turkey ranks among the top 10 countries in terms of tourism income. The country has great potential for health tourism, taking into consideration its geographical location, natural and historical wonders, climate and current healthcare infrastructure, the report said.

Citing expert views, the report said the nation-brand had an important effect on health tourism and urged the country to develop a nation-brand strategy that could be clearly expressed and promoted.

According to Yılmaz Argüden, an academic who teaches strategy at Boğaziçi and Koç universities, the brand needs to be perceived not just as an instrument of promotion but as part of a strategy.

“We need to build the brand of Turkey on values that really exist. Turkey is a multidimensional country and it is not possible to promote all aspects of it. We need to select some of these dimensions and really focus on them,” he said.

Argüden said the selected aspects should be distinctive for Turkey.

Advantages, disadvantages

Assistant Professor İpek Altınbaşak of Bahçesehir Üniversity’s Faculty of Business Administration said Turkey should rid itself of the “cheap country” label and highlight its diversity and lifestyle to draw more tourists.

Turkey’s promising health tourism facilities are also reflected in the statistics, as the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey, or DEİK’s, 2009 comparative prices analysis revealed Turkey as the most attractive country for major medical operations compared to other tourism destinations, including the United States.

The average price for a heart valve replacement in Turkey, for instance, is $16,950 while it costs $58,250 in the U.S., $25,000 in England and $47,794 in Switzerland, according to the report.

According to data provided by the Turkish Statistics Institute and the Central Bank, 103,400 foreign patients came to Turkey for treatment in 2003, spending $91 million, while the figure was 162,480 at $282 million in 2008 and 132,680 at $225 million in 2009.

The report cites the high-quality infrastructure of hospitals, comparative price advantages, geographical location, suitable climactic conditions and tourism facilities at high standards in addition to well-trained staff with a command of foreign languages as advantages for health tourism in Turkey.

The lack of cooperation between the state, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector, the lack of a sufficient number of experts including doctors and nurses trained in the area of health tourism and a lack of legislation are mentioned as the basic disadvantages of Turkey in terms of health tourism in the report.

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