Medical travel: the Dominican Republic’s new industry

Can the Dominican Republic become America's #1 destination for Health and Wellness Tourism? We have reasons to believe so.

Map of the Caribbean
The Dominican Republic has 8 international airports and consistently holds more than 5 million tourists per year.

The consolidated tourism industry and the credibility of our Country Brand have opened the doors to a new national industry: Medical Travel

How did we get to this point? In the next paragraphs, there is tourism context that provides information on the matter.

The tertiary sector concentrates those economic activities related to material services that do not produce any goods, aimed at satisfying the needs of the people.

Also known as the services sector, it integrates broad areas of the Dominican Republic’s national economy, such as the financial sector, Transport and Communications, Commerce, Telecommunications, Public Services, Health, Real Estate and Rental Activities, Public Administration and Tourism.

According to a report by the Department of National Accounts and Economic Statistics, appointed to the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic, in 2015 services accounted for 62.2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Tourism – framed in Hotels, Bars, and Restaurants – top at 7.6%, ranking 4th.

Its indirect contribution rises this percentage to 16%, as reported by the Association of Hotels and Tourism (ASONAHORES, by its acronym in Spanish).

Tourism contributes a massive 25% of the foreign currencies that our country obtains. It also exceeds 14% of the total workforce, with over 620 thousand jobs.

The data demonstrates its preponderance in the Dominican economy and operates as a strategic ax of the services sector.

Medical Travel

The Dominican Republic is the top Caribbean destination for tourists from all corners of the world.

Tourism had kept a sustainable growth since 2012 when a total of 4.5 million people arrived at any of our multiple international airports.

A line of foreign airlines stacked at Punta Cana International Airport.
A view of Punta Cana International airport, a significant tourists landing site. Source:

In 2013, we received 4.6 million tourists; in 2014 the quantity rose to 5.1. By 2015 a total of 5.6 million tourists chose the island for their vacation or business needs.

The latest report shows that in 2017, the Dominican Republic welcomed 6.1 million tourists.

These facts are not a coincidence. We have eight international airports, six domestic airports and 16 maritime ports, which represents the most significant number of air and sea connections in the area.

Also, it has top-notch hotel infrastructure, a friendly culture, and peaceful coexistence, with the best landscapes and the most exclusive resorts of the Caribbean and perhaps the region.

The consolidated tourism industry and the credibility of our Country Brand have opened the doors to a new national industry: Health and Wellness Tourism.

Main Medical Travel Event

From September 1st to the 3rd of 2016, the III International Health and Wellness Tourism Congress were held, sponsored by the Dominican Association of Health Tourism (ADTS, by its Spanish acronym), an entity led by Dr. Alejandro Cambiaso.

The Congress endured essential government figures like the Minister of Public Health and Social Assistance, Dr. Altagracia Guzman, the primary authority on the field, and the now former director of the Department of Health Tourism -under the Ministry of Tourism-, Wendy Sánchez Imbert.

Without a doubt, it showed a powerful sign of support and commitment by the Government of Danilo Medina.

Dr. Alejandro Cambiaso leads the efforts into consolidation a Health and Wellness Tourism industry in the Dominican Republic.

Likewise, high-ranking executives from the United States and Canadian hospitals, the diplomatic community, accrediting companies, financial sector companies, representatives of world-renowned health centers such as Cleveland Clinic, investors, prominent jurists, as well as a diverse political and local economic actors.

“Quality for our homeland,” said Dr. Cambiaso during his speech, in which he highlighted the certainty that this developing industry would become a transversal axle for the improvement of the Dominican health system.

Locals will benefit because of the transfer of technology and knowledge, certifications, protocolization, and standardization of all processes and services.

According to Dr. Antonio Briceño, CEO Health Services of America, the core aspects of any country that is seeking to consolidate a Health Tourism industry are, among others:

  • A unique experience from the beginning
  • Create a value proposition for the user
  • Patients security
  • All actors need to understand that from the beginning to the end of the process they are caregivers.
Reasons to Believe in Medical Travel

Can the Dominican Republic become America’s #1 destination for Health and Wellness Tourism? Yes, there are plenty of reasons to believe, to name a few:

  1. Affordability. High costs of medical services in the United States, Europe and the major cities of South and Central America. Thousands of people are increasingly seeking options outside their countries.
  2. In Canada, for someone to get surgery or medical treatment in the public sector, they must wait an average of 18.2 weeks, according to Pablo Castillo, CEO of Medbrick, a company specialized in travel assistance, medical costs and Medical Tourism in Latin America. By 2015, more than 52 thousand Canadians sought treatment abroad. For the Dominican Republic, Canadians represent the second group of tourists. They hold more visitors than all of Central and South American countries combined, with over 706 thousand (Central Bank of the Dominican Republic, 2014).
  3. Dominican Community. In the United States, there are 1.8 million Dominicans residents. Around 47% live in New York, just 3 hours and 35 minutes (average) from Santo Domingo, our capital. Eight out of ten live in the Northeastern states. Dominicans living in the United States keep a close economic and emotional relationship with the island, a critical aspect when making a health or wellness decision.
  4. The Service-oriented economy and the historical success of public-private partnerships.
  5. Highly qualified medical staff. We have internationally certified doctors and surgeons that convey decades of experience and specialties in distinguished medical and research centers in the United States and Europe.
  6. Quality health centers in the main tourist cities of the country like Punta Cana (International Medical Group), Santo Domingo (Plaza de la SaludCedimat), Santiago (HOMS), and Puerto Plata (Grupo Rescue).

Let’s be clear. Health Tourism is not limited to those who by their own decision opt for Plastic and Reconstructive surgery. It’s much broader than someone might believe. It covers preventive, curative and residency services, yielding a human approach to it.

We must underline that proper care of people represents the philosophy and the essential principle that sustains all these initiatives in the Dominican Republic.

It’s about offering a service that transcends and manages to prevent diseases, tries to cure illnesses, and also intends to provide well-being for people, for a much more satisfying and joyful life.

Dr. Alejandro Cambiaso signing the agreement with the Chamber of Commerce of Santo Domingo.Recently, the ADTS signed an agreement with the Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution of the Chamber of Commerce and Production of Santo Domingo.

According to an ADTS statement, both entities agreed to “work together in the promotion of arbitration as the main route for the resolution of conflicts arising in health tourism. Also, providing legal security to the actors of the value chain of medical tourism, using an efficient, expeditious and cost-effective policy of dispute resolution according to the demands of the current globalized market “. The agreement seeks to provide security to investors and the patient.

We support the idea of Dr. Cambiaso that the Dominican Republic should soon have a Health and Wellness Law. A legal framework offers plenty of guarantees and incentives for all.

The Dominican Republic has an extraordinary challenge ahead, and we have taken it with courage.

Health and Wellness Tourism is an ideal opportunity to provide thousands of jobs, attract foreign currency, maintain our 7%+ GDP growth and currency exchange stability, as well as improving our health system.

In the end, Dominicans are the most significant beneficiaries of this initiative that has taken shape and already made its first steps.

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