Five minutes with… Linda Abdullah, head of Dubai Medical Tourism Office

Linda Abdullah explains Dubai’s medical tourism ambitions following the launch of the Dubai Health Experience brand

What are the targets of Dubai Health Experience?

As part of the ‘Dubai, a Global Destination for Medical Tourism project, our target for 2020 is to attract half a million international medical tourists. The number of medical tourists are projected to increase by 13 per cent for the next five years. This means that by 2021 1,313,360 medical tourists are expected to visit Dubai, out of which 692,191 would be internal and 621,169 from abroad, going by the current trends.”

How many of these do you expect to come through the health experience site?

The Dubai health experience project aims to strengthen medical tourism in the Dubai and making Dubai a preferred global destination for medical tourism. It’s a concerted effort of Dubai Health Authority along with our strategic partners, whether it’s the governmental strategic partners from Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing, the immigration department, Dubai Statistics Centre, Dubai Airports and our strategic partner Emirates Airline.

We’re all working together with the consortium of the private healthcare facilities we have in Dubai, which we have chosen carefully to be with the DXH group. All of us, whether it’s through the DXH website itself or through the other channels of communication, will be marketing for Dubai and this will attract the medical tourists.

What countries are you expecting medical tourists to come from?

The strategy is to focus mainly on attracting our brethren from the Gulf Cooperation Council and then we are also focussing on the Asian market, particularly India and Pakistan, because we already have medical tourists coming from there.

We also have the United Kingdom as a target as well as Africa, including Nigeria and Angola.

What types of procedures do you see being most popular?

Dubai caters to a wide array of elective, minor or complex medical procedure. We’ve got a strong regulatory system, good healthcare services, high standards of care and we have the right infrastructure in terms of quality – 80 per cent of our hospitals are internationally accredited.

The focus of the strategy itself of DXH at this stage is the elective procedures. So it’s basically things that the tourists would like to come and do in Dubai like aesthetics and bariatric surgeries. Our focus is also on osteology, dental, orthopaedics and sports medicine – a growing sector. And we’re looking at IVF which also one of the biggest reasons for people to travel for treatment.

At the moment, orthopaedics is proving to be one of the biggest attractions. We’ve got a high percentage of visitors who plan to do orthopaedics procedures in Dubai. One of our specialities is also wellness and healthcare check-ups.

How much of a discount on treatments is available through the DXH site?

There is not a percentage I can say, the packages under each speciality are provided by the DXH group members, so it depends on the facility. Through our website, the medical traveller can review packages listed by different healthcare facilities, ask for information to make the right and informed choice. We provide them with those options and they can make the decision that is more convenient for them.

There are also comprehensive packages listed by travel partners, that offers flights, hotels and health packages.

Do you plan to sign up more partners?

Emirates Airline is our strategic partner, being our national carrier, and we’ve signed a memorandum of understanding with them. In terms of hotels, travel agencies and healthcare facilities, yes many more are requesting to be members. For any healthcare facility to join our DXH group, have to go through our process of selection. This starts off with filling in a form for eligibility and then there are checks by a special committee. We have the quality assurance section that will help us as well as the Clinical Governance office in the Health Regulation Department. They help us to choose the right candidates to represent DXH.

What is the process for obtaining a medical tourism visa and what has been done to prevent abuse of the system

An individual cannot apply; it needs to be applied for via the healthcare facility. When the hospital applies for the patient, they will have to upload his medical reports that are attested from the other end. That way our immigration department are sure that they are granting a legitimate patient and the person who will accompany them legitimate tourist visas.

How long can medical tourists stay?

The maximum cap for the medical tourism visa is 90 days, renewable for another 30 days, but it depends on the procedure. That will be more decided by the healthcare facility itself.

In terms of numbers, there is a certain quota that is worked out depending on many factors.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Our initial expectation for 2016, when we submitted the strategy to the Executive Council in 2014, was to attract 170,000 medical tourists. However, our reports for 2015 show that we exceeded our milestone for 2016 in the previous year. Last year we attracted 630,000 medical tourists, domestic and international. Out of these, 47 per cent, or around 296,000, were international. So we have exceeded the number we initially had in mind. That is a big achievement for Dubai.

The 500,000 target is international so technically we are still working towards that, but we have exceeded the target for 2016 – and this is only from 26 hospitals. We haven’t included all the medical facilities in Dubai. The prospects are very high and we are confident that we are going to achieve our number in 2020.