by Nick Verrastro– Travel Market
The Philippines Department of Tourism (PDOT) said it is seeing positive results from a drive encouraging North American tour operators to sell medical packages to the Philippines. The tourism department has been working with the country’s health ministry and health industry to develop the Philippines as a major medical travel destination in Asia. To learn more about the country’s medical tourism objectives, and how travel agents can get involved, Travel Market Report spoke with Emma Ruth Yullo Kitiyakara, tourism attaché at the Philippines Tourism Center in New York. Earlier this year, the tourism department encouraged tour operators to put together medical travel packages. How is this working out? Yullo Kitiyakara: It has been very effective. In fact, some hospitals accredited for Medical Tourism by PDOT claimed that they have patients who availed of these medical packages. This initiative was complemented by familiarization tour programs in the past two years for tour operators and travel agents from North America who specialize in medical tourism packages. Tour operators and travel agents also were given opportunities to participate in medical summits organized by the PDOT and its partner hospitals in Manila. How is the Philippines leveraging its offer of a triad of health, wellness and retirement experiences, which the department of tourism has called a major competitive advantage? Yullo Kitiyakara: By developing medical care packages highlighting cost-effective medical treatments at accredited hospitals. The Philippines is offering competitive pricing on quality medical treatments. Patients can get the same safe, excellent healthcare at faster waiting times and at a cost that is 50% to 80% lower compared to the U.S. or Europe. As an added value, patients will experience the warmth and hospitality of the Filipino healthcare professionals. They will experience pampering and nurturing that combines a complete vacation with total health. What goals has the Philippines set for medical travel? Yullo Kitiyakara: The Philippine wellness industry may still be a sunrise industry, having started in the late 1990s. Yet the country is fast gearing up to become one of the most respected wellness destinations in Asia. The department of tourism has been working closely with key industry players, in the private sector and other government agencies, to come up with a synchronized strategy toward one common goal – positioning the Philippines as the “islands of wellness,” the next important health holiday destination in the Asia Pacific region. What are some advantages the Philippines has compared to other medical travel destinations worldwide and in Asia? Yullo Kitiyakara: The Philippines’ advantages include: competitive medical care costs; state of the art medical equipment; Filipino doctors trained in Western medicine; highly skilled medical professionals; the nurturing and caring attitude of Filipino medical practitioners; fluency in English; and short waiting times for doctors’ appointments. What worldwide markets are the Philippines targeting for medical travel? Yullo Kitiyakara: The PDOT is targeting overseas and former Filipinos living in North America and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Oman); corporate buyers in this region; and Pacific Island states, including Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Guam, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia. Secondary markets include Australia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Europe. How can travel agents play a role in medical travel to the Philippines? Yullo Kitiyakara: By creating medical tourism packages together with accredited hospitals and clinics and other wellness centers to promote and sell to international markets.