With the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane season less than two weeks away, it might seem like an odd time to discuss Dominican Republic tourism. June, after all, is among the island’s wettest months and it’s the time of year where cold-winter beach destinations across North America and Europe are in their glory.

But for government organizations, private tourism groups, and a litany of restaurateurs and hoteliers, there’s no such thing as an off season. There’s only preparation for next season. And when it comes to promoting a very special type of international travel — medical tourism — the Dominican Republic is moving full steam ahead.

Thanks to continued positive travel and hospitality indicators — tourism revenue contributes nearly 8 percent to the country’s total GDP and 5.1 million tourists visited the DR in 2014, a nearly 10 percent jump from the year before — medical tourism is poised to take root just as it has in other countries with robust tourism economies. Earlier this month it was announced that Universidad Iberoamericana (UNIBE) and Asociacion Dominicana de Turismo de la Salud (ATDS) are partnering with the Medical Tourism Association®, a global nonprofit, in an effort to promote Dominican Republic medical tourism. Included in those efforts are making patients feel comfortable and safe, while ensuring that the facilities in which they are treated are fully accredited and up to global standards, and that patients are aware of that accreditation.

The joint partnership is the latest effort by the country to transform its hospitality economy. Earlier this year the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance, the Dominican Medical Association and the Association of Hotels and Tourism (ASONAHORES) hashed out a plan to promote medical tourism as an economic revenue generator. While hard numbers are difficult to confirm due to the relatively new nature of the industry, the global market size is estimated at $38.5 billion to $55 billion, based on 11 million cross-border patients annually. In the US, some 1.4 million Americans traveled abroad for medical care in 2014.

Motivations for the trip range from the need for better care than can be accessed in the travelers’ home country, nonexistent country of origin care, and affordability.

Booster shot of Goodwill
As the founder of Implant Seminars, a leader in continuing dental education, as well as its highly successful Live Patient program in the Dominican Republic, these developments are extremely encouraging. That’s because my Santo Domingo-based dental training and surgical facility is attracting dentists from around the world to receive the training they need and the confidence they require in order to place dental implants. In effect, our efforts are already bringing international doctors to the country’s hotel, restaurants, shopping districts and beaches.

But it’s more that that.

The three-floor building is fully equipped with the latest diagnostic and imaging machines and includes 26 dental chairs. Thanks to donations from around the world, the facility operates entirely free of charge for patients who need the services most. To date, thousands of patients have been given the gift of a new, healthy mouth. And in the last several months new specialized courses have also been added to facilitate doctor and patient needs. Courses include: Extractions, Implant Prosthetics and Soft Tissue Management. With their enhanced smiles patients can more readily access the country’s new hospitality and tourism jobs. But they could also serve as important brand ambassadors, marketing through word-of-mouth, that the Dominican Republic is an ideal place to receive dental care, whether you’re a citizen or not.

It’s also interesting to note that of the top eight medical treatments travelers visit other countries for, cosmetic surgery and dentistry, including general, restorative and cosmetic lead the list, according to Patients Beyond Borders. Such insights prove that once again, dentistry is at the forefront of science and art. And efforts like Implant Seminars’ Live Patient program are aiding dual aspects of the Dominican Republic’s tourism economy — helping equip an eager workforce, while being a vehicle to promote international dental education for doctors, and by extension, in-country treatment.

Doing so may well entice additional US and international patients to visit for reasons far beyond a day at the beach. And considering that preventative oral maintenance doesn’t wait for the annual hurricane season to come and go, patients may well book shoulder season trips if their medical needs warrant and weather conditions permit. If countries like Costa Rica, India, Israel, Mexico and the United States (among others) are banking on the economic benefits of medical tourism, why shouldn’t the Dominican Republic?

I for one fully support these efforts and I praise the Dominican Republic government for spearheading these important developments. Implant Seminars and its Live Patient program will remain committed to its mission and continue helping transform a workforce —and a nation’s people — one mouth at a time.