Romania works on a new strategy to develop medical tourism that already brings hundreds of millions to the country, officials in Bucharest say.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest
Romania needs to improve its infrastructure and invest in promotion of its health and wellness services to attract tourists and bring significant funds to the state budget, experts said.
Tens of thousands of tourists flock to Romania every year to receive high quality medical service for prices much less than in Western Europe and the United States. More than 2 million Romanians living abroad also seek the advantage of lower prices regularly travelling back home for medical treatment.
"I treat all my major health problems, especially dental ones, in Romania and so do all the other countrymen I have met in Britain," Vasile Stuparu, a 38-year-old Romanian, who lives in London, told SETimes. "First of all, prices are incomparably lower and then you have this feeling you are a little wheel in your own country's economic gearing."
According to the study by Insight Market Solutions, Romania's medical tourism market is assessed at about $250 million [189 million euros], dominated by the spa and wellness services. Experts believe that effective strategy could easily double this number for the next year by bringing 500,000 tourists to the country.
"We have on the one hand the medical aspect, extraordinary dentists, renowned ophthalmologists, surgeons and estheticians, but also need the tourism dimensions, namely the three magic words – safety, infrastructure and services – and this is where we lag behind," Razvan Nacea, managing director of Seytour, a medical tourism specialised agency, told SETimes.
Romania's government hopes to set up a quality management system to gain the trust among foreigners who seek medical treatment in the country.
"We have resources, we are motivated and we want to develop this activity for the benefit of patients in Romania, Europe and elsewhere in the world," said Vasile Cepoi, advisor to Prime Minister Victor Ponta, at the opening of the International Tourism Conferences in Bucharest in July.
With an undeveloped tourism sector that makes up about 1.5 percent of the country's GDP, the challenges may be bigger than officials in Bucharest admit. Out of the country's 40 national interest spa resorts, only five are certified, with another 10 undergoing the process. A first step, officials said, is to revitalise the spa tourism, a communist era flourishing field.
"We need to work on improving our image abroad by attending international fairs, by an excellent presentation of our tourism bureaus abroad and by finding those 'ambassadors' who know how to explain that we still have that 'authentic, unique' for which foreigners do not pay much," Nacea said.
Romania's government has already created an inter-ministerial commission to identify the main issues preventing the development of medical tourism, to propose legislative changes if needed and choose the best way of its promotion abroad.