Head of Latvia's health tourism cluster Gunta Ušpele said that during the pandemic, the travel restrictions made it difficult for medical tourists from third countries.
“Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine [..] Due to various restrictions in 2020, Russia was no longer in the first place in medical tourism for Latvia. Lithuania rose to first place, and Great Britain was behind it. Britain is a very, very important medical tourism market for us. It's not just a diaspora, no, there are British people going to Latvia for a variety of medical services,” said Ušpele.
The war launched by Russia in Ukraine has also introduced adjustments.
“We completely changed the direction of strategic markets before the beginning of the war, in early January, we removed both Russia and Belarus. Ukraine has stayed and will always remain because Ukraine is a very important market for us. There's a war going on, of course, but on the other hand, there are a lot of people out there who need both elective surgery and diagnostics and urgent operations. If Ukrainians can't do it in their country, they can do it in Latvia. People are also traveling from Russia and Belarus, but not as much as before, and we are not focusing on these markets anymore,” Ušpele said.
Latvia's target markets in terms of medical tourism are Nordic countries, Britain, Ireland, Germany, as well as Lithuania and Estonia. Asked whether foreign medical tourists are looking more cautiously at Latvia's visit for medical purposes due to the war in Ukraine, Ušpele said: “We do not see a sharp or perceptible precaution or refused operations or diagnostics from foreign patients at the moment. Those who had planned are coming because the health problems need to be addressed. There is not so much fear or insecurity about going to Latvia. So we forecast that the number of foreign patients could be similar to last year and with a tendency to grow slightly this year.”
Health center network “Veselības centrs 4” serves around 2,000 patients daily, most of which are local patients.
“The proportion of medical tourism is around 1%, but if we speak in absolute figures, on average they are 10-20 patients a day,” commented Lana Kutiševa, head of medical tourism at Health Center 4. She said that the flow of patients from Russia had not stopped at Health Center 4, but it had reduced.
Kutiševa said that the Latvian advantages are competitive price and quality, as well as access to services.