Poor promotion loses Turkey billions in dental tourism
Turkey is missing out on a lucrative dental care tourism business with billions of dollars of profit-making potential due to poor promotion, the result of a few necessary legal amendments that have been shelved for years, market representatives argue with Sunday’s Zaman.
With its increased popularity for quality health services at relatively lower prices Turkey has attracted a growing number of visitors from abroad, particularly Europe, in the past decade. The country’s first ever full-face transplant that accompanied multiple organ transplants (only recently) didn’t just spark enthusiasm at home but also helped fuel the tide of health tourists to Turkish clinics from surrounding countries.
Some argue, however, that the country cannot use its potential to attract foreign dental patients at a desired level. Thousands of foreign tourists visit Turkey to receive dental care, spending millions of dollars at Turkish dentists each year. According to market observer Emin Çakmak, opportunities in dental care tourism can actually be far beyond what Turks anticipate.
Çakmak tells Sunday’s Zaman that Turkey has the potential to attract as many as 2 million foreign visitors for dental care each year, the size of which he estimates at around $3 billion. He gives much of this credit to European customers. “Turkey is by far Europe’s most profitable destination for patients with dental problems. A patient pays 2,000 euros for dental care on average in the UK, while this number declines to 900 euros when the same work is done in Turkey,” he explains. A niche tourism area, dental tourism each year sees more than 1 million patients globally who travel to countries where they find relatively lower treatment costs and shorter waiting times when compared to their countries of origin. Research shows the average waiting time for dental treatment in the UK is one-and-a-half months while this period in Turkey can be as short as one day.
The highest number of dental tourists is believed to come from the US, while EU citizens are the second largest group who travel abroad for cheap treatment for their gums and teeth. Noting that most tour operators combine dental care with travel, Çakmak says a possible influx of dental tourists to Turkey would also mean money spent on service and other sectors, including hotels, food and souvenirs. One critical benefit of an improvement in Turkey’s dental tourism could be retaining high-profile professionals at home, observers argue. Turkey suffered from serious brain drain in the past, and quality dentists are needed at home to maintain high standard levels. An increased number of dental tourists would also create new job opportunities in the market, especially when taking thousands of jobless dentists inside Turkey into consideration.
What’s in a name: ‘dentist’?
Çakmak argues that one of the major obstacles to advanced dental tourism in Turkey is an arrangement that forbids dentists from using names, titles and ads for their clinics in any foreign language, currently supported by the Turkish Dental Association (TDB). Underlining the foreign visitor potential, Çakmak says clinics are still fined for using the word “dentist” on their signs or, likewise, picking a foreign name (mostly in English) for their clinics. “The problem is that the TDB is accepted as an independent public institution by law, which means it has the authority to define binding rules for member dentists. The government cannot intervene to correct this ambiguity.”
Fuat Akyıldız from Kuşadası is a dentist who received a warning from the TDB to omit the word “dentist” on his sign and business cards. He tells his story to Sunday’s Zaman: “It didn’t take the TDB long to warn me with a letter when I used the word dentist in English. I was off the hook, erasing the word from my sign; but not all dentists were as lucky.” He recalls two friends had to shut down their clinics for using English words to define their clinics in Kuşadası. “Around 85 percent of my patients are foreign tourists, and the majority of them are Irish and British. We keep in touch in a mutual language, English; what is wrong with this?” he asks, as he laments no progress has been made after waiting for so many years for the TDB to correct this problem. This also creates problems in effectively promoting Turkey in international fairs on dentistry, while the Ministry of Culture and Tourism also does very little on this issue, Akyıldız adds.
Officials from the TDB, who are criticized for failing to represent and protect the rights of dentists in Turkey, were not immediately available for comment. The association said it would later respond to criticisms in an email.