Croatia seeks its share of medical tourism pie

Mon Sep 7, 2009 5:30am EDT
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By Zoran Radosavljevic

RIJEKA, Croatia (Reuters Life!) - Maria Giudita Coffen did not mind driving for three hours to get her teeth fixed at half price in Croatia.

"I am here for the first time but I've heard from friends that it's really good and it is certainly 40 percent cheaper than in Italy," she said, sitting in the modern, light-filled waiting room at DentVitalis, one of the major dental clinics in the north Adriatic city of Rijeka.

Unlike Coffen, who came from Vallisella del Cadore in northern Italy only for dental work, many west Europeans have started to combine Croatia's cheap but high quality medical services with its spectacular Adriatic coast and the crystal clear sea.

DentVitalis owner Sime Zivkovic said there was a steadily growing number of foreigners coming. "Our prices are sometimes up to 2-3 times lower than in England," he said.

A porcelain crown costs up to 330 euros ($470), while 50 miles to the north in Trieste, Italy, it costs 700-900 euros.

Medical tourism is a global business worth around $60 billion a year, with the main hubs in southeast Asia, India, Hungary, Mexico and Costa Rica, according to TreatmentAbroad, a British-based medical tourism agency.

The sector is estimated to have potential to grow around 20 percent every year, because of the aging population in developed countries and Croatia is now seeking to grab its share of the pie, on the back of its buoyant summer tourism.