The country of Guatemala is full of diversity, beauty, culture and attractive health and wellness treatments available to the international patient. With its central location, Guatemala is an up and coming destination with state of the art technology, internationally trained physicians and vast variety of tourism.
The Medical Tourism Association was delighted to participate in this year’s Service Summit and Familiarization “FAM” tour in the beautiful country of Guatemala. Facilitators and Consultants from Canada and United States of America were in attendance.
Jonathan Edelheit, the Chief Executive Officer of the MTA, spoke at the Summit on the Opportunities in Medical Tourism in the US Marketplace. “This is an excellent opportunity for Guatemala to shine in the medical tourism industry through its dedication to the promotion of quality healthcare and its natural ecotourism industry,” he stated.
The Guatemala Exporters Association, AGEXPORT, with the goal of promoting Guatemala as a completive country for health and wellness tourism, presented the Service Summit. The conference included a program with renowned international and local speakers, international and local companies, and included specialized business Matchmaking Meetings. The President of Guatemala, Ing. Alvaro Colom, gave an opening speech at the inauguration expressing his support of the government in making Guatemala a top destination.
Guatemala, located in Central America between El Salvador and Mexico, is a Spanish Colony which won its independence in 1821. Along with surrounding regions, Guatemala was flourished with Mayan civilizations for the first millennium.
The government in Guatemala is a constitutional democratic republic, with Alvaro Colom Caballeros as President since January 14th 2008. It’s capital is Guatemala City, where transportation, communications, business, and politics are the most significant. This region has a spring-like climate all year round, ideal for traveling. It’s often said that the highlands climate is one of the healthiest, calling Guatemala “The Land of Eternal Spring”.
Some of Guatemala’s most natural resources include petroleum, nickel, rare woods, fish, chicle and hydropower. Sixty percent of the population speaks Spanish with the other forty percent speaking Amerindian languages. It has a cultural mix of 22 Maya ethnic groups, Ladinos and Garifunas. The currency of Guatemala is the Quetzal, named after the national bird of Guatemala.
Guatemala’s main products are coffee, sugar, and bananas, with their sugar exports as the most popular because of the increased demand for ethanol. Their agriculture accounts for about one-tenth of the GDP. In July of 2006, the Central American Free Trade Agreement was made and has spurred improved investment in the export segment of Guatemala.
HEALTH AND WELLNESS TOURISM
Health Tourism is a modern alternative to traditional tourism and Guatemala offers excellent medical treatments and programs for a better quality of life. Throughout history, Guatemala has offered high quality medical services with state of the art technology. The costs of treatments are up to 60% less than in other countries due to the exchange rate of the US Dollar to the local currency.
In 2007, 1,627,552 international visitors came to Guatemala generating US $1,199.30 million in revenue. The Tourism industry is one of the main engines of development that the country has. One of the advantages that this region has is its proximity to the United States. There are many direct flights from major US cities into Guatemala City.
The Guatemala City Airport is only about a 15 minute drive away from most major hospitals that have state of the art medical infrastructure, with highly trained bilingual specialists. They also have competitive pricing, being some of the lowest in Central America. Other advantages are no waiting lists, spring-like weather all year round, hospitality of the people and the rich culture and tourism activities.
Renée-Marie Stephano, President of the Medical Tourism Association stated, “Guatemala is already prepared to be promoted as a Wellness destination; it has the capacity, the infrastructure and the people to offer medical services to international tourists.”
The tourism in Guatemala is one of kind, and has been thriving for years. Guatemala City is home to many of the nation’s libraries, museums and collections of Maya artifacts. With the Maya and Spanish colonial influence, this destination is full of culture and color.
You can find everything from parks and caving, to ziplining within this country. Musical practice is a large part of the Maya culture in Guatemala, with lots of European influence since they were one of the first regions in the New World to be introduced to European music in 1524.
Guatemala hosts one of the richest biological treasures in the world, the home for 10% of all species registered on the planet! It is also the home to beautiful caves. These caves were a sacred entrance to the underworld for the Maya culture and can now be explored by tourists in every size, shape and depth imaginable.
The culture in Guatemala is unique. One of the country’s most mystical features is its archaeological heritage. The living indigenous culture of the people is full of color, traditions, language, ritual and customs. This country is multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual.
Guatemalans are known around the world for their friendliness and sincere accommodating manner. The warmness of the people of this country would make anyone feel at home. The fusion of Maya and western cultures made their people unique.
One of Guatemala’s main products is coffee. Tourists can now tour the coffee farms to see the cultivation and processing of this product in its natural setting. Guatemalan cuisine features a variety of spices. Almost every tradition dish has its own story to be told.
If visitors get a chance to visit a market, they will come out with a wealth of ingredients and new food such as kakik, ajonjoli, and cardamom. Fruits and Vegetables are daily staple, which include exotic fruits like pitaya, pacayas and jocotes.
The Guatemala government has started to take steps to increase tourist’s safety, especially with the rise of the number of foreign visitors. One improvement that was made in July 2006 was the implementation of a special police force in Antigua that specializes in taking care of tourist safety. The other major improvement is the brand new International Airport (La Aurora) that was completed one year ago.
Ves Gitchev, of Worldwide Medical Partners states, “With the “New World” order crumbling under the immense pressure of the global financial crisis, new countries are emerging from relative obscurity as potential leaders in the modern marketplace. Guatemala is one of them.”
He added, “Scarred by hazy past much like most of its neighbors, and subject to less than flattering random comments in cyberspace, Guatemala’s biggest hurdle to overcome is perception. Land of vast natural beauty, eons of history and the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, this country has a long road to travel to change people’s view. But you know what they say, even the longest journey started with a single step, and in my opinion Guatemala has taken one giant leap forward.”
“From the moment I arrived at the brand new Airport, walked the streets, enjoyed the local hospitality, I was nothing short of impressed of the immense infrastructure and capability of this city. With new hospitals being build, old ones remodeled, private clinics openly rival “Doctor 90210” type of sparkle, I can hardly wait to go back, soon,” says Gitchev.
Guatemala is known for its Health and Wellness. Core procedures that international patients will travel for include Alternative Medicine, Dental, Cosmetic, Fertility and Spa and Wellness. Following the Service Summit, participants were able to have the opportunity to do a FAM tour of all the companies and providers in the health and wellness sector of Guatemala.
The tour incorporated visits to some of the hospitals and clinics in the country including Renova, Centro Medico Hospital, Hospital Multimedica, Centro Dental, Vision Integral, Hope International, Herrera Llerandi Hospital, Unidental, CER, Grupo Dental, Smile Factory and Dental Care Guatemala.
Providers had the opporutnity to meet one on one with other local participants in the Health and Wellness Tourism Commission including Novaesthetics, Top Medical Trips, CEDAF, Cardio Care, TecniScan, Clarion Suites and the airline sponsor TACA. The FAM tour was lead by the tourism company Turitran, which guided the group throughout the four days providing culture and history of the country throughout the day.
President of OneWorld Global Healthcare Solutions, Alex Piper, states “Guatemala has the necessary organizational structure, country focus, government and healthcare industry participation, and U.S. marketing presence, to begin a sustained marketing campaign designed to propel them into the forefront of Medical Tourism and Global Healthcare. With increased U.S. presence and focus, and commitment to continuous improvement in their healthcare quality, they should be a contender in years to come.”
RENOVA, the integral center of plastic surgery, offers comfort, security and discretion to all of their patients. The team is made up of three plastic surgeons, highly distinguished and recognized by the School of Doctors and Surgeons of Guatemala, the Guatemalan association of Plastic Surgery, Ilberolationamerican Federation of Plastic Surgery, and the International Confederations of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
Centro Medico Hospital
After 60 years of experience, this hospital has proven to be an icon, with its highest quality standards in medicine, highest technology, adequate infrastructure and personal treatment. They specialize in preventive and healing medicine.
The doctors are leaders in the medical field both nationally and internationally, all accredited by the best universities. They also developed a Health Maintenance Program called PREVENGA. This program allows people to be in the best physical and emotional shape in order to live peacefully, productively and safely.
Hospital Multimedica is one of the most modern outpatient surgery centers. The hospital is equipped with the most advanced medical technologies. They also have drawings for brand new hospital that will be built by 2012. This hospital will have 70 patient beds. Besides being a top notch surgery center, they also have the support of Tecnicscan.
Tecnicsan provides the diagnosis services to the patient such as magnetic resonance, x rays, cardiology and computerized clinical laboratory. The diagnosis center is located within the building given patients direct access.
With over 25 years of experience, Centro Dental has satisfied over 25,000 patients with their quality care and service. They are equipped with the most advanced technological support with a highly trained staff to offer the most efficient results in the least time possible. Their mission is their patient’s welfare.
Vision Integral is a private clinic that provides Ophthalmologic medical services. They have over 22 years of experience, serving around 4,000 new patients every year and performing around 400 major eye surgeries.
The medical staff is made up of six ophthalmologists and two anesthesiologists, with local and abroad training in the USA, Canada and Colombia. Their specialties include Anterior Segment, Posterior Segment, Glaucoma, Cornea and Refractive Surgery and Pediatric Ophthalmology.
Hope International Radiotherapy Center
The vision of Hope International is to provide the most advance technology and treatments of cancer radiotherapy, both external and internal. Their physicians, dosimetrists and radiotherapy technicians were trained in both Europe and the United States. The new technology is helping to deliver an optimal dose of radiation to a cancerous area while reducing the risk to the healthy tissues.
Herrara Llerandi Hospital
This hospital is a prestigious institution operated by the Association of Medical Specialists of Guatemala, a non-profit institution whose goal is to provide the most modern medicine. They have strategic alliances with leading hospitals and academic centers in the United States.
Regarding the rate of intrahospital infections, they compare very favorable to those reported in recognized hospitals in the United States and other countries, which is less than 2%. They are equipped with 60 beds with each patient room having beautiful views of the gardens.
Unidental’s clinical facility is modern and functionally designed to provide each patient with the most efficient care. They specialize in oral hygiene, implants, oral rehabilitation, esthetics, orthodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery and many more. Their staff includes dentists with recognized specialty training from the United States and European universities. All are fluent in Spanish, English, German French and Portuguese.
Centro de Reproduccion Human (CER)
CER is an organization that gives a new approach to the treatment of infertility. They are the only clinic in Central America that is fully accredited with the Red Latinoamericana de Reproduccion Asistida (REDLARA) since 2000.
Grupo Dental offers state of the art dentistry, with quality materials, that strictly follow the CDC of American Standards. They offer 25 years of experience in dental care. They provide general dentistry, aesthetics, and implant dentistry providing each patient with emergency services 24 hours a day. Their goal is to provide the patient with a completely integrated and personalized treatment to solve every single dental need.
The Smile Factory balances between health, beauty and comfort. They offer patients a unique experience, using the most modern and innovative dental equipment available and providing them with the best service. One of these modern technologies is Waterlase, laser cavity removal. This process eliminates patient fears by using atomized water, combined with laser energy eliminating in 90% of all cases the use of anesthesia.
Dental Care Guatemala
This group of experienced professionals have more than 20 years of experience in dental treatments, all in different areas of dentistry. Their clinics are equipped with the most modern and advanced technologies. Their core values include innovation, results, transparency, confidentially, experience and quality.
Novaesthetics clinic offers high quality service in the areas of aesthetics and reconstructive surgery. They also offer some of the latest non-surgical therapies. Their infrastructure is one of the most modern and premiere clinics in Guatemala.They have the latest and most advanced techniques and development in the field. Dr. Stefan Preuss Sterkel completed is postgraduate training in Germany and the United States.
Top Medical Trips
This company provides professional medical services to both local and international patients. Their specialists have backgrounds in different areas of medicine and have experience and ethics. Most of them have been Head of Surgical Departments and have obtained post graduate degrees in either the US, Mexico or South-America.
One of their specialties is Bariatrics Surgery. Their doctors have trained in the placement of the Swedish gastric band, also called the “Realize Band”, which is manufactured by Johnson and Johnson. Their international patient department is run by Cecile Billiet, of Spa-Med-Holiday, who assists in all logistics and communications with the surgeon in order to provide a smooth medical stay.
Delegates of the Summit and FAM tour stayed at the Clarion Suites hotel in Guatemala City, only ten minutes from the La Aurora International Airport. In the heart of the business district, there is plenty of nearby shopping and entertainment.
They are one of the first hotels in Guatemala City to accommodate international patients. They provide shuttle services to and from the airport and are equipped with suites in all sizes, perfect for a medical tourism patient and companion.
The city of Antigua, the Spanish colonial capital of Central America, is a beautiful and quaint town only about 45 minutes away from the capital known for its artists and artisans. This town wears the art history crown in Guatemala filled with Museums, restored famous paintings, colonial and baroque architecture, and picturesque ruins. It’s also a very spiritual place. UNESCO, the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture, has designated this town as the world heritage site.
Antigua has many interesting and cultural places to visit. In the market you will find handicrafts made by authentic artisans from La Antigua for sale. The Cathedral, located in the main square, acquired its beauty in 1680.
According to some historians, somewhere in the crypts lie the remains of the conqueror of Guatemala, Don Pedro de Alvarado. Nearby, is Lake Atitlan, a deep blue lake fringed with volcanoes, lies in an ancient volcanic crater and is considered one of the most unique and beautiful lakes in the world.
During the FAM trip, the participants were able to tour some of the hotels in Antigua. Casa Santo Domingo, a renovated convent of the followers of Santo Domingo de Guzman, opened its doors in June 1989. It’s a 45 minute drive from the capital city. It has 128 rooms all with diverse qualities.
Services such as medical, massage, tours, transportation, etc. are available for guests every day. The Chapel of our Lady of the Rosary is located on site, and has been called “the most beautiful in America,” by many writers. With four centuries of history and five stars of quality this hotel is truly a beautiful place to stay.
The Service Summit and FAM tour was a huge success! Guatemala is destined to position itself as one of the major players in the Health and Wellness sector of the Medical Tourism Industry.
Jessica Johnson is Director of Operations for the Medical Tourism Association. Jessica provides operational support for the MTA. Her responsibilities span the range of administrative, financial, operational and I/T support systems. She may be reached at email@example.com www.medicaltourismassociation.com