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  Medical Tourism News -  Special Interview  

Special Interview with Ziyad Bin Mahfouz of Elaf Group Saudi Arabia
By Mahatma Davis, Editor-in-Chief | September 1, 2009


  The global emergence of Saudi Arabia in medical tourism

In a special interview for Dubai Health & News, Ziyad Bin Mahfouz, President of Jeddah-based Elaf Group of Companies for Travel, Tourism and Hotels talks about current trends and developments in medical tourism from a Saudi perspective.

Dubai Health & News: When did the Elaf Group first become involved in medical tourism, and why?

Ziyad Bin Mahfouz: Elaf Group has been involved in medical tourism from the outset as we recognized early on the potential of this unique sector in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Arab World in general. Saudi Arabia has a solid track record of growth in the outbound tourism sector, with medical travelers accounting for a significant portion of its outbound tourists. Elaf has accordingly partnered with prominent international hospitality providers and healthcare specialists around the world to create customized offerings that cater to the specific demands of Saudi travelers. Our efforts will certainly ensure better services and a more satisfying travel experience for the Kingdom's healthcare tourists.

Dubai Health & News: The concept of medical tourism is not new to the Arab region. Can you cast more light on how medical tourism has evolved over the last 5-10 years in Saudi Arabia?

Ziyad Bin Mahfouz: With rapid globalization and cheaper air travel, the concept of medical tourism has gained ground at a faster pace in recent years. People in Saudi Arabia are now more open to exploring healthcare services - more specifically wellness centers, spas and nature resorts - in other parts of the world, which is a reflection of a global trend.

Dubai Health & News: What role will Saudi Arabia play in boosting the medical tourism sector within the region and globally?

Ziyad Bin Mahfouz: Although Saudi Arabia has been more noted for its religious tourism, it has been exerting extra effort to promote inbound medical tourism, especially as advanced medical machinery, equipment and services have become widely available and accessible within the Kingdom and in neighboring countries. So far, Saudi Arabia has not made a significant mark in the inbound medical tourism business, but this will soon change as the country is focusing on the development of its health sector through its world-class medical centers and hospitals. Government is also stepping-up efforts to support the growth of inbound medical tourism, as reflected in its five-year plan to develop medical cities in Jeddah and its holding of various healthcare-related workshops.

Dubai Health & News: How is your approach to servicing the Saudi medical traveler different from what others are doing in the region? Can you give us a couple of examples regarding the types of specialized services that you offer to Saudi patients?

Ziyad Bin Mahfouz: The company has recently signed agreements with international organizations to offer specialized services to Saudi healthcare tourists as part of efforts to tap into the thriving industry.

As Elaf group is specialized in travel services , we offer the medical traveler tailored services before and during the trip, while also scheduling appointments with specialized healthcare facilities and wellness centers, based on our agreements with these institutions.

Dubai Health & News: What are some of the barriers to promoting medical tourism in Saudi Arabia? And what issues will be most important for you in the short and long term?

Ziyad Bin Mahfouz: The basic hurdle exists not only in Saudi Arabia but in other countries as well, which is the quick acquisition of a medical visa. Even in emergency cases, the issuance of a medical visa may be delayed due to a number of reasons. In addition, women entering the Kingdom need to be escorted by their spouses or fathers, so this poses complications when the patient is a female. We don't consider this a major issue, though, as patients in general need to be accompanied by a family member anyway.

Dubai Health & News: Can you share with us your thoughts on how medical tourism in Saudi Arabia will develop over the next 3-5 years? What major developments or trends can we expect to see emerge from the Kingdom?

Ziyad Bin Mahfouz: The next five years will witness an expansion of medical cities across Saudi Arabia that will feature concentrated medical services encompassing hospitals and private clinics, as well as organizations relevant to the target market. We can also expect the signing of medical agreements with well-known organizations and doctors to be on site in medical institutions within the Kingdom.

Dubai Health & News: Do you foresee greater involvement among hospitals, medical travel coordinators, and other stakeholders (local and foreign) in Saudi Arabia over the next couple of years?

Ziyad Bin Mahfouz: Definitely. In fact, several medical institutions and hospitals have already paralleled their growth agendas with the medical tourism strategies being implemented by government. This is most apparent in their purchase of new machines and advanced devices for various treatments. We will witness a greater influx of medical tourists as advanced medical capabilities and services and their accompanying foreign providers continue to emerge across the country.

Dubai Health & News:  I would like to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to Mr. Ziyad Bin Mahfouz for this exclusive interview!

Related Information:
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