Medical Tourism pushed by Marcos Administration with strategic global partnership – DOT Chief

The Philippines is positioning the country as an emerging medical and wellness tourism destination in Asia with the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) recent partnership with a global leader in the medical and wellness industry.

The tourism chief made the announcement on Friday (May 5) as the DOT formally inked an agreement with Dubai-based Agora Group, the “pioneer and leader in providing business solutions and productivity in the health and wellness tourism”, to be a partner for the prestigious and high-level gathering of tourism stakeholders and medical professionals at the First International Health and Wellness Tourism Congress (IHWTC) 2023. The event is slated for June 8 to 9, 2023 in Dusseldorf, Germany.

The agreement was formalized by Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco and Agora Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Hadi Malaeb, at one of the country’s leading medical facilities, The Medical City in Pasig.

In her remarks, the tourism chief emphasized that the event is a manifestation of how the DOT, under the Marcos Administration, conveys its “seriousness” in prioritizing medical tourism as a marketable product around the world. In a bid to strengthen the Philippines’ position as a health and wellness tourism hub in Asia, as well as globally.

“We are giving the Philippines a fighting chance at becoming a tourism powerhouse in Asia. And we recognize that medical tourism and wellness tourism hold one of the keys to this endeavor, because we have the people, we have the facilities, and we are adjusting government policies to ensure that the climate for medical tourism to thrive will ensue,” she said.

Philippines, a viable global destination for medical and wellness tourism

The Philippines’ intent to sponsor the global congress is anchored on the current strategic position and potentials as a “serious regional contender.” This, as the DOT is currently operating under the 7-point agenda embodied in the National Tourism Development Plan for 2023-2028, particularly, the diversification of product portfolio through multidimensional tourism, thus, the aggressive push for the development of a highly competitive health and wellness tourism product.

In fact, the Philippines has 23 health facilities internationally accredited and recognized by the International Society for Quality in Health Care (ISQua). In terms of ease of access to care, there are 63 private hospitals in close proximity to four international airports with almost no waiting time for appointments and treatment. These, apart from the Philippines’ cost of treatments that are competitively lower compared to Western countries and other countries within Asia.

The Philippines is also one of the biggest English-speaking countries in the world where hospitals employ English-speaking healthcare workers and are mostly recognized by foreign insurance companies.

Secretary Frasco then emphasized that the partnership with Agora is a welcome development for the industry as it conveys great confidence in the potential of the Philippines as a next emerging medical health and wellness destination in Asia.

With the Philippines’ natural wonders that have been recognized numerous times not only in Asia but in the global arena, the Secretary also added that traveling visitors can “heal after their procedure” on the beach, in the mountains, and they can also enjoy delicious Filipino food and the distinct brand of Filipino hospitality. In the case of medical tourism, the Philippines is also offering the signature Filipino “hilot” at various tourism-accredited resorts and spas in the country.

“We are also looking at our islands, including Boracay, as a potential destination for Filipino wellness as well as CALABARZON that have a host of wonderful offerings in terms of wellness,” the tourism chief added.

She also puts emphasis on how special the Philippine medical healthcare workers are, primarily the Filipino diaspora.

“Everywhere that I’ve been in the world since becoming Secretary of Tourism and I say this all the time. I’ve always heard a positive story about a Filipino worker abroad and mostly it’s about doctors, nurses, and caregivers, stories from foreigners who have felt the compassion, the care, the commitment to duty, and the willingness to go the extra mile to help those in need. That diaspora is very well replicated in all our medical personnel here in the Philippines, wherever you may find yourself in our over 7,000 islands and that is why we are very confident in pitching for the Philippines as the next emerging medical tourism and wellness destination in Asia,” she said.

Further, she emphasized that under the Marcos Administration, the focus is to improve the essential pillars of tourism development such as the building of tourism infrastructure, enhancing connectivity, and digitalization of processes recognizing as well the need to further enhance the availability of medical tourism facilities across the country.

Apart from hard infrastructure, the DOT is also improving soft infrastructure by embarking on an ambitious goal to train 100,000 tourism frontliners this year under its Filipino Brand of Service Excellence (FBSE) program.

More opportunities for PH tourism workers

In a media interview, Secretary Frasco expounded that the partnership with Dubai-based Agora Group for the International Health and Wellness Tourism Congress would also open massive opportunities for the country’s health and wellness offerings and to market the Philippines, especially from the most coveted Middle East tourist market.

Asked specifically how the Philippines will attract more visitors for this aspect as it competes with other countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar with prime healthcare facilities, the tourism chief recognized that those countries already have the “wealth of medical facilities.” But she said what gives the Philippines an advantage is “the culture of care and compassion shown by Filipinos who are in these facilities give us the strategic advantage that people from the Middle East are already familiar with the level of care that Filipinos can give.”

Pursuing Medical Tourism

In 2004, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo through Executive Order No. 372 identified service industries which the Philippines has the potential to be globally competitive which included health and wellness, among others.

In pursuit of the objective of the DOT to diversify its portfolio, Secretary Frasco underscored the potential of medical tourism in ensuring the growth of the Philippine tourism industry.

“When I first came into the fold of the department, one of the things that we discussed was how we can engage with our partners in the medical tourism and wellness sector. The work towards that has been through collaboration with our medical tourism partners, our wellness providers, as well as our government agencies involved in ensuring that the policies that are in place to fashion this as a marketable product around the world are in such a manner that it would ensure the growth of this industry,” she added.

In its initial presentation to the DOT, Agora Group Dubai estimated the global health and wellness tourism to be worth $45.5 to $72 billion, with 14 to 16 million cross border patients and an average spend of $3,800 to $6,000 per visit.

International Health and Wellness Tourism Congress (IHWTC) 2023

The two-day IHWTC 2023 stands to be an important platform for promoting the health and wellness tourism offerings of the Philippines which is also a high-level closed-door gathering of tourism stakeholders mostly from the medical and wellness industry who will come only by invitation, and with an expectant 100 corporate buyers with a combined budget of $2 billion.

“The signing of this partnership with Agora is one that we welcome with great hope and optimism knowing that it’s been in the pipeline for 20 years,” she said, adding that this would also open up massive opportunities for the country’s health and wellness offerings and to market the Philippines especially from the most coveted Middle East tourist market.

For his part, Malaeb expressed his gratitude to the DOT for sponsoring the global event, citing that he himself has expressed the world-renowned Filipino brand of hospitality.

“Thank you all for the effort and the welcoming of hospitality that I have witnessed since I arrived here. Huge thank you to the Department of Tourism for being the title sponsor of the event,” Malaeb said.

“I am very proud to be a partner of the Department of Tourism of the Philippines in order to promote the destination as a medical and wellness destination to some of the best and largest buyers of that product and service in the world,” he added.

The Medical City President and CEO Dr. Eugenio Jose Ramos also thanked both parties for choosing the hospital as the venue for such momentous event.

“It a pleasure and honor that you have chosen The Medical City as the institution that would sponsor this Memorandum of Agreement signing between the Philippines, through the Secretary and Mr. Hadi,” he said.

The event was also witnessed by DOT OIC-Undersecretary for Tourism Development Verna Buensuceso, Office of Product and Market Development (OPMD) Director Paulo Benito Tugbang, and Agora Group Philippine Representative Angel Bognot.

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