Interview with President of UAMT , Violetta Yanyshevskaya, for Destinations correspondent, winter 2020 issue.

There are numerous factors making the medical and wellness inbound tourism in Ukraine attractive and hindering development of the industry at the same time.

Open borders, simplified visa requirements, accessible and fast transportation, growing pace of life and requirements to the living standards enable foreign tourists to travel the world freely and to look for the high medical service level at the reasonable price. The medical tourism promotes improvement of the national health care system and level of the medicine. Many hospitals open departments for foreign patients with highly qualified and experienced doctors. Introduction of advanced technologies, improvement of treatment and health care standards and development of innovation treatment methods are entailing establishment of the medical tourism ecosystem, which must involve transport services, HoReCa facilities, insurance companies, travel agencies etc. in addition to the medical facilities. DESTINATIONS has interviewed Violetta Ianyshevska, MD, MBA, the President of the Ukrainian Association of Medical Tourism and the President of the Global Healthcare Travel Council, about Ukraine’s capability of seizing the opportunities offered by the inbound medical tourism and unlocking its potential in this area.

– Which areas of the medical tourism have the highest prospects in Ukraine?

Today’s most attractive areas of the medical tourism for foreign patients in Ukraine are plastic surgery, dental solutions, health resort treatment, aux-iliary fertility services, aftercare, treatment of ophthalmic diseases, cardio-vascular surgery, cell therapy and cryobanks. Given that, the government must support and promote development of these areas in the context of the medical tourism in Ukraine. Foreign patients come to Ukraine from different countries. Most of them are from China, the Persian Gulf countries, Israel, the US, Canada, Italy, Poland, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan; another market with the high potential is Africa.

– Can we compete with the key players on the global medical tourism market in terms of the level of medical services and treatment?

Of course, we can and we do. The Ukrainian hospitals that have been welcoming patients from abroad for many years have wonderful infrastructure, advanced equipment, departments for dealing with foreign patients and car fleets, and they offer the high level of services while their highly-qualified doctors are trained in the best foreign hospitals and speak several languages. The main reasons why foreign patients come to us to be treated is restriction of the service in the country of their residence, for instance, a long wait list: a patient from North America or Europe sometimes has to wait for a surgical interference or even trivial examination for several months. The important factors also include a high price of the service, restriction of medical services at the legislative level or partial indemnification under the insurance policy. As for some areas, there are also positive achievements: more experienced doctors, innovation technologies, advanced equipment and unique natural therapeutic factors.

The medical tourism geography, i.e. the country of origin of foreign patients, also depends on the therapeutic area. For instance, patients come in search of fertility technologies from Europe, Israel, Canada and the US. When it comes to treatment with stem cells, these are mainly customers from the Arab countries, namely the Persian Gulf countries, China, and fewer customers from Canada and the US, Europe. As far as dental solutions are concerned, our main competitor is Europe, in particular, Hungary, which has created a brand of the “European dental office”, as well as other former Soviet countries offering the advanced dental technologies at approximately the same price as in Ukraine.

 - Which unique technologies and innovation of the Ukrainian medical facilities can encourage foreigners to select our country?

Unfortunately, a typical Ukrainian trait is to believe that everything is terrible at home and much better somewhere there abroad. It is not always like that. We are proud to present the Ukrainian treatment opportunities abroad. Thus, Ukraine is one of the global leaders in research and development and practical use of medical technologies in cell therapy. Ukraine is also one of the leaders in performance of the reproductive medicine. Both areas are incredibly knowledge-intensive and innovational and attract foreigners from many countries.

– Which barriers hinder the flow of foreign tourists to Ukraine for the purposes of treatment or recovery?

First of all, it is our political and economic environment. The hostilities in the east of Ukraine are definitely a material barrier to an increase in the flow of tourists. Another key factor is visa issues as well as lack of funding for this area of inbound tourism. The tourists from such countries as China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, some Arab and African countries have difficulty getting a visa know. Of course, there are some positive tendencies: the visa issues have been resolved for some countries; for instance, there is visa-free travel with Qatar and the UAE, and it is much easier now to get an e-visa. However, our country’s openness is still to be improved because getting a Ukrainian visa is an expensive, long and overly complicated process for many countries. The cost of the Ukrainian visa is of-ten higher than in the other European countries. Moreover, getting a visa is a complex procedure that sometimes takes two weeks to a month. It should be noted that more than 50% of foreign tourists from certain African countries are denied entry into Ukraine… Of course, lack of direct flights to the countries of potential interest for us also has negative impact on development of medical tourism: convenient and fast flights always influence tourist flows. The insufficient transport and logistics infrastructure and existing service standard issues are the difficulties that prevent unlocking the potential in the area of the inbound medical tourism in Ukraine.

– The medical and wellness tourism can turn into a powerful driver of development of the national medical and health resort industries and an active source of foreign investment. From your point of view, what role should the government play in support and promotion of development of the Ukrainian medical tourism?

An average bill for a foreigner in the Ukrainian hospital in 2018 was around two thousand and a half US dollars. It is easy to calculate that the leading domestic medical facilities earned around 150 million US dollars from the in-bound medical tourism in 2018. The number of medical tourists in the health resort areas is about two or three times higher that the number of tourists in the therapeutic areas, but the scope of the medical wellness market in Ukraine is somewhat smaller than the therapeutic one due to the lower cost of the services: around 100 million US dollars per year. Therefore, the total proceeds from the inbound medical tourism are a quarter billion US dollars per year. The government must definitely be interested in development of this industry.

The issue of the inbound medical tourism is of paramount importance now and it is must be one of the priorities of development of the tourist industry in particular and the Ukrainian economy in general. Of course, it needs national support at this level. The government must support and encourage development of the areas in demand in the context of the medical and wellness tourism in Ukraine. The increased flow of foreign tourists into Ukraine for the therapeutic and recovery purposes will result in additional investment into the national economy, foreign investment and promotion of development of the medical and health resort industries. The Ukrainian Association of Medical Tourism (UAMT) continuously promotes the opportunities of the recovery and medical potential of Ukraine on the outer markets at the major industry-specific international congresses, conferences and fairs dedicated to the medical tourism. We have signed a number of Memorandums, in particular, with the state administrations and tourist associations, on the joint promotion abroad, and I believe it will help create the positive image of our country.

– This year, the Ukrainian Association of Medical Tourism chairs the Global Healthcare Travel Council. What opportunities does it open up to Ukraine, and what are your goals for this period?

Yes, the senior executives of the UAMT chaired the Global Healthcare Travel Council in April this year. What can Ukraine get as a result? It is definitely a unique chance for more active promotion of the inbound medical tourism into Ukraine on the global market. It includes a range of special actions taken to promote Ukraine’s therapeutic and recovery opportunities in the world, the meetings for the purpose of development of cooperation with Ukraine with ministers and heads of specialized state institutions of many world countries. This will help our country get more visible on the global map of the medical tourism.

We have already taken part in many international forums, medical tour-ism congresses and B2B meetings where I presented the therapeutic and recovery opportunities in Ukraine as the President of the GHTC. Lots of events are organized in the country. Thus, on 6-9 August, we organized the powerful First Regional Forum of Medical Tourism in Lviv, with the info tour around the leading medical centers in Lviv Region for a large group of the medical tour-ism providers from the Arab countries, Central Asia and Caucasus. In particular, we demonstrated the level of the hospitals, recovery centers and Medical SPA in the regional recovery centers. Such forums and info tours are incredibly important for development of not only the medical tourism industry, but also the related industries, including the restaurant and hotel ones.

 The forum and the assembly of the Global Healthcare Travel Council are going to be conducted in Ukraine on 22-24 April 2020. The participants of the meeting will be the leading medical tourism providers and representatives of the specialized associations from 56 countries. It is the congress of the global scale that was already held in Monaco, Jordan, Dubai, Turkey and Azerbaijan last year. It is the largest international event dedicated to the medical tour-ism, which will be held in Ukraine this year owing to our chair in the Global Healthcare Travel Council. Our task is to select the hotels to welcome the participants of the forum, the restaurants for gala lunches and dinners, the leading hospitals, health resort and recovery centers, SPA&Wellness to take part in the info tour, the conference halls for the medical tourism forum and assembly as well as the airlines to partner with the forum. It is a challenge for Ukraine so I hope we will manage to obtain the government’s support of the event and to organize everything at the decent level so that the capacities and opportunities of the Ukrainian medical tourism industry will be displayed to the global community to an advantage.