Trinidad positioning itself as cutting-edge destination for medical tourism
Spiraling healthcare costs and an increasing number of uninsured and underinsured Americans is driving millions of U.S. residents across international borders in search of higher-value medical care.
In 2012, an estimated 1.6 million U.S. residents traveled abroad for medical care, according to Deloitte. A 2009 Grail Research LLC report says that Americans spent an estimated $35 billion on procedures abroad in 2008, a majority in Asia and Latin America. The most popular destinations are Mexico, Thailand, Brazil and Costa Rica, as well as India, Turkey and South Korea.
In many of these countries, medical tourism is often promoted as an inexpensive and even enjoyable way to see the world while getting high-quality surgeries and procedures. Medical tourism is considered good for the local economy because visitors spend money not just on treatments, but on hotels, food and entertainment as well. This is good news for popular tourism destinations in the Caribbean.
Trinidad and Tobago has identified the health tourism sector as a niche for potential growth and is implementing strategies for promoting and developing products and services.
Given its close proximity to the U.S., the potential for ROI in a health tourism industry in Trinidad is certain, with an estimated 40 million U.S. residents lacking medical insurance.
To capitalise on this market, Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), the most industrialised Caribbean country, is developing a plan to expand its existing market and promote medical tourism in the twin islands (Download Draft Strategy below).
Currently, T&T only attracts patients and visitors from neighbouring Caribbean territories. But foreign investors should remember it’s a three-hour flight from Miami and a 4-1/2 hour flight from New York. Government’s plan is to make the country a prime destination for U.S. medical tourists and investors.
Under the project “Strengthening the Competitiveness of Services in Trinidad & Tobago,” CTA Economic & Export Analysts Ltd has prepared a Draft Strategy for Medical Tourism. The strategy is being undertaken through funding by the Commonwealth Secretariat on behalf of the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI).
According to the draft strategy, there are numerous opportunities for growing this unique segment of the services sector. There is excess capacity in T&T’s health system. The country’s 10 private hospitals have 39,000 beds, with 31,000 being used per year. The overall objective of the strategy is to increase the number of foreign patients visiting T&T by 6,500, which would contribute an additional US$37 million to services exports and the economy as a whole after three years and then grow at a rate of 20 percent per year thereafter.
T&T is known as the commercial center of the Caribbean and has earned a reputation as an excellent investment site for international businesses. The country has a stable economy and boasts modern infrastructure and qualified people.
To build momentum for foreign direct investment in health care in Trinidad, several new developments and facilities upgrades are under way. Investors are now being sought for leisure attractions on Trinidad’s northwest coast with the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) working to turn more than 14,000 acres into one of the most inviting tourist destinations in the region. The CDA is inviting investors to design, build, finance and operate these recreational facilities.
T&T is also building a new, state-of-the-art National Oncology Centre, which will be a model for health tourism in the Caribbean and serve as the main treatment center for cancer in the country. The new oncology center, which will open in November 2014, will offer world-class cancer treatment and diagnostic technologies such as the CyberKnife, PET/CT and nuclear imaging, as well as a full pharmacy service and a state laboratory.
The Ministry of Health is also in the process of developing a subspecialty cadre of doctors to offer specialized services. Additional projects include development of a new National Centre for Non-Communicable Diseases, a construction upgrade at the Mt. Hope Women’s Hospital to house outpatient clinics and refurbished operating theaters, and improvements to Port-of-Spain General Hospital and Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex at Mt. Hope.
At the third annual Health and Wellness Expo in May this year in Port-of-Spain, then T&T Tourism Minister Stephen Cadiz affirmed that T&T will become a center of medical tourism over the next few years. Cadiz reported that both he and T&T Health Minister Dr. Fuad Khan want to promote medical tourism not only for elective surgeries but also in the area of wellness. “I think we are well-placed and suited for that,” Cadiz said.
Click here for a copy of the 'Draft National Strategy for Medical Tourism'.