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Medical Tourism Patients in Safe Hands Traveling South of Border

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It's safe to say, Mexican officials are quick to point out, that patients seeking medical tourism opportunities will be in good hands when they travel south of the border for healthcare.

Already the nation's fifth-largest source of revenue, Mexico's tourism industry is enjoying a comeback of sorts and is envisioned as an economic barometer as international travel increases and infrastructure is improved, a cabinet official said to some 150 participants at a workshop on Mexico's Opportunities in Medical Tourism, sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism, last week in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico.

Renee-Marie Stephano, president of the Medical Tourism Association, delivered the workshop keynote address, met with the governor of Baja; state ministers of tourism and health; senior officials from hospitals, clinics, and academia; and spa and wellness representatives.

She said that Mexico is poised to take advantage of sentiments revealed in a recent survey, which found the North America border nation to rank among top countries of interest for patients considering future medical tourism procedures and treatments.

For Mexico, the tourism industry has become a strategic economic activity and a development strategy, said Claudia Ruiz Massieu, minister of tourism in Mexico. This event promotes medical tourism and enhances communication among professionals involved in this sector to identify best-practices and to collect data and knowledge to develop and reinforce the national tourism policy.

Tourism officials estimate about 450,000 people visit the Mexican state of Baja California each year for medical tourism procedures from dental work to extensive surgeries. What's more, Mexican tourism officials say the patients are worth some $89 million in U.S. dollars per year to the state.

Boon to Economy

The minister said increased tourism will boost Mexico's gross domestic product to 9.4 percent by the end of President Enrique Pea Nieto's administration. Mexico's tourism industry employees about 7 million, and Ruiz Massieu predicts the sector will become the nation's third-leading source of revenue.

During the workshop, Ruiz Massieu recognized support from the Medical Tourism Association for contributions that will help further our knowledge and prepare ourselves in a highly competitive market and a fast changing economy.

Tourists Brings Smiles

In many Mexico towns, American tourists bring smiles. In Los Algondoes, smiles bring tourists. That's why representatives of the Medical Tourism Association met earlier in June, with administrators, doctors and support staff of the Sani Dental Group in Los Algondoes, located in the state of Baja California, where they conducted a training workshop and site visits leading toward their certification in International Patient Services.

Tourism generated $12.7 billion in foreign exchange inflows last year in Mexico, according to a report by JP Morgan Chase & Co., a 10.5 percent increase from 2011. Tourism trails manufacturing, oil, remittances and foreign direct investment as the nation's biggest source of revenue, according to Citigroup Inc.'s Banamex unit.

Ruiz Massieu said Mexico, Latin America's second-largest economy, received a record 24 million international visitors last year or 2.6 more than the 23.4 million tourists in 2011, according to World Bank figures. She said Mexico wants to expand market shares beyond traditional venues in the United States and Canada to include visitors from Brazil, Argentina, Russia and China, nations with the highest potential for growth.

Crackdown on Violence

International travel and medical tourism received a boost following the nation's crackdown on drug cartel violence. Government efforts to fight organized crime have pushed visitors to cross the border in Arizona and return to neighboring towns like Nogales, Sonora, where doctors and dentists are attracting American and Canadian patients looking to save on dental procedures and healthcare.

Ramon Guzman Munoz, the newly elected mayor of Nogales, is working with the Medical Tourism Association to coordinate healthcare programs of interest to patients from southern Arizona, who can make the trip and return in a matter of hours.

Almost 99 percent of the patients that visit the Sani Dental Group in Los Algondones, a small town on the extreme northeastern tip of the municipality of Mexicali or about 20 miles west of Yuma, Ariz. are residents of the United States or Canada.

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