Article in "Gazeta Wyborcza" (Polish newspaper)
Foreigners spent at least 65 million dollars in our country on massages, plastic surgery and new teeth. This year they are going to spend at least one third more. And what if we had better promotion...
The world discovered medical tourism a long time ago. For many years crowds of patients have been going to Thailand and India - the world leaders in this market. They have new teeth put in, they correct their noses, have liposuction but also undergo more complicated procedures.
Indian doctors are famous for organ transplants and open hearts surgery also on children. According to the advisory company McKinsey, that market brings 2 billion dollars a year. Patients go to Bangkok even for sex change surgery.
The interest in cheaper medical procedures is also extending into Eastern Europe. British, German, French and Austrian patients are guests of Hungarian and Czech clinics everyday.
Poland has not yet been perceived as a significant player in this lucrative market, however Polish businessmen have really taken to it.
Plastic surgeons admit that the demand for their services is growing rapidly. Polish women, encouraged by such TV programs as "I want to be beautiful" are more and more widely accepting of the use of scalpel to correct appearance. Moreover, the increasing number of cheap flight connections with Germany, Great Britain and Sweden brings more foreign customers.
The same happens in the case of dentistry but here the bills used to be much bigger - Our clinic specialises in inserting titan implants. It is the most advanced technology, extremely expensive but in Poland for an implant with a crown, a British person pays half of the sum required in Great Britains - says Marcin Gaborski from Hahs Protodens from Szczecin.
The company serves 50 Germans, English and Scandinavians weekly; it already employs 12 doctors, nine technicians and 6 people taking care of communication with foreigners and looking after them in Poland. – Thanks to foreign patients we are developing; recently we have invested 700 thousand zloty in a CAT scanner - says Gaborski.
Convalescents for the waters
However dental and surgical patients do not make do with painful and invasive procedures.- Most often they come to Poland for a longer time than the medical procedures require; sometimes within a few days of leaving the hospital they cannot travel by plane. Therfore, they eagerly go to some of our health-resorts - says Elżbieta Sobiecka from “Centrum Damiana”. Her company, as most such ones, cooperates with health-resorts, boarding houses and hotels offering spa services.
- Trójmiasto, Mazury, Półwysep Helski and even such cities as Warsaw and Szczecin - in these places any renowned four- or five-star hotel cannot do without regeneration and spa centres - says Łopaciński.
This business looks a bit different in Poland than in the Czech Republic or Slovakia where thermal water is largely exploited- They focus on services for the masses. They build big aqua parks with swimming pools and slides where whole families enjoy themselves. Going to a spa hotel in Poland is a luxury for the wealthiest. Therefore Kowalski bathes in Karlove Vary and Poland hosts an averagely wealthy German or Englishman - explains Łopaciński.
Architects of prestige
It is hard to find exact data on the number of tourists interested in regenerating their condition and health coming to Poland. The Institute of Tourism estimates that it is at least 1.5% out of almost 16 million tourists having visited Poland in 2006 (the percentage may be higher as the research result is on the margin of error). This number does not cover those who drop in to Szczecin, Gorzów or Zielona Góra to have a filling put in.
It gives around 250 thousand people. Each person spent 250 dollars last year in Poland. The average expenses of one person in the first quarter of 2007 are already 30% higher and the number of foreign patients is increasing rapidly.
Although it is not much in the light of the whole country’s economy, Łopaciński believes that medical tourists are of prestigeous importance to us. – They create our image being a country that favours health improvement, where one can go even when they are not in the best shape.
“Gazeta Wyborcza”, 8 October 2007