Medical tourism in Azerbaijan is poised to head to a new direction with upcoming action plans. This was announced by the head of the State Tourism Agency office in the 3rd Global healthcare Travel Forum and the 5th assembly of the Global Healthcare Travel Council that concluded on April’19.
Since 2014, Azerbaijan has been a significant member of the Global Healthcare Travel Council (GHTC). The founding chairman of GHTC was all praise for the country’s recent strides in medical tourism. He emphasized proper utilization of the country’s local resources having unique curative properties not available elsewhere especially those available in the cities Naftalan and Nakhchivan.
Azerbaijan may be sitting on rich oil reserves but ever since the slump, the country is going through economic doldrums. In a scenario like this, growth in health tourism by tapping the inherent resources can give the much-needed economic boost to the country.
Previous development programs helped medical tourism in Azerbaijan to take off:
Medical tourism in Azerbaijan saw remarkable improvement with the adoption of state program regarding the development of resorts in 2009-18. The country has witnessed an appreciable growth with a 30% rise in medical tourists in Jan-Nov’18 compared to the previous year.
This year the number of medical tourists is expected to shoot up by 18%. Istisu, Naftalan, Duzdagh and Galaalti health centers are prime attractions for foreign medical travelers. In 2018, The Recreational Center Naftalan alone saw over 45,000 tourists from 70 countries.
A major chunk of the foreign travelers is from Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Naturally, the country is contemplating of health tourism development strategies to maintain the upward growth trajectory. Most importantly, medical tourism is not seasonal and overnight stays of medical travelers are more than ordinary vacationers who stop for minimum 12 nights.
In terms of tourism, Azerbaijan is highly rated among travelers. The internet voting of National Geographic Traveler Awards in 2017 declared Azerbaijan among the top 5 countries in the category of Wellness Holiday. According to the global safety ranking, Azerbaijan ranks among the top 20 safest countries in the world.
Medical tourism in Azerbaijan – something more than the Naftalan magic:
Image Source : azernews.az
The country is endowed with everything to facilitate sustainable health tourism – beautiful climate, fascinating landscape, remarkable natural resources fostering healing from chronic illnesses and availability of advanced medical assistance.
It goes without saying, the curative properties of Naftalan oil is the biggest draw for medical tourism. The thick black-brown oil has special ingredients helping patients recover from arthritis, rheumatism, psoriasis and 67 other ailments since long.
Even more surprising is if you wish to carry this oil to some other place for future use, it loses its healing power. Investigations carried out by the National Academy of Sciences identified sensitivity in the composition that makes it more effective in this country.
Therapeutic mineral and thermal waters- The goldmine of Azerbaijan:
300 mud volcanoes spread out in Azerbaijan are big contributors to health tourism. The mud has the capability of healing a myriad of ailments like radiculitis, cardiovascular diseases, and urological, gastrointestinal and gynecological diseases.
Galaalti has a stunning therapeutic and recreational complex perched 1000 m above the sea level and 120 km from Baku. The mineral water with a unique composition of calcium, sodium bicarbonate and organic components like Naftusya has incredible curative properties. The striking feature of this water is that it can be drunk only at the source it can neither be stored nor transported.
Medical travelers crowd the sanatorium Fatimei –Zahra of Masaali for relaxation and rejuvenation. The healing water of Masaali is known for curing gastrointestinal ailments. The Duzdag complex comprises of a state-of-the-art hotel and a hospital center partly above the ground and partly underground. The underground portion comprising of salt mines located at a depth of 300 meters is mainly for salt healing.
Upgrading healthcare and maintaining a competitive price:
Azerbaijan is ensuring that its health tourism potential does not rest solely on natural resources. Government spending on healthcare is on the rise in recent years to make it at par with the international standards. Since the last 15 years, the country witnessed the opening of hundreds of medical centers along with the renovation of existing ones.
Government allocation of healthcare budget this year has been $ 614.5 million (4.5% of the total budget) up by $178. 8 million of the amount allocated in 2018. Although treatment cost is low in this country it is higher than the neighboring countries, an important factor that needs special consideration.
Uplifting the standards is a must for sustainable medical tourism:
Medical tourism in Azerbaijan will not be able to meet the expected growth without uplifting the standards of services and products. Both the private and government players need to join hands to create the necessary benchmark at par with the international standards given the global competitive scenario.
The Association for Support to Health and Thermal Tourism in Azerbaijan is specially focusing on the resorts of Naftalan and Shabran. These have the highest potential to become world recognized destinations for travelers looking for health rejuvenation while on vacation.
The Naftalan resort, for example, has undergone a major expansion. The center that could only accommodate 5000 people for medical care has been transformed into a cutting-edge healing complex with innovative approaches and well-planned branding strategy. The crutch museum located here depicts the efficacy of Naftalan oil therapy where the patients desert their crutches after a successful treatment program.
The country needs to be watchful about the latest trends and preferences and align their products and services accordingly. Only marketing of the products may not be enough to attract modern medical tourists unless there is a proper demonstration of the benefits. Above all, the timely execution of action plans is important to reap the returns on investment.
Need to expand tourism offerings targeting a broader customer base:
Tourism in Azerbaijan is focused on the affluent class. In hospitality, the large holding groups dominate as most of the tourists are business travelers. The market for the mid-range travelers needs to be developed by arranging bed and breakfast accommodations, hostels and boutique hotels.
Expansion of destination offerings by airlines, the US- Azerbaijan Open Skies Agreement and the simplified visa processes has improved the tourism prospects of this country. It is equally important to eliminate the shortfalls as soon as possible to achieve well-paced growth in medical tourism.