Medical Tourism: Cancun's Latest Niche



Cancun and Riviera Maya
Cancun and Riviera Maya cared for 2,200 patients in 2010.


Cancun, the bread and butter for Mexico tourism, never stops evolving. Following the devastation of Hurricane Wilma in 2004, the destination that had been primarily a spring break getaway was transformed into arguably one of the best family vacation spots in the country. Now, it is looking to corner the market on another niche: medical tourism.

Is this really something worth pitching to clients? Travel Agent came across both skepticism and optimism among agents. We also got the skinny on how Cancun’s tourist board plans on making this new offering worth your while.

Cancun Touts Medical Prowess

The Medical Tourism Association of Cancun and Riviera Maya, together with the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), Cancun Hotel Association and Riviera Maya Tourism Board, will promote the Mexican Caribbean as the new medical tourism destination at the World Medical Tourism Congress to be held this October in Chicago. As part of this event, 10 hospitals within the Mexican Caribbean will announce Cancun and Riviera Maya as the hosts of the First National Congress of Medical Tourism, to be held in April of 2012. The event will be organized in conjunction with leading institutions within the medical tourism industry from the U.S. and Canada.

Agent Advice

“For elective procedures or treatments not covered by the system, going to Mexico is brilliant,” says Ben Gritzewsky of Frosch Travel in Houston, TX. “The costs are a fraction of what they are north of the border, the facilities are state-of-the-art, and Mexican caregivers are highly trained professionals and among the warmest and most compassionate people in the world.

“I think the concept will be successful in Cancun. If it does not become Mexico’s medical mecca, it could probably be a center for certain specialties. With its gorgeous beaches and countless luxuries, it’s an ideal place to recuperate from anything.”

Rodrigo de la Peña, president, Cancun Hotel Association, and Servando Acuña Braun, president, Medical Travel Association (MTA), said in a recent press conference that Cancun and Riviera Maya cared for 2,200 patients in 2010; the potential of this market over the next four years is estimated to be between 8,000-10,000 patients.

But some agents, such as Mexico specialist Marianne Braly of Now Voyager Travel in Huntington Beach, CA, are not sold on the idea. “This is not something I want to be involved in,” Braly says, citing skepticism about the facilities in Cancun and doubts about what happens when a surgery on a client goes awry. “And since I have don’t have any clients asking me about it anyway, I don’t have to actually make any decisions to turn away business.”

Ben Gritzewsky of Frosch Travel in Houston disagrees.“I recently had a great dental experience there,” Gritzewsky told Travel Agent. “It was in Merida, not Cancun, but I believe there is potential for medical tourism in both cities. From frequent visits to Merida, I have become familiar with the available facilities and others’ experiences there. I am convinced that the level of care and the qualifications of providers meet or exceed U.S. standards. Most physicians are multilingual and many have North American or European training. Merida is already a medical hub for southern Mexico and Central America. I am confident that Cancun offers similar world-class services and its medical community is committed to further development. The air connections are certainly better than Merida’s.”

There are about 10 hospitals and clinics that are part of the medical tourism industry in Cancun and Riviera Maya, and in the next two years, an investment of $49.5 million dollars is expected, including four hospitals/clinics in the Riviera Maya. In 2009, 17,840 rooms per night were occupied in all; when considering pre- and post-operation stays, the figure was 19,624. With an average room rate of $90, an average of $1.8 million in income was generated per stay, excluding food and beverages of the accompanying travelers.

The medical specialties offered are: assisted reproduction and fertilization, holistic treatments, dentistry, cosmetic surgeries, minimally invasive neurosurgery, orthopedics, eye surgery, angelology, treatment for Parkinson’s disease, anti-aging vaccine cell therapy, bariatric treatments, cardiology and oncology.

To promote growth in medical tourism, Medical Travel Cancun A.C. was created in November of 2010, with nine medical-tourist facilities in Cancun and Riviera Maya under the direction of Braun.

“Servando Acuña Braun, president, MTA, is participating in several medical congresses to promote Cancun as a medical destination,” said Jesus Alma-guer, director, Cancun CVB, adding that the Cancun CVB “is promoting this new segment at trade shows.”