Medical and wellness tourism a low-hanging fruit


Medical and wellness tourism a low-hanging fruit

Sunday, October 13, 2019

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As Jamaica struggles along at a growth rate which is only good by comparison with 30 years of stagnation, the country continues to miss out on transformative economic opportunities.

The obvious answer to Jamaica's perennial problem of lack of foreign exchange to pay down its external debt and finance imports is to reduce imports and increase foreign exchange earnings.

But reducing imports is difficult, as it could constrain economic growth in a small, open, developing economy like Jamaica's which needs energy, food supplies and capital goods. With all that we still have to hope that nothing happens to push up oil prices.

Thankfully, it is still possible to increase foreign exchange earnings from tourism, bauxite and remittances, though with some amount of restrictions. Tourism will continue to grow but not fast enough. The outlook for bauxite/alumina is uncertain. Remittances are increasing steadily and should continue to do so.

The approach, it seems to us, is to engage in an aggressive programme to develop new sources of export earnings. In this regard, we are at one with Seprod's Mr Richard Pandohie, the new president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association, in calling for a coherent and comprehensive export strategy.

New export industries are possible. One good opportunity being overlooked is medical and wellness tourism. We note with interest a new book Medical and Wellness Tourism in Jamaica by economist Dr Richard Bernal and scientist extraordinaire Dr Henry Lowe, which outlines the opportunities, benefits, the feasibility and how to seize the possibilities in such an industry.

Jamaica's proximity to the United States, the biggest market in the world for healthcare and wellness, provides real opportunity. Its astronomical and escalating cost of healthcare, shortage of nurses and rapidly ageing population represent a clear case of unmet demand for healthcare and wellness. Americans are increasingly going abroad, as far as India, to seek healthcare.

Jamaica has a competitive advantage based on its location, cost of healthcare and wellness services and year-round warm climate. But we need Government incentives and infrastructure to encourage local and foreign investors to build modern facilities.

Medical and wellness tourism has synergies with our well-developed world-class tourism and could jump-start the dormant retirement industries. A modern, well-equipped medical and wellness centre would help to retain Jamaican doctors and nurses as they would earn US dollars.

Demand would not be confined to Americans but be open to all foreigners and Jamaicans who now go abroad for healthcare. The local industry would not be affected by scale as global demand is growing, our environment is relatively clean and it would employ skills from neuro-surgeons and nurse's aides to gardeners.

To bring all of this to fruition, the Government of Jamaica must develop a comprehensive strategic development plan and a strategy to induce private investors to build out the facilities. There is no time to lose because other countries, from Mexico to Cayman, have seen this opportunity.

Hopefully, it is not true that if you want to keep a secret in Jamaica you put it in a book.

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