THE Philippines has landed the eighth spot in a list of top medical tourism destinations in the world in 2015, the Department of Tourism (DOT) announced last Monday.

In a list complied by the International Healthcare Research Center and the Medical Tourism Association (MTA), the Philippines ranked ahead of countries like Japan and France.

Canada emerged as the top medical tourism destination worldwide followed by the United Kingdom and Israel, which came second and third, respectively.

MTA is a global non-profit association for medical tourism and international patient industry. It represents the healthcare providers, governments, insurance companies, employers and other buyers of healthcare.

According to MTA, clients of the Philippines for medical tourism come from East Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan), Sri Lanka, the Pacific Islands (Guam, Palau, Marshall Islands, and Micronesia), Australia, North and South America, Europe and the United Kingdom, and the Gulf States.

It also noted that Filipino expats and overseas Filipino workers prefer to have their medical procedures done in the country.

Medical tourism in the Philippines caters to about 80,000 to 250,000 patients or clients annually.

There are about 62 hospitals around the country that are now internationally accredited. Capitalizing on its signature warm hospitality, coupled with its inherent natural jewels, high-caliber English medical professionals and competitive medical packages, stakeholders in the industry believe Cebu can compete with its Asian neighbors.

DOT 7 Director Rowena Montecillo said this recognition is a welcome development, as it will strengthen the country’s foothold in medical tourism.

The tourism regional chief said her office and the DOT’s Market Development Group-Medical Tourism team are working with the Cebu Health and Wellness Council (CHWC) in putting together attractive packages and linking with medical tourism facilitators from abroad.

“Several groups have visited Cebu to conduct ocular inspection of medical facilities, accommodation establishments and tourist attractions. They have also met with the CHWC stakeholders,” said Montecillo.

Currently, the DOT, Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Trade and Industry – Board of Investments (DTI–BOI) have a joint program to promote Philippine medical tourism.

The informal partnership resulted in a road map that identified five major segments in the international medical travel sector—tourists, who come for spa treatments and other wellness services; medical tourists, who avail of low-acuity medical procedures; medical travelers, who purposely come to avail of more complex procedures; international patients, including overseas Filipino workers, expats, and retirees; and accompanying guests, either friends or immediate kin of travelers.

While the recognition is good news for the industry, Spa and Wellness Association of Cebu president Johnie Lim said the country’s improvement in medical tourism has not been felt yet by all players.

“That’s good if it’s true but for day spas like us, it has not been felt, at least as far as mine is concerned,” said Lim, who owns the Body and Sole chain.

Tourism advocation Robert Lim Joseph, in a separate interview, said that getting the accreditation of international medical insurance companies, DOT’s support for medical tourism marketing focused on specialized services, and hospitals meeting the international standards are key factors that would help drive growth in this emerging sector.

He also suggested that the tourism department and stakeholders target the ASEAN and the Middle East markets.

The global health and wellness tourism market is worth $438.6 billion and Philippine medical tourism was able to generate $66 million in 2013 and $145 million in 2014, according to the 2014 study by Ian Youngman, a medical tourism author.

DOT Director for Medical Travel and Wellness Tourism, Cynthia Lazo, said it is crucial to have a “One Country Package”.

“It has to be a country effort, a collective effort of every medical and wellness facility in the country, for the Philippines to be accepted in the medical and wellness market,” she said in a statement.

“Our value proposition is, time and again, our 7,107 islands, which a medical traveler can choose from while availing of a clinical or wellness procedure in the country,” Lazo added.