Dubai: the medical tourism hub of the Middle East

Dubai will someday be everyone’s preferred medical tourism hub, and here’s why:

The global medical tourism market is stated to be worth around USD 100 billion and is growing at a rapid rate of approximately 20% year on year.

An increasing number of countries are vying for a share of this growing market by promoting and branding themselves as medical tourist destinations. Thailand and Lebanon have built a reputation for great – and more widely affordable – plastic surgery; the U.K. and U.S.A. frequently travelled to by those in need of advanced treatment. In recent years the U.A.E. has looked at developing its medical tourism industry to compete with global forerunners.

As it stands, Dubai has generated over Dh1.4 billion from the medical tourism sector with around 326,649 tourists visiting the emirate last year, according to Dubai Health Authority (DHA) on Tuesday, and is on route to piercing the top 5 medical tourism destinations.

How has the UAE made the climb?

In 2014, UAE was 14th in world rankings for medical tourism. In its constant effort to forge ahead across all rankings, the UAE government has worked hard on expanding and revamping its healthcare infrastructure and systems to meet international standards and attract patients from abroad.

On the global medical tourism scale, the UAE has become one of the preferred destinations for following specializations: orthopedic and sports medicine, ophthalmology, dental procedures, dermatology, preventive medicine and skin care, with plastic surgery being the most popular one. The introduction of Dubai’s acclaimed Healthcare City, too, has helped put Dubai on the map for medical tourism.

Why Dubai has developed so rapidly

Government initiatives

At the core of Dubai’s success is its government, which wastes little time dawdling when there are records to be set and changes to be made. Needless to say, across many ventures the government in the UAE is very proactive in developing its healthcare infrastructure. The UAE accounts for 26% of the total healthcare spend in the GCC. The per capita healthcare spending in the UAE is the second highest in the region.

In an effort to attract patients from abroad, the Dubai government launched the ‘Dubai Health Experience (DXH)’. They have put together a user friendly single window smart application as well as a digital gateway for medical tourists to make use of a superior, comprehensive and integrated healthcare service system. The website offers a broad range of medical packages as well as a booking platform for procedures, visas, discounted Emirates flight tickets, hotels, insurance and sightseeing.

This initiative was made possible through a collaboration of over 25 healthcare facilities that form the ‘DXH Group’.


Dubai is frequently cited as having the most travelled-to airport.

With the third best air transport infrastructure in the world according to WEF, and being 8 hours from two-thirds of the world’s population, Dubai is an ideal destination for medical tourism.

Expat population

Most of the UAE’s population consists of expats. Over 84% of their working population are from abroad.  Dubai has a 2.2 million expatriates amounting to 91% of its population.

Barriers to growth

While Dubai has made leaps and bounds towards improving its international standing, there are some chief obstacles standing in its way, allowing for countries like the United Kingdom and Canada free reign of the top spots.


Dubai is incredibly expensive, and while it’s true that the cost of healthcare provision in the UAE compares very favourably with most Western markets, the pricing is not competitive enough to attract patients from Asia & Africa.

Unsustainable salaries

Finding skilled labour is an issue in the Emirates, even with physicians. With a limited number of established doctors and practitioners, there is a trend of poaching physicians from competitors. This has given rise to unreasonably high physicians’ salaries which is not sustainable in the long run and will have a negative impact on the profitability of hospitals in the UAE.


The UAE has positioned itself as a force to reckon with in the medical tourism sector by placing themselves within the top 20 destinations of choice. If the government continues to maintain this momentum and provide the right support and regulatory frameworks, it will definitely achieve its goal of making it to the top 5 by 2020. Offsetting the barriers to growth will play a crucial part in how quickly or slowly they reach the top.


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