Medical tourism has grown to be a global phenomenon. As the growth of general tourism rises, Wang (2012) expects the number of people seeking medical services, globally, to reach 2,000,000 in 2012. Indeed, the number of medical tourists today surpasses previously noted numbers of medical tourists. Hall, (2011) says there is the very high mobility of people who can travel around the world to gain access to low-cost healthcare services. Consequently, the medical tourism industry has become a global multibillion-dollar industry, where patients not only travel around the world to gain access to discounted cosmetic procedures, but also to gain access to quality and discounted hip replacements, dental services, cosmetic procedures, and infertility treatments (among other health services). Countries that have positioned themselves as crucial medical tourism destinations not only market themselves as health care service destinations but also tourism destinations (Enderwick 2011).
Due to the rising volume of medical tourists, medical tourism has become a major service export product for most countries. India and Thailand have taken a major share of the global medical tourism market. While health-related mobility is an old phenomenon, today’s market for medical tourism poses several advantages to different societies (such as, increases foreign exchange revenues and the cap on medical costs, especially in developed nations) (Wang 2012). However, critics of medical tourism oppose the growth of this sector because they claim it creates a two-tier system that ignores local patients for foreign ones. From this criticism, pundits say the state-of-the-art health facilities that medical tourists visit to act as enclaves for satisfying foreign patients only.
This paper compares Indian and Hungarian medical tourism sectors by evaluating cosmetic surgery as a common medical tourism product offered in both destinations. To do so, a comparative evaluation of both destinations occurs through the analysis of demand trends, market potential, the social impact of both markets, and the future projections for both destinations.
With an annual growth rate of about 30% of tourists in a year, India is among the largest medical tourism destinations. Experts say the destination may be a 2 billion dollar industry in the next few years (Mainil 2011). In addition, the volume of medical tourists expected to come to India in the future is expected to grow by about 19%, to reach about 1.5 million medical tourists in 2015 (Mainil 2011). Even though cost is a major driver in the Indian medical tourism market, the specialized skills of Indian doctors are also widely appreciated by medical tourists globally because most of these doctors have studied and worked abroad. Moreover, the National Accreditation Board accredits most Indian hospitals as safe institutions for medical practice. Therefore, most of these hospitals meet international health standards as stipulated by the Joint Commission International and other bodies (Mainil 2011).
A notable issue about Medical tourism in India is the strong government support that the sector enjoys. Government support greatly complements the activities of the industry because medical tourists have found it increasingly easy to gain access to medical services in the country (Wang 2012).
Within Eastern Europe, Hungary is a critical medical tourism destination. Medical tourism is however not a new phenomenon in Hungary because medical tourists around Europe (such as, Austrians and Germans) have been crossing over into Hungary to get medical treatment since the 1950s (Pangaea Medicine 2007, p. 1). According to Health Abroad (2012), more than half of Austrians seek dental services in Hungary. Hungary has quickly cut a niche above its rivals in medical tourism by being both a medical service destination and a tourist destination as well. The Hungarian tourist office recently reported that more than 40 million tourists visit Hungary every year (Dávid 2011). Broadly, many people view Hungary as the gateway to Western Europe, especially because it offers most luxuries found in Western Europe (cheaply). Hungary’s ability to provide quality medical services at an affordable cost drives the growth of the medical tourism industry. In fact, Intuition Communication (2012) says some patients may only pay half the health care costs they would have otherwise paid in Western Europe or America. The state-of-the-art technology characterizing Hungary’s healthcare sector also attracts many health tourists around the world.
Evaluation of the Comparative Technique
This paper uses the cross-national comparative research as the main tool for analyzing Hungary and Indian medical tourism markets. This comparison tool seeks to provide an interpretive and culture-bound understanding of both tourism markets (Hantrais 1995, p. 1).
Advantages of the Technique
Recent work investigating the use of the cross-national comparative technique shows that this technique effectively encompasses the need to incorporate the social understanding of health care services and the significance of understanding health diversities across time and place (Foster 2011). Therefore, this technique provides an opportunity for understanding the wider socio-political context surrounding the health care outcomes for Hungary and India’s medical tourism sectors. Furthermore, this technique provides a workable platform for eliminating routine approaches for evaluating the health outcomes for both industries by providing the opportunity for critically analyzing current policies and practices. Through such an analysis, it is easier to understand the competing priorities that characterize each healthcare sector and the underlying assumptions (or ideologies) informing the dynamics of each industry (Foster 2011).
Disadvantages of the Technique
A few limitations also characterize the use of the cross-national comparative technique. One such limitation is the difference in historical contexts and policy frameworks surrounding each industry studied (Livingstone 2003). The difference in routine data collection may also hamper the application of this technique because different data provide unequal or incomparable results. The purpose for taking national health research also varies in every country.
Justification of Comparison
Albeit the cross-national comparative technique may have significant challenges, the use of this technique in this study is justified because this paper focuses on the health industries of two countries. Therefore, the fact that this paper focuses on the Hungarian and Indian medical industries shows that a cross-national comparison is inevitable. In addition, because the cross-national comparative technique encompasses the social and political contexts of a specific phenomenon, its use in analyzing the medical tourism industry is justifiable because this industry is characterized by political and social dynamics. For example, this study will show that political support partly complements the growth of the Indian medical tourism sector. Comprehensively, even though the cross-national comparative technique poses significant limitations in its application, it is the best technique to use in this study.
Chosen Tourism Product
This paper focuses on cosmetic surgery as the main tourism product offered in Hungary and India. Both destinations offer this product at affordable rates because medical tourists stream into both countries in their hundreds (Lunt 2011). In Hungary, the bestselling medical product is dental health, but cosmetic surgery has also been widely embraced as a mainstream medical health service. India has also successfully marketed its cosmetic surgery product as a mainstream health service for medical tourists. Now, both destinations offer cheap face-lifts, breast implants, and other similar cosmetic surgery services.
Evaluation of Tourism Product
Demand trends and characteristics of supply, including policies and strategies
People know Hungary for its high quality and cheap cosmetic surgeries (compared to other medical tourism destinations across Europe). In fact, Intuition Communication (2011) says a normal facelift would cost about 5,000 Euros in the U.K, but Hungary would only charge about 2,000 Euros for the same service. Most cosmetic health services in Hungary occurred in Budapest (the country’s capital). Most of the hospitals where these surgeries occur are modern and operated in a professional manner (by professional doctors who speak English).
Since Hungary is a member of the European Union, it has become increasingly easy for the country to attract medical tourists from the wider European Union. Indeed, the demand for cosmetic surgery in Hungary is high. This high demand mainly comes from European medical tourists. The zoning of the European Union has helped sustain this demand. Mainly, medical tourists from Germany and Austria seek Hungary’s cosmetic health services. Other medical tourists also come from Russia and other European countries. In the past, medical tourists from the U.K shunned Hungary because it was far. However, with the introduction of low-cost airline tickets, medical tourists from far-flung areas, such as the U.K can seek cosmetic surgery in Hungary for as little as 45 Euros, including a return air ticket (Intuition Communication 2011).
Some policy provisions that have made Hungary a favorite cosmetic surgery destination are the high accreditation standards required of cosmetic surgeons. For doctors to practice in Hungary they must obtain a government certificate and have their names written on their office doors. Therefore, there is a high standard of professionalism required from the doctors. Additionally, as Hungary promotes Budapest as a popular cosmetic surgery destination, the country has made tremendous effort to market the country’s tourist attraction sites as a bonus package to medical tourists (Intuition Communication 2011). Therefore, some of the medical facilities in Budapest are closely located in serene environments where patients can recuperate as they enjoy the country’s natural scenery. This strategy has made many medical tourists who frequent Hungary not only expect treatment services, but also visit the country’s tourist sites.
India’s demand for cosmetic surgery is greater than Hungary’s. This is because the volumes of medical tourists visiting India for cosmetic surgery procedures come from all over the world (Ghaswalla 2011). Hungary’s demand for the same product mainly comes from Europe. Some structural factors are responsible for the huge demand for cosmetic surgery procedures in India. One such factor is the relatively lower cost of living in India, which makes it cheaper for medical tourists around the world to seek medical services in India. Hungary’s cost of living is relatively higher. The number of medical tourists visiting India for cosmetic surgery is unclear but experts agree that the Indian cosmetic surgery market is growing relatively faster than most western markets (Ghaswalla 2011). In fact, Ghaswalla (2011) says India is among the top four global destinations for medical tourism. The following graph shows India’s position among the world’s top medical tourism destinations.
Cosmetic surgery procedures in India rank among the top drivers for this position. Since the Indian medical tourism market largely remains unregulated, the sector has continued to post tremendous growth that overshadows most of their European rivals, such as, Hungary. Moreover, major European medical destinations are suffering from increased taxes (Seyoum 2007). The Indian medical tourism sector has consequently grown from this trend.
Potential for Market Success
Even though Hungary has successfully marketed itself as a medical tourist destination, the country’s capability of increasing the demand for its cosmetic surgery product remains largely unexploited. For example, the country has mainly concentrated on the European market to sustain its demand. Hungary needs to look beyond its traditional markets and seek medical tourists in other destinations around the world to boost its demand.
The potential for market success in India’s cosmetic surgery market greatly outweighs Hungary’s potential for the same. The main driver for India’s market potential is the growing middle class and the increased demand for cosmetic surgery procedures by “Bollywood” clients (Medical Tourism Corporation 2012). Therefore, besides the global demand for India’s cosmetic surgery procedures, there is a bulging domestic demand for the same. India’s large population of about 1.22 billion people may also increase the demand for cosmetic surgery procedures in the future (Perianayagam 2012). Hungary does not enjoy a huge domestic population demand for cosmetic surgery as India. In fact, the entire Hungarian population is about 10,000,000 people only (Westover 2010). Therefore, from the above statistics, India’s cosmetic surgery market potential greatly outweighs Hungary’s potential of the same.
Likely Social Impact
Growing demand for cosmetic surgery in Hungary bears positive social and economic ramifications for the local community. Directly, the success of this initiative increases the demand for medical services. This means the market may recruit more doctors and nurses to cater to the rising demand for health services in the country. Furthermore, since most medical tourists who visit Hungary for cosmetic surgery come from abroad, there is a huge potential for the growth of the country’s tourism and hospitality industries to grow. Indeed, most medical tourists visit tourist sites and seek accommodation in Hungary during their stay in the country. Therefore, there is a positive ripple effect for the local population if Hungary markets its cosmetic surgery services properly (Medical Tourism Corporation 2012).
The likely social impact of India’s growing cosmetic surgery market does not differ from the social impact of Hungary’s growing cosmetic surgery market. Besides the growing tourism sector and the creation of employment opportunities for Indian doctors and nurses, there is likely to be significant growth of medical infrastructure in India. New hospitals are under construction and new medical centers are sprouting throughout the country (because of the boom in medical tourism). Therefore, unlike Hungary’s stagnant medical infrastructure, the growing cosmetic surgery market is likely to improve India’s medical infrastructure (Al-Amin 2011). This trend uplifts India’s medical standards.
Future View projections
The future of medical tourism in Hungary is prone to external forces brought by competition and the emergence of other medical tourism destinations in Eastern Europe (such as, Bulgaria and Lithuania) (Fontanari 2003). The worsening global economic environment in some parts of Europe also threatens the future sustainability of this industry because it reduces patients’ purchasing power. There is therefore likely to be a reduced demand for Hungary’s cosmetic surgery procedures in the future.
The future of India’s cosmetic surgery market is brighter than Hungary’s. Unlike Europe’s aging economy, India’s economy continues to grow. The bulging middle-class population in India is one such product of the country’s growing economy. This bulging population is likely to increase the demand for Indian cosmetic surgery products and other medical tourism products in general. The development of India’s cosmetic surgery market is, therefore, more sustainable than Hungary’s.
India and Hungary’s cosmetic surgery markets do not differ much regarding their quality of services and the availability of this medical product. In both destinations, the doctors are well trained, well educated, and use the same medical procedures for cosmetic surgery as practiced in other western countries, such as, America and the U.K. However, there are significant differences in the demand and characteristics of the volume of medical tourists visiting both destinations. India has a greater demand for cosmetic surgery procedures because it has a very diverse customer pool (from all over the world). Hungary’s demand is however mainly European. India also offers the same product at relatively cheaper costs than Hungary. The potential for India’s cosmetic surgery market to grow is also relatively higher than Hungary’s because India has a greater domestic population that seeks this product. Furthermore, India’s medical tourism market is highly unregulated. Europe however suffers from increased taxation, which affects the growth of Hungary’s medical tourism market. Nonetheless, Hungary has a better tourism sector than India and therefore, it is better off marketing its general tourist products alongside its medical tourism products to increase its demand for medical tourists. Comprehensively, both destinations have a positive outlook for their medical tourism industries, but India’s future view projection is brighter.
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