The broad definition of health tourism refers to people seeking medical attention, as well as health care services, in a country other than their place of residence. Health tourism was defined by the International Union of Tourist Organizations (IUTO), the forerunner to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, as ‘‘the provision of health facilities utilizing the natural resources of the country, in particular mineral water and climate’’. Goeldner in a review of the health tourism literature, defined health tourism as ‘‘staying away from home, with health [as the] most important motive, and done in a leisure setting.’’ Goodrich defined health tourism in terms of the narrower concept of health‐care tourism as:
“The attempt on the part of a tourist facility (e.g. hotel) or destination (e.g. Algarve, Portugal) to attract tourists by deliberately promoting its health care services and facilities, in addition to its regular tourist amenities.”
Goeldner recognized five components of the health tourism market, each of these identifies a more specific market segment which can have categories of health‐related tourism attached to it:
1. Sun and fun activities (leisure tourism).
2. Engaging in healthy activities, but health is not the central motive (outdoor recreation, adventure tourism, sports tourism, and wellness tourism).
3. Principle motive for travel is health (e.g. a sea cruise or travel to a different climate/health tourism and wellness tourism).
4. Travel for sauna, massage, and other health activities (spa tourism and wellness tourism).
5. Medical treatment (medical tourism and dental tourism).
While the above classification is useful for identifying elements of the demand for health and spa tourism, it fails to acknowledge the importance that those health products and spas play in destination or attraction marketing and promotion or as a component of tourism development strategies.
Therefore, Hall, in seeking to provide a definition, consistent with official definitions of tourism, suggested that health tourism be defined as:
“A commercial phenomenon of industrial society which involves a person travelling overnight away from the normal home environment for the express benefit of maintaining or improving health, and the supply and promotion of facilities and destinations which seek to provide such benefits.”
What makes health tourism different from medical tourism is that health tourism covers a wide range of services from preventive and health‐conductive to rehabilitation and curative, while medical tourism usually only covers surgeries or similar treatments.
These kinds of travels, motivated by health matters, date back to the time when Greek pilgrims traveled to the sanctuary of the healing god Asklepios. Spas and mineral water springs have been and still are forms of medical tourism as they are known to treat diseases from gout to liver disorders and bronchitis. These places are the destination of many travelers these days.
Travels due to health tourism have been usually made by people from under‐developed countries seeking better quality health services in well‐known health centers in highly developed countries. However, lately, citizens of developed countries have been referring to less‐developed countries to benefit from cheaper health services. Several demographic, economic, and lifestyle factors are driving such tourisms (Handszuh and Waters 1997; Ross 2001). Particularities of healthcare systems such as long waiting lists, high costs, lack of insurance, unavailable or non‐licensed services and under insurement are causing some to go abroad to seek medical care. This is a major drive of demand from offshore sources when local health systems cannot provide appropriate or timely options.
Sometimes people with rare conditions even travel for a better understanding of their treatment and traveling motives usually differ for each country. For an example, the leading factor for health tourism in UK is the avoidance of waiting times, while Americans mostly travel for lower‐priced quality treatments.
Basically, convenience and speed are the main reasons for such travels. This is seen as well as an opportunity to develop an economic sector, and as a problem in some national healthcare systems (Borman 2004).
Despite these forces, there are numerous constraints to trade in health services (Chanda 2001) such as the restrictions on entry and practice by foreign health service providers, restrictions on foreign direct investment in health and other related sectors, regulations in insurance, education and telecommunications, domestic, regulatory, infrastructural and capacity related constraints. Other than what mentioned above it is known that health tourism carries some risks. For example, if you’re considering a medical travel to South Africa or Thailand, which is well‐known for everything from open‐ heart surgery to fertility treatments, you should be aware that these countries have very different infectious disease‐related epidemiology to Europe and North America
So a question arises: Is health tourism a cure or a threat for global public health?
C. Michael Hall from the University of Guelph investigated the answer to this question in his review of health tourism. In conclusion, he states that “health and medical tourism is a complex area of study. Many governments, international agencies, private health providers and medical practitioners see it as a means of economic development that may cross‐subsidies domestic health access and provide a competitive cure for the problems facing the global health system. In contrast, others see it as part of a process of marketization and economization of public health services already under pressure from neo liberal political agendas; further reinforcement of the commoditization of the body; and also reinforcing gaps between have and have‐nots both within and between societies. Undoubtedly, the benefits and risks attached to medical tourism both for individual and collective public health are a significant area for future research. Such research must include contributions, not only from medical and health research but also from tourism studies. It is hoped that this special issue of Tourism Review makes at least a small contribution to a better understanding of the field”.
“The attempt on the part of a tourist facility (e.g. hotel) or destination (e.g. Algarve, Portugal) to attract tourists by deliberately promoting its health care services and facilities, in addition to its regular tourist amenities.” Goodrich uses these words to define health tourism. In this article we are going to discuss dental tourism, also called dental vacations or commonly known as dental holidays in Europe, which is a subcategory of health tourism. Increasing numbers of patients are crossing national borders and obtaining dental care. Journalists commonly characterize the phenomenon of cross‐border care as ‘dental tourism’ and it applies to a person referring to healthcare systems in countries other than their place of residence seeking dental care.
Dental tourism commonly occurs along regional pathways rather than global networks. Americans in such Mexican border towns such as the cities of Juarez and Tijuana. Some Americans obtain inexpensive dental care in Argentina, Costa Rica, and Peru. Australian dental tourism companies promote Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand as inexpensive sites for dental treatment. Americans can travel to India or the Philippines for multiple dental procedures but it is only somewhat more expensive and far more convenient to obtain dental care in Mexico. Likewise, it is unsurprising that most patients from Britain obtain dental care in Portugal rather than the Dominican Republic or Peru. Given the proliferation of dental tourism companies and their recognition that it is possible to profit by selling low cost dental care to patients in regions where dental care is comparatively more expensive, the number of individuals travelling for dental care is likely to increase. Marketing initiatives will encourage more individuals to travel for dental care.
Health tourism motivations are due to diverse reasons while dental tourism motivations are mostly about price/quality ratio considerations as developing countries are providing dental care at significant cost savings when compared to their peers in the developed world. Generally, we can explain the rise in patient mobility as a result of five factors.
1. In some countries private dental care is unaffordable for many patients. The high price of local procedures drives individuals to find comparatively inexpensive dental procedures.
2. Patients unable to obtain prompt access to local dental care look beyond their communities in search of timely dental treatment.
3. Patients unable to access dental specialist close by. Amongst this, for example, qualified dental implant specialists are scares in the U.K.
4. Patients understand that lower prices for dental care need not result in low quality care. Some patients return home satisfied with the quality of care they receive elsewhere. ‘Word of mouth’ promotion prompts other patients to consider travelling for treatment.
5. Economy air travel makes the cost of transportation considerably less expensive than the price of many dental procedures.
6. The internet plays a powerful role in connecting ‘customers’ to sellers of dental services. Dental clinics around the world use the internet to advertise procedures to international patients. Dental tourism companies, mainstream travel agencies selling health‐related travel packages, and medical tourism companies likewise use the internet to advertise ‘all‐inclusive deals’. These packages include dental procedures with pre‐established prices, hotel rooms, air fare, ground transportation, `VIP treatment´, restaurant reservations, and side trips to popular tourist destinations.