In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented decline in the global tourism industry. Still, some areas of the sector will manage to survive with fewer sacrifices, while others will be hit harder by the crisis. According to experts, medical tourism will be among the latter, which is particularly bad news for Hungary, as the proportion of foreigners arriving with such purposes was exceptionally high in the country. Let us see what is expected for the forthcoming period.
As Hungarian news portal G7 reports, the impact of the pandemic on tourism can be best illustrated by the figures of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Instead of the 3-4% increase that had been predicted in international travel for 2020, UNWTO now expects a 20-30% decline for this year.
At the beginning of the year, it had even been predicted that medical tourism would be one of the pull areas within the sector, growing at an average rate of more than 12% per year within the next seven years, which is much faster than the 3-4% predicted for the industry as a whole. This phenomenon will probably not turn into reality neither this year nor in 2021.
It is expected that while tourism as a whole will start to recover in 2021, the travel market specialised in medical services will begin to normalise only later.
This can be explained by two reasons. First, the hotel industry is affected in a different way by the introduced restrictive measures than surgery is, and there is a good chance that the latter will have a longer forced shutdown. And, more importantly, those who would travel abroad for health reasons are expected to be much more cautious than those who simply go on a holiday. That is why experts believe that health tourism will first restart domestically, and people will travel abroad for medical treatments later on.
This means a huge risk for Hungary, as a large proportion of foreigners used to come to the country for medical treatments.
In 2017, the total spending of tourists arriving for this purpose was the 9th most significant in the world. Based on the data of the Hungarian Statistical Office, revenue of EUR 322 million (~HUF 114 billion) was generated by medical tourism that year, accounting for 6.7% of the total of tourism spending.
Since then, this amount has even increased. Accordingly, health tourism generated EUR 436 million (~HUF 154 billion) in 2019, which was 7.2% of the total expenditure. By comparison, tourists arriving for business purposes did not leave a radically larger amount in Hungary – their spending amounted to EUR 597 million (~HUF 211 billion).
Within health tourism, dentistry used to be the most demanded area by foreign visitors. However, due to the particularly high risk of infection in dentistry, its recovery may take a long time.
According to several dentists, foreign patients will probably return only slowly, gradually, and even then not staying for more days. This can be considered a further change in Hungary’s medical tourism, as previously, a tourist arriving for medical treatment stayed for an average of 2.7 days (Hungarian Statistical Office).
This may primarily affect the region of Western Hungary, being the stronghold of dental tourism specialised in Austrian, Swiss, and German patients. But this is also true for the former capital of dental tourism, Budapest, where several dentists organised full trips for patients coming from Scandinavian countries. Flights, accommodation, and programs were arranged for the clients who could demand Hungarian dental services at a much lower price than in their home country.