GCC Visitors Flock To Munich

Last year, 80 per cent of the Gulf travellers visited the German city for medical reasons.

Visitors from the GCC form up to 30 per cent of the overall travellers to Munich, according to an industry expert.

“Last year we had 127,000 arrivals in Munich just from the GCC, and out of that, 80 per cent visited for medical reasons,” Frank Heller, the general manager of Rocco Forte’s The Charles Hotel told Gulf Business.

More than 70 per cent of the Middle Eastern guests staying at the hotel also came for medical treatments, he said, and hence the hotel even has a medical concierge to help guests arrange treatments.

“Munich has very good medical technologies, we have the best doctors and the best know-how, and we have a very good and stable image which has already been there since many years,” he said.

“And its not just the medical expertise, we also have the beautiful Bavarian scenery and the Bavarian mountains. The fresh air is something very special. That’s also the reason why they come- they feel it’s a good place to recover and get well,” said Heller.

The global medical tourism industry is growing at 20-30 per cent per year and is expected to become a $100 billion sector by the end of 2012.

Residents from the UAE alone spend up to $2 billion annually in healthcare travel, according to Rocco-Forte.

Germany has been promoting itself as a medical and wellness destination to tap that market for several years now. The most recent government statistics released by the government revealed that overnight stays by GCC tourists rose 26.4 per cent in 2010 compared to the previous year.

However, the GCC region has also now started investing heavily in promoting medical tourism.

The UAE’s health tourism sector is now growing 15 per cent annually, according to research firm Business Monitor International.

So will people from the region prefer to look at medical treatments closer to home?

“I think things will change in the next ten to 15 years,” said Heller. “People from Dubai may get the medical treatment in their city itself.

“But the image of Dubai is not yet what Munich has. To build up an image and trust for Munich [as a healthcare destination] it took 15 to 20 years. And the doctors and professors who were doing surgery 20 years ago are still there and they are well known by the families [from the GCC region], and that’s why the fathers send over the children for treatments,” he said.

“For Dubai it will take a very long time to gain that trust,” he added.