New Zealand and Australia Emerge as Major Medical Tourism Destinations


Last month, I wrote a Travel Agent cover story on the fast-growing field of medical tourism that concentrated on the major players in Asia and South America. After the story was published, I received feedback on two additional destinations that are intent on capturing their share of this profitable market— Australia and New Zealand. I reached out to Ruth Grau, president of Los Angeles-based Springboard Vacations, a luxury travel company presently offering medical travel to New Zealand (and, in the near future, Australia).

When I asked Ruth why medical tourism clients from the U.S. should choose New Zealand and Australia over such destinations as India and Singapore, which are well-known for offering medical procedures at a fraction of what it costs in the U.S., the answer was surprising. On average, heart bypass surgery costs between $110,000 and $125,000 in the U.S., but would cost only $38,000 in New Zealand. Frankly, I didn’t think the disparity between the two prices would be so great.

An added bonus for medical tourists choosing either New Zealand or Australia is the comfort level of being treated in an English-speaking country that shares much in common culturally with the U.S.

Grau noted that the private hospitals and medical specialists contracted are of the highest standard, having received specialty training in North America or the UK as well as New Zealand or Australia.

Springboard works with Medtral New Zealand in arranging a client’s medical tourism experience. Auckland-based Medtral New Zealand is the leading provider of medical tourism in New Zealand for North American patients.

“Medtral handles the medical side of the business and Springboard and the agent can handle the travel options,” says Grau. “This is an easy, high-dollar sale.”

Springboard assists patients on every step of the journey, arranging Premium Economy flights, four- or five-star accommodations and meeting patients at the airport. Medtral books the client’s specialist appointments, surgery and after-care while in New Zealand.

Grau is very excited about this new area of travel. “Like all companies and families we have watched our health expenses skyrocket," she said. "Here we have an opportunity to help people save money, yet get world-class medical treatment in a stunning destination that they already aspire to see. As the current U.S. economy causes cost-cutting pressures to mount, we are thrilled to be able to offer a desirable alternative." The medical travel packages that Springboard offers have days built in for clients to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings before they go to the hospital.

For example, those electing to have surgery in Auckland could avail themselves of Springboard’s pre-surgery packages to Waiheke Island, a destination known for its vineyards, great restaurants and wealth of art and craft galleries.

Popular treatments for medical tourists include orthopedic, cardiac, general surgery, urological surgery, plastic reconstructive surgery, gynecological and fertility. In fact, the Cairns Fertility Centre in Western Australia recently combined its clinic with a five-star luxury resort, complete with masseurs and a spa. The clinic specializes in assisted reproduction and in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures, and plans to take in patients early next year. The facility hopes to attract 50 percent of its patients from around the world and 50 percent from within Australia.

Grau ticks off some of the strengths of the medical tourism market: It doesn’t rely on seasonality; your clients will shift from thinking of New Zealand and Australia as desired destinations for leisure travel, to compelling money-saving destinations; medical tourism is a market that will continue to grow as boomers age. Also, as medical tourism grows, more and more insurers are getting on board as a way to keep their own costs down.

Travel agents will be paid regular commission on the travel components of the medical tourism programs through Springboard Vacations and a referral fee for the medical components. For more information, contact Ruth Grau ([email protected], 310-242-9234) or Steve Nichols at 866-206-3582.