The Colombian government is promoting the South American country as a medical tourism destination, where visitors can receive high quality-low cost treatments such as cosmetic surgery and dentistry.
Tourism minister Luis Guillermo Plata says that the government expects to see a rise in medical tourism visitors because the quality of Colombian medicine is high but far cheaper than treatments in Europe and the U.S.The government estimates that twenty foreigners travel to Colombia every month for cosmetic surgery procedures such as liposuction, rhinoplasty and breast augmentation. The majority of patients come from the USA, Spain, Panama and Mexico, according to the government. Approximately 2.2 per cent of visitors to Colombia in 2008 came to receive medical treatment, around 27000 people. The government estimates that the majority of these patients were Colombians residing in other countries.
One problem for Colombia is that several hospitals are still only in the middle of their international accreditation process. Colombia is projecting itself as one of Latin America’s main destinations in terms of health tourism. Expectations concerning the increase in the number of health tourists in the coming years are high due to the excellent quality of medical care and the high cost of treatment in the United States and Europe, where the ratio to Colombia is seven to one.
In view of the increasing strength of the sector and in the process of waiting for health organizations to obtain their certification, the government is planning alliances between the health and tourism sectors to create packages that will include medical treatment, lodging, food, transfers, and tours according to the complexity of treatment.
Colombia has expectations for health and wellness tourism with spas and spa-hotels planning to offer services on a par with five-star hotels. Cosmetic and weight-loss surgery both offer potential. Former Argentinean soccer star Diego Armando Maradona, recently had weight-loss and cosmetic surgery in the country.
The development of health and medical tourism in Colombia depends on getting referrals, international accreditation hospitals, alliances with international clinics and hospitals, as well as the implementation of an infrastructure for bringing together the health and tourism sectors.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Tourism sees health services as one of the categories for providing increasing income for the country, and is helping investments in the construction and outfitting of spas and clinics. The main locations will be the cities of Bogota, Cali, and Medellin.
While only 541,000 foreigners went to Colombia in 2002, 1.22 million tourists chose this country as a travel destination in 2008. Bogota is the most visited city. Second place is Cartagena, followed by Medellin, Cali and Barranquilla.
As yet it is slow progress, with a lot of work to do to get facilities up to the standard that international health and medical tourists now expect. Only when that is achieved, can the country begin to market itself as a serious destination.