Medical Tourism Coming To Guanacaste...

Excerpted from Tico Times - 5/11/2011


At Costa Rica's annual medical tourism congress, businesses emphasized the soaring potential of the country's northwest province. A $125 million CIMA hospital, set to open before the end of this year, looks to be the cornerstone of Guanacaste's medical tourism future.

Medical tourism companies, doctors, hotel managers and tour operators piled into the Hotel Ramada Plaza Herradura for two days, touting Latin America’s medical tourism benefits from the industry’s most popular site, San José. 

But on Wednesday, the last day of Costa Rica’s second-annual Medical Travel Summit, organizers opted for a change of scenery. Carloads of attendees headed to the northwestern province of Guanacaste on Tuesday night. There they received a four-hour tour of the Papagayo Peninsula, including Marina Papagayo, the elegant Four Seasons Resort and the new CIMA hospital (still under construction.

The excursion was an opportunity to promote a growing Guanacaste, which has new medical facilities, an expanding airport and a sprawling 900-hectare retirement community under development, called Sun Ranch.  The trip helped flaunt Guanacaste’s glossy future to medical tourism leaders. It also showed potential tourists what Guanacaste is not – San José.

Costa Rica’s grubby capital remains the leader for medical tourism in Central America, with its state-of-the-art hospitals and U.S.-trained doctors. But Guanacaste hopes for a share of that market. And for an obvious reason, industry insiders think it’s possible.

A model-sized version of Clínica Bíblica’s future Guanacaste hospital, a $40 million project, was on display at the Medical Travel Summit.

CIMA hospitals are international medical facilities built in underserved parts of the world. Both locals and foreigners are treated at these hospitals. Approximately, 5,000 medical tourists were treated at the San José branch in 2009.  When CIMA San José was built, around that entire hospital was nothing but fields and grass.  Now, 12 years later, Escazú is a hub and they’re still building.  The same type of growth is possible in Guanacaste in the next decade.

Nearby, in the province’s capital city of Liberia, the Daniel Oduber Airport is adding a new terminal. The airport continues to add direct flights to the United States, making it easier to fly in and arrive at a hospital that’s less than an hour from the beach. Other hospitals also have tentative plans to build in Guanacaste.

One hospital already settled in Liberia is adding a new wing that will serve medical tourists. Ronald Guerrero, administrative manager of Hospital San Rafael Arcángel, said the hospital takes in 90 percent Costa Rican patients. However, the hospital is equipping itself for the influx of tourist that could be coming to the region.

Guerrero has lived in the area for 15 years, and he deemed Guanacaste ready to make a big leap in the tourism market.

“[I lived in Guanacaste] when it was a small place,” Guerrero said. “Well, now it’s a little bit more people, more crowded, more noisy and everything but still a much better place to live and to recover from surgery than San José. A much better place.”

Other businesses are banking on that attitude. The massive Sun Ranch community will include a $35-$40 million Hospital Clínica Bíblica, a $12-$15 million resort and a professionally designed golf course on its property.


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