Medical tourism is a form of international travel where patients travel to seek medical procedures or surgeries that are often unaffordable or not readily available in their primary country of residence. Some of the most frequently performed procedures for medical tourists include dental treatment (such as implants, veneers and crowns), cardiovascular treatment (such as heart valve transplants and coronary artery bypass graft), orthopaedic treatment (such as hip and knee reconstruction and spinal surgery), and cosmetic treatment (such as facelifts and breast implants), among others.
GlobalData estimates that there were over 14 million inbound visits by medical tourists globally in 2019 and forecasts this number to continue to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 4.5% until 2024. Some of the fastest-growing markets are forecast to increase at CAGRs as high as 15% over the next few years. Several compounding factors contribute to the rapidly growing medical tourism industry. These include, but are not limited to, rising healthcare costs among developed nations, technological and infrastructure advancements in the destination countries and the rise of international accreditation agencies.
The Covid-19 pandemic significantly impacted the medical tourism industry, particularly in H1 2020. The main causes of this decline were the implementation of travel restrictions and the global postponement of the majority of elective procedures in an effort to minimise the spread of the disease. During summer 2020, global active Covid-19 caseloads temporarily declined, thus permitting the resumption of elective procedures. As international travel has slowly resumed, so has the demand for medical tourism. GlobalData estimates this market to fully rebound to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022, after which it will experience pre-pandemic growth rates.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also introduced a new branch of medical tourism, known as vaccine tourism. This involves tourists who choose to pay a significant sum to travel to a destination that has an abundance of Covid-19 vaccines so they can combine vaccination and tourism as their purposes of travel. Some travel packages even include vaccination as a key component of the travel experience. At first, this was most apparent among Canadian medical tourists in late 2020 and early 2021, when many chose to travel to the Southern US because Covid-19 vaccines were substantially more available in the US than in Canada. So far in H2 2021, countries like Canada and other developed nations have caught up or even exceeded the vaccination rates of the US, but the global distribution of vaccines remains a critical issue. A minority of wealthy individuals in many of the developing nations have thus also considered vaccine tourism.