When you think of tourism, you probably are imagining a vacation where you are relaxing on an island beach, backpacking across Europe, or visiting museums and art galleries and dining in chic cafes. But not all tourism is created equal. For more people now than ever, healthcare and wellness are forming the core of their vacations abroad.
Thanks to these travelers and what is a growing global market, new destinations for healthcare and medical treatments are emerging within the Caspian region – and Azerbaijan is part of the phenomenon.
The South Caucasus’s largest country will be hosting the third Global Healthcare Travel Forum, sponsored by the Global Healthcare Travel Council, in Baku from April 22-24. The event is meant to address the potential of the sector, and how Azerbaijan can contribute to it, as well as reap some of its benefits.
“Around 150 participants representing the healthcare sector of different countries will attend the forum,” the council’s president, Ruslan Guliyev, told Caspian News. “Key targets of the health and tourism sectors in providing global healthcare, operation of the medical tourism centers of the council members, and the cooperation between such centers will be the main topic on the forum’s agenda.”
This year’s event in Baku comes a year after Azerbaijan took over the presidency of the council from the United Arab Emirates at the organization’s fourth General Assembly Meeting at the Turkish resort city of Antalya last April. The rotating presidency of the council mandates that the presiding country host the subsequent forum.
The Global Healthcare Travel Council is a global union of healthcare travel industry businesses. Russia, Great Britain, Germany, Turkey, and India are amongst its 56 member states. The ultimate mission of the council is to raise awareness of healthcare travel as one of the world’s largest industries.
"Global Healthcare for All” is this year’s forum’s motto. Heads of national healthcare organizations, general managers of recreational therapy facilities, and experts and scientists from 20 countries have been invited to the event. Representatives from Azerbaijan’s ministries of economy, health, youth and sport, and the State Tourism Agency are expected to send their delegations to the conference.
“This forum will give us a unique opportunity to seek cooperation in order to apply the global health tourism expertise in Azerbaijan. Our country has a huge potential both materially and naturally to be one of the most in-demand destinations for healthcare travelers,” Guliyev told Caspian News.
The healthcare sector in Azerbaijan has been on the rise in recent years, as the government has been investing in it to put it on par with that of the world’s leading economies. Over the past 15 years, 640 medical centers were built and dozens were overhauled. Around $614.5 million, or 4.5 percent of the state budget, has been allocated for the healthcare system in 2019, up by $178.8 million from 2018 figures.
In addition to healthcare infrastructure, natural therapeutic resources are attracting health-conscious travelers. According to the Association for Support to Health and Thermal Tourism in Azerbaijan, resorts in the cities of Naftalan and Shabran could become prime destinations for those looking to improve their health while on a holiday.
Naftalan, located in central Azerbaijan, is home to natural spas and facilities that have curative crude oil. The unique grade of black-brown, thick oil found here is reported to have a composition that has helped patients suffering from rheumatism, arthritis and psoriasis, as well as 67 other illnesses.
The sulfur-rich waters found at the Galaalti resort in the northeastern city of Shabran are said to help normalize metabolism, reduce the formation of uric acid and acidity of gastric juices, lower the permeability of cellular membranes, decrease dieresis, strengthen the immune system, and even prevent premature aging.
But nature’s health locales in Azerbaijan don’t stop in Naftalan and Shabran. Thermal spring in Masalli, in the south of Azerbaijan, and the Duzdag salt mine located in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan have helped patients that suffer from ailments like rheumatism, sciatica, bronchial asthma, kidney and urinary tract diseases.