Health tourism spells great opportunity for Iceland
“Geothermal water is Iceland‘s white gold,” according to guest speaker Ms. Csilla Mezösi speaking at the annual meeting of the Iceland Association for Health Tourism. Ms Mezösi is a consultant for health tourism at the Hungarian Tourism Board and a board member of the European Spa Association.
Iceland’s most famous commercial spa is the Blue Lagoon, which is visited by more than 400,000 people annually. Myvatn Nature Baths can be described as a newer but much smaller version of the same. Fontana Steam Bath capitalizes on a natural steam vent next to Laugarvatn Lake and is scheduled to open this summer.
Mezösi believes Iceland’s abundant supply of geothermal energy provides the opportunity for the development of health tourism, which is still in its infancy in Iceland. “Iceland has barely started tapping into this genre of tourism,” she said, and pointed out the lack of information on the number of tourists who actually visit Iceland with the purpose of improving their health.
Mezösi complimented Reykjavik’s public geothermal swimming pools for their quality and cleanliness and pointed out some opportunities, such as: build hotels next to the pools for greater convenience for foreign visitors; organize dance parties in the thermal pools in winter to attract young tourists in the low season; and finally, get the Olympic handball team medalists to promote health tourism in Iceland.
Health tourism incorporates both spa tourism, as well as medical tourism. “However, a typical spa tourist focuses on different things than a medical tourist. Spa tourism involves a holiday whereas medical tourism involves cost-effective operations but more importantly guarantee of a follow-up service after the treatment.”
Medical tourism in Hungary is big business. “German pensioners, as well as British, Norwegian, and Danish, are most likely to enjoy the benefit of high-quality dental treatment and various operations in Hungary for less money than what they’d spend in their home country. The medical tourism product in Hungary has evolved to such an extent that it is now possible for foreign tourists to receive a door-to-door service including accommodation and activities for the duration of their stay in Hungary.”
Mezösi also mentioned that there are 4,000 foreign medical students studying in Hungary. “Our goal is to involve these students in medical and balneology research in order to learn more about the healing powers of geothermal water, thus benefiting the medical tourism industry.”
The Hungarian government actively promotes medical tourism. It also spends money on marketing medical tourism which Mezösi thinks is a good idea. “Whatever money the government spends it gets back several times,” Mezösi said.
Medical tourism has been made possible in Europe due to an EU law which makes it possible for European Union (EU) patients to receive treatment in any other member state such as Hungary and still get reimbursed by their medical insurance,” Mezösi explained.