Dr Jagyasi said that medical tourism is not something new, pointing to the Ancient Greeks and Romans who were known to travel for treatments. Dr Jagyasi said that medical tourism is not something new, pointing to the Ancient Greeks and Romans who were known to travel for treatments.

The Middle East's inbound travel market has a golden opportunity in attracting more medical tourists, claimed Dr Prem Jagyasi, managing director and chief executive officer of ExHealth, and chief strategy officer of the Medical Tourism Association USA.

He cited over-scribed and pressurised healthcare systems in Europe and North America as key factors in leading to an increase in demand for patients seeking medical treatments abroad.

Speaking at last week’s Middle East Tourism Marketing Summit (METMS) in Dubai, Jagyasi said: “Demand is increasing day by day and cost is not the only factor — patients are looking for immediate care.”

Despite the higher cost of treatment in a medical hub such as Dubai, compared to established medical tourism markets in Singapore, Thailand and India, those seeking medical procedures were looking for immediate treatments, which are readily available in many Middle Eastern destinations, Jagyasi argued.

He added that the global medical tourism industry was currently worth US $60 billion, with the Middle East industry already having raked in US $2 billion with the potential to take a bigger portion of the medical pie.

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The major problem, according to Jagyasi, was that the “Middle East is not promoting medical tourism yet” and there is a high degree of  complexity between a highly-regulated industry and a non-regulated industry.

“In the Middle East we need government bodies to come onboard to help solve this,” he said.

“Dubai is very keen to promote medical tourism and the government is looking at developing the required services, but there is a lack of trust in medical services here and this is something we need to overcome.”

In order to encourage more travelling medical customers, Jagyasi asserted that public-private partnerships needed to be further developed.

With more than 60 countries participating at last month’s World Medical Tourism and Global Health Congress in Los Angeles, more and more countries are paying attention to this burgeoning segment of the travel industry.

“Medical tourism brings in more tourism in general,” claimed Jagyasi.

“Agents are looking for value tourism and such activities falls under this umbrella."