Health tourism in Turkey: How incentives make it more popular

Boasting a robust tourism sector with its climate, sea and beaches, Turkey is also highly popular in terms of health tourism. With its university, training and research hospitals and private health institutions, the country offers comprehensive health facilities in terms of medical health tourism. Among the various branches, Turkey particularly enjoys demand from people seeking treatment for internal diseases, orthopedics, gynecology and obstetrics. Eye surgery is also another popular service provided in the country’s health centers. From its geographical location to its experienced health care workers, there are many reasons for the high interest in Turkey, but government incentives play a key role in the country’s success in health tourism.

An increasing trend has been observed in the number of health tourists coming to Turkey in both the public and private sectors. The reasons for people seeking medical treatment outside of their own countries are diverse, though the desire to be treated by qualified personnel is considered the leading driver. One of the most important reasons for the flow of patients toward Turkey is that they are seeking high-quality services at more affordable prices. The number of people coming to Turkey for treatment from European Union countries such as Germany, France and the Netherlands as well as the United States is increasing. This is because health services are much more expensive in these countries than in Turkey. This situation provides a great advantage for the country to further develop its health tourism.

What is health tourism?

Health tourism, in other words, medical tourism, is the concept of foreigners opting to travel to other countries in order to receive preventive, curative, rehabilitative and health-promoting services. According to the generally accepted classification in the literature, there are three subcomponents of health tourism, namely thermal tourism, medical tourism and care, and rehabilitation services for the elderly.

In recent years, the aging of the world population, especially in developed countries, coupled with the increase in chronic diseases and rise in treatment expenditures, caused people to go to countries with lower costs for treatment. In addition to the costs, the long waiting times to receive services in their own countries lead people to seek services abroad. Therefore, this situation causes medical tourism to gain increasing importance. Due to the increase in transportation opportunities between countries and the rapid development of communication technologies, it is easier for people to get information about hospitals abroad, making it easier for people to undergo treatment elsewhere.

Incentive Opportunities

The significant incentives provided by the Ministry of Trade are another one of Turkey’s strengths in developing health tourism. These incentives are explained in Communique No. 2015/8 on “Supporting the Trade in Foreign Exchange Earning Services.” The communique determines the procedures and principles regarding meeting certain expenses related to activities carried out by those who will benefit from the communique in order to increase the foreign exchange earning service revenues and to improve the international competitiveness of the service sectors in Turkey. In this communique, besides the health sector, there are incentives for the informatics, film and education sectors.

However, in order to benefit from health tourism incentives, it is necessary to obtain a health tourism authorization certificate first. The incentives have been gathered under eight main headings.

To give a concrete example, assuming that all the conditions are fulfilled, a preliminary diagnosis center is established abroad and 60% of the rent of this facility is covered by the ministry for four years and support is provided for up to 10 units. Afterward, once the center is open and advertising activities have commenced, another 60% nonrefundable grant is provided for four years.

When you want to obtain documentation related to your company, you are eligible for a nonrefundable grant for 50% of the expenditures. When you register to protect your brand, you can also receive a 50% nonrefundable grant in support. If you require the help of an interpreter in the country, the salaries of the two personnel are supported by 50% for four years, up to a maximum of $25,000 (TL 395,960) per employee per year. When it comes to bringing in patients from abroad, support is provided at a rate of 50% per patient, up to a maximum of $1,000.

If you want to attend a conference or fair, you can receive a 50% nonrefundable grant for “fair participation” expenses and the transportation costs of a maximum of two representatives. When it comes to commission payments made to agencies bringing international patients to Turkey, 50% support is allocated for four years.

In addition, nonrefundable grants can be obtained for 60% of the payments for reports needed to enter any foreign market, including financial and legal reports, as well as 60% of the expenses related to consultancy services for foreign company acquisitions.

Finally, a nonrefundable grant of up to 50% can be claimed for expenses related to consultancy services from companies, organizations and experts on subjects determined by the Trade Ministry in order to increase the competitive advantage in international markets. The incentives supported by the Trade Ministry in this context are very attractive. If utilized correctly, health tourism will increase significantly every year.

As a result, if we look at the point reached, Turkey’s potential in health tourism shows that the numbers will not be limited to this. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, which is rapidly declining across Turkey, there is a swift increase in service exports following the automotive, food and textile sectors, which have the largest share in its exports. The target is to treat 2 million international patients in Turkey by 2023. For this reason, I think that work will continue in both the tourism and health sectors.

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