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Healthcare Development & Architecture

Medical Tourism Sustainable Development

Healthcare Development & Architecture

Since the 1980s different industries have committed to mitigate or potentiate negative and positive impacts under the concept of sustainable development. Today medical tourism is a growing industry and like any other activity is generating both impacts. But is medical tourism a tool for the sustainable development of a region?

The primary motivation of a medical tourism patient is to travel outside of the area of residence for reduced prices higher quality and quick access to medical care.As a result medical travel has created a social cultural and economic phenomenon that generates positive and negative impacts in built-up areas in natural areas and in communities.

Some Impacts of Medical Tourism

Impacts Occur in Three Main Areas:

Environmental impacts: Medical tourism makes use of natural resources. Their indiscriminate use without good practices will contribute to its depletion.In some cases the medical tourist performs leisure activities at a destination and establishes incentives for the protection and use of natural resources especially in countries like Costa Rica and Columbia -- where nature and cultural tourism are important sectors in the economy.

Social impacts: Medical tourism has a positive social impact by allowing millions access to enhanced health services at affordable prices thus improving their quality of life and creating jobs cultural enrichment and technological advances within the community.

All medical tourism providers and doctors must take into account the principles of environmental economic and social sustainability.

One of the most noticeable negative impacts is how the local community in some countries becomes antipathy to medical tourists who are perceived to have greater availability to services and are treated differently.

Economic impacts: Economic impacts of health tourism are remarkable for its multiplier effect. For example in Colombia the ratio is 1:5 meaning that for every dollar spent on healthcare the medical traveler spends $5 within the tourism industry -- at hotels restaurants transportation and travel agencies and malls (MCIT 2013).

When these economic benefits are not equally distributed throughout the host region social inequality may result. Also tourism contributes to the inflation of prices in the destination and may affect the quality of life for people with less purchasing power.

Sustainable Development

In 1987 the United Nations the Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. Although this concept initially focused on the environment by 1992 sustainable development perspectives began to change and instead focused on three pillars: economic progress social justice and environmental preservation.

  • Economic progress: Refers to the allocation and efficient management of public and private investments and resources that not only generate economic profitability to the company but also efficiency in terms of macrosocial benefits (Sachs 2008).
  • Social justice: Relates to building a civilization with greater equity in the distribution of earnings in a way that reduces inequality between rich and poor by protecting and ensuring the participation of local communities (Sachs 2008).
  • Environment preservation: Refers to the rational use of natural resources taking into account the balance of ecosystems and the conservation of non-renewable resources and biodiversity (Sachs 2008).

Sustainable Medical Tourism

The World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism development as tourism that takes into account current and future economic social and environmental impacts in order to meet the needs of visitors industry the environment and communities.

Sustainable development and tourism is based on three main pillars which must take into account tourist satisfaction industry environment and community.

  • Environmental sustainability: Optimizing the use of environmental resources and helping to conserve natural resources and biodiversity. Also environmental sustainability should promote a better understanding of the importance of the diversity of ecosystems and improve monitoring of the environmental impact caused by production activities.
  • Social sustainability: Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities ensuring the preservation of cultural assets and traditional community values. Additionally social sustainability must take into account the dimensions that improve the quality of life of the local community such as access to education health employment and dwelling.
  • Economic sustainability: Promoting and ensuring longterm economic activities in which socio-economic benefits are equally distributed among all agents generating stable employment opportunities and contributing to poverty reduction.

The World Tourism Organization affirms that a sustainable balance must be established among these three pillars to guarantee long-term sustainability.

Medical tourism may contribute to the generation of sustainable development if along its entire service chain the three pillars of sustainable tourism development are considered. In other words all providers and actors of medical tourism have to take into account the principles of environmental economic and social sustainability. All providers and actors must ensure a meaningful experience for the tourist and host community promoting sustainable practices in their activities.

The application of these principles to medical tourism is key to enhancing the quality of life of millions worldwide environmental protection poverty reduction and economic and social development of the region.

From Theory to Practice

How can sustainable medical tourism be practiced?

Firstly in the medical tourism chain of service stakeholders must be aware of the importance of being sustainable not only economically but also environmentally and culturally. Awareness helps to identify both positive and negative impacts created and on which actions must be taken to mitigate or potentiate. Actions must be oriented to accomplishing the company mission and vision and also must include people who are responsible for performance and compliance deadlines.

Promoting a sustainable activity generates high value for companies not only in the acquisition of savings practices but also through social responsibility perceptions of stakeholders who generate differentiation and add value to services.

Almost half of all consumers are willing to pay more for products from companies that demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility (Nielsen 2012).


Medical Tourism and Wellness MCIT 2013 Recuperado el 22 de Julio de 2013 de Sitio web de Programa de Transformación Productiva

Rivas Garcia J. & Magadán Díaz M. Los indicadores de sostenibilidad en el turismo Revista de Economía Sociedad Turismo y Medio Ambiente 26- 61 2007.

Sachs J. D. Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet Penguin Press 2008.

Shayon S. Report: Nielsen Defines the Socially Conscious Consumer Recuperado el 22 de Jul de 2013 de Brand Channel: http://www.brandchannel. com/home/post/Nielsen-Report-Corporate-Citizenship-040312.aspx 3 de Apr de 2012.

Sustainable Development of Tourism World Tourism Organization (s.f.) Recuperado el 22 de Jul de 2013 de Definition content/definicion

Sustainable Tourism Training the Trainers Programme UNESCO Regional Bureau of Science and Culture in Europe (BRESCE) pp.33-43 2009.

About the Author

Ángela Tatiana Castro Lotero is CEO and founder of Clinical Travel a travel agency specializing in medical and wellness tourism in Colombia. Castro has a professional degree in hotel and tourism business management from Externado University of Colombia. She has led the positioning of the Coffee Triangle in Colombia as a global health destination. Castro developed her thesis in lodging specializing in medical tourism. Social Responsibility -- Clinical Travel is a nonprofit organization that integrates health and tourism services promoting a sustainable and inclusive tourism committed to environmental conservation economic progress and social justice.

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