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Dubai’s vs. Houston’s Medical Health Tourism Report

Background Information of Dubai and Houston

Houston attracts approximately 20,000 medical tourists annually. The city is home to some of the largest medical facilities in the world, including the Texas Medical Center (TMC). The center has 21 hospitals and 13 support organizations. Texas is also home to eight academic and research institutions and offers six nursing programs. It is also home to three medical schools, three public health organizations, and two universities. The medical students also come to Texas for its two pharmacy schools and a dental school.

The city receives more than 7.4 million people annually. Its medical facilities can accommodate 7000 inpatients and perform 171,000 annual surgeries (International Medical Travel Journal par. 3-6). The medical reputation of Texas includes being the first city to do a successful heart transplant in the USA. The city also has sufficient accommodation facilities to cater for patients coming with the families just as Dubai does.

Dubai attracts medical tourists, mainly through its Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) that is a 27-million square-meter free zone. 12 million visited the city in 2014 and 15% of the number were medical tourists. Dubai has more than 30,000 health professionals working in 3,000 facilities (Nuviun Digital Health par. 2-4). The city is attracting medical tourists as part of its overall tourism expansion program. The city is eyeing growth in the medical tourism sector and set out plans to match the competencies of other well-known destinations.

It is improving features that attract investments in the sector and is combining its marketing efforts with existing strengths in its tourism packages, which includes beaches, international hotels and amusement parks as well as an excellent shopping experience. In comparison to Houston, Dubai is still developing its attractiveness while Houston already enjoys the reputation of an established medical center with excellent facilities and human resources for treatment and research.

Competitive Profile Matrix

Houston Dubai
Critical success factors Weight Rating Score Rating Score
Advertising & Marketing Campaigns 0.20 2 0.40 4 0.80
Number of facilities 0.20 4 0.80 2 0.40
Total number of tourists annually 0.20 3 0.60 4 0.80
Expansion plans 0.10 1 0.10 4 0.40
International accreditation of facilities 0.10 4 0.40 1 0.10
Product packaging 0.10 3 0.30 4 0.40
Total 2.60 2.90

The competitive profile matrix (CPM) above shows that Dubai is more competitive than Houston is as a destination for medical tourism. Despite its infancy as a destination, Dubai is making aggressive plans that are relevant for growth in the industry. Overall, the industry is also becoming more competitive with the entry of many cities that want to become the best choice for medical tourists. In this regard, most of the features that make Houston competitive are easily replicated, and should the city not do anything to improve its status, it will end up losing even more to cities like Dubai that have set up aggressive marketing plans and are packaging the medical tourism product to address concerns of customers. The CPM has helped to highlight areas for improvement as well as the critical success factors that carry the most weight in the competitiveness of a city as a medical tourism destination.

The competition between the two cities is very stiff given that Dubai lacks most of what Houston has while Houston does not have the aggressiveness in marketing that Dubai has. If Houston could adopt better and elaborate marketing and advertising campaigns, it can match the competitiveness of Dubai because it already has other fundamentals for the industry well established.

Vertical integration strategies for Dubai and Houston

Forward integration

The city of Dubai is regulating the health sector and is ensuring that the 2,518 health facilities in the city are internationally accredited. It also governs the work of the health professionals working in the private sector. So far, it has ensured that the sector has professionals capable of speaking many languages. Collectively, professionals in the UAE medical sector speak more than 40 languages. The city is also helping shape the focus on new health facilities’ developments. It is encouraging private companies and individuals to invest in dentistry, plastic surgery, ophthalmic surgery, orthopedic surgery, general medical checkup, sports medicine and wellness as well as skin care services (Nuviun Digital Health par. 4-5).

On the other hand, Houston’s forward integration strategy is to ensure all public and private practicing physicians and other medical staffs are licensed and delivering standardized practice. The city authorities and heads of the medical sector have also been pushing for the adoption of new technologies that ensure the sector remains competitive around the world. Many patients first consider the facilities available in a given city before looking for other factors that facilitate their travel (Tannebaum 1).

Backward integration

The Texas Medical Center in Houston has embraced backward integration by creating in-house concierge programs for medical travelers from abroad. It has also made strong academic and training programs with local medical schools because they are the ones that attract and facilitate medical tourism activities. It has also allocated budgets for the various institutions in the medical center project to support their strategic global efforts meant to make them recognized institutions globally. Another strategy for backward integration for Houston has been liaising with foreign institutions for academic exchange and operational support. The foreign institutions have helped Houston with the accreditation process of its institutions and support research programs with necessary protocols. This has put the city on an attractive center for students, residents, physicians and tourists that are already affiliated with other U.S. medical facilities and institutions.

Noticing that supply for medical facilities is an important factor for a medical tourism destination, Dubai has set up plans to build 22 hospitals. The hospitals are expected to offer 500,000 medical tourists by the year 2020, and this figure will be sustained every year onwards. The city is focusing on establishing an appropriate work and residential conditions for professionals and investors to move into the medical tourism industry in the city. It is seeking to have excellent services in a diversified range of medical specialties; hence the involvement of the city authorities in the development of facilities and systems for the sector (Nuviun Digital Health par. 1-3).

Horizontal integration

Houston also embraces foreign representative offices that are in strategic countries. They help to market the medical tourism activities and opportunities in Houston. They also serve as centers for referral of patients (Medical Tourism Magazine par. 5). On the other hand, Dubai is collaborating with the General Directorate of Residence and Foreigners Affairs, to make sure policies are uniform and the processes that support and facilitate the sector are working well to make sure that the city achieves its objectives and vision 2020.

Intensive Strategy for Dubai and Houston

Market penetration

Houston has increased its marketing efforts beyond the United States in the general region of North America. Its efforts have led to more medical tourists from neighboring Mexico and other parts of the world. Rather than advertise, Houston has relied on affiliation with foreign hospitals and medical schools as well as private companies. It uses the connection to increase awareness of its facilities and to attract medical tourists. On the other hand, The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) is working with the city’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing to make sure prices for residents and foreigners seeking visas are affordable and predictable. In comparison, Houston’s Texas Medical Center is not carrying out elaborate international marketing campaigns, but it plans to make it easy for visitors from respective regions around the world to move to the city for medical tourism (Medical Tourism Magazine par. 4-5).

Market development

The city has been eyeing a bigger market of global medical travel. The city is rebuilding its international patient base. The relationships with other institutions abroad have paved the way for market development as Houston medical center can tap into connections from different global regions. The sector works closely with other companies in the hospitality industry in Houston to support the Medical Center’s estimated $20 billion economy (Hines par. 14). Houston is losing on market development because its competitors are copying its ideas and adapting them to their situations. They have been able to attract high quality and skilled doctors. Dubai is one case where highly skilled doctors receive incentives to practice in the city instead of moving to other locations around the world.

In comparison, the Dubai targets medical tourists from Russia, South Asia, and other Gulf states. It offers specific packages to increase its share of the market for medical tourists from these markets. The city is also attracting medical patients from diverse countries including Nigeria, Pakistan, India and the United States. They are visiting Dubai because of its well-established fertility and heart operations (Saberi par. 5). The targeting of more countries and regions directly will help to expand the overall market size for the city.

Product development

Houston is transforming its medical facilities in the world’s health care destination. Notable efforts have been branding of the entire medical center of Houston as a single destination. The city recognizes the challenges from emerging destinations that have better facilities and are very aggressive in marketing. The Texas Medical Center in Houston has built a brand reputation for cancer treatments, transplants, orthopedics and neurosurgery (Hines par. 20). Dubai is coming up with seven medical facilities that will bring patients for treatment in the city. It is targeting Dh1.2 billion in revenues for visitors coming to its medical facilities.

The city has packaged the medical tourism offerings using specific incentives for its target markets. It has created uniform packages that allow potential medical tourists to compare offers in Dubai and the rest of the world. For example, when selecting Dubai, visitors are going to receive an affordable cost of treatment, subsidized visa cost, and air tickets. They are also getting access to leisure activities for the patient’s family members during the duration of their visit. The city is relying on its tourism attractions to build a health system that supports excellence in health care. It is focusing on the attraction of healthcare professionals and health investments, which then attracts medical tourists and additional investments.

SWOT Matrix

SWOT Analysis for Houston

A well-established Texas Medical Center
Punitive travel laws and regulations
Marketing abroad through affiliate partnerships with research and other medical institutions
Developments of alternative medical centers in other U.S. cities and Mexico

SWOT Matrix strategies for Houston

SO – Houston can use the reputation of its Texas Medical Center to carry out elaborate marketing campaigns with tourism promotion agencies and public relations organizations to create additional awareness globally. WO – The city may also use its opportunities for marketing abroad to help address concerns about travel advisories and visa challenges affecting would-be travelers to the United States. It can highlight special provisions that the city and the center have, which help to offset costs and other restrictions on immigration and travel laws. ST – Here, Houston would be marketing its Texas Medical Center and improving its technologies to compete effectively with similar facilities elsewhere. WT – Under this strategy, Houston would concentrate on its established reputation to increase referrals and support its claim as a medical tourism destination.

SWOT Analysis for Dubai

  • Global destination for tourists
  • Robust development plans for medical tourism
Limited expertise in research compared to other competing world-class medical tourism destinations.
Increased marketing and partnership efforts with UAE airlines and other businesses in the hospitality industry
Demand sustainability is unpredictable and can lead to abandonment of projects midway

SWOT Matrix Strategies for Dubai

  • SO – Dubai can continue with its plan to grow the sector and attract millions of medical tourists.
  • WO – Here, the key intention will be to use partnerships with other hospitality and tourism institutions to limit influence decision making for would-be medical tourists seeking to travel to Dubai.
  • ST – The global tourism destination and the development plan for medical tourism will help Dubai achieve its goal, as it can reallocate revenues to ensure that despite decreased demand, project plans go on as scheduled.
  • WT – Focusing on the successes that Dubai has had as a destination for medical tourism will influence position market reputation for the city’s brand and help to limit its weaknesses and threats.

BCG for Dubai and Houston

Relative market share position
  • In Dubai – High number of international tourists supported by a mature tourism industry that can support the growth of the medical tourism sector
  • For Houston – well established Texas Medical Center used as a referral research and treatment facility for medical partners globally
Question marks
  • In Dubai – growth plan depends on a sustainable level of tourism that may not be achieved due to external market forces and competition.
  • For Houston – growth depends on aggressive marketing that can be hampered by restrictive travel policies in the U.S. and lack of branding for Houston health facilities
Cash cows
  • In Dubai – Fertility treatment and heart operations
  • For Houston – cardiovascular, organ transplants, orthopedic and weight-loss surgeries, scans, second opinions and screenings, cancer treatment
  • In Dubai – reliance on expatriate staffs and foreign institutions is limiting the aggressiveness of developing the medical tourism sector.
  • For Houston – lack of financial incentives is hindering additional developments and causing other competitors to take clients from Houston.


Private and public medical institutions, including schools, hospitals, and specialty treatment centers have a huge role to play in the establishment of a medical tourism destination. Both Dubai and Houston have established strong coordination frameworks that help them advance their position as a destination for medical tourism. In both cities, there is a centralized location offering various activities, employment opportunities, and treatment all related to health care. Visitors to these cities take advantage of the one-stop-shop to carry out all their medical needs.

Besides, linkages with other institutions are serving as a key factor in the growth of visitor numbers. Collaborations with research and teaching facilities around the world help to mobilize appropriate staffs and specialists to visit the destinations as experts. Their visit and eventual residency help to grow the competitive advantages of the cities, which then contributes to additional growth through referrals. Dubai has been able to capture the unique relationship between staffs, facilities and visitors. It has set up plans for relaxing travel restrictions on both workers and patients, while it captures the tourism value of the accompanying family members.

On the other hand, Houston has not aggressively sought to capture other visitors other than patients and it enjoys relatively high access to trained and qualified medical experts from the United States. The differences explain why Houston is relatively very competitive in comparison to Dubai. The strengths of the respective cities are playing a significant role in their attractiveness, and these unique competitive advantages are not easily replaceable. Therefore, the two cities will continue to be competitive in future, and their position as the recognized medical tourism centers is unlikely to diminish.


Houston should package its Texas Medical Center as the ultimate medical tourism destination and then sell it within the traditional tourism markets the way Dubai is doing. A second recommendation is for Houston to have a centralized body coordinating all activities for enhancing its position as a reputable medical tourism destination. The city needs a similar strategy like the one the Dubai Health Authority is using to attract patients, doctors and medical students to the city.

It needs to ensure that all facilities in the city are working together to promote their collective responsibility of serving local and international patients to global standards. Houston is still very competitive despite lacking an aggressive marketing approach. If the city follows these recommendations, it will be able to address the threats that face it, and will hold on to its position as one of the best centers for medical tourism.

On the other hand, Dubai needs to focus more on the implementation of its strategic plans. In the implementation phase, external factors continue to change, and they represent the biggest threat to the city’s achievement of its vision 2020 goals. Dubai has to modify plans to take advantage of short-term opportunities such as changes in the valuation of its currency, increased focus on the Middle East as a tourism and investment destination, and improvement in cultural tolerance in the city.

The opportunities can overshadow its weaknesses of relying on a plan that is dependent on expatriate inflows and external partnerships for development of appropriate world-class standard facilities. Unlike Houston, Dubai only has success in fertility treatment and heart surgeries. It will be facing increased number of market tests for its other medical treatment attractions, and must carefully manage its plan to prevent premature abandonment.

Works Cited

Hines, Lora. “Foreign Patients Boost Houston’s Medical Economy.” SantaFe New Mexican 2014. Web.

International Medical Travel Journal. 2014. Web.

Medical Tourism Magazine. “U.S. Inbound Medical Tourism Competitiveness.” Medical Tourism Magazine 2011. Web.

Nuviun Digital Health. “Dubai Unveils Medical Tourism Strategy to Attract 500,000 Tourists a Year by 2020.” Navuin 2014. Web.

Saberi, Mohamood. Gulf News Health 2015. Web.

Tannebaum, Rachel. ClevelandClinic.org 2012. Web.

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"Dubai's vs. Houston's Medical Health Tourism." IvyPanda, 8 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/dubais-vs-houstons-medical-health-tourism/.

1. IvyPanda. "Dubai's vs. Houston's Medical Health Tourism." June 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/dubais-vs-houstons-medical-health-tourism/.


IvyPanda. "Dubai's vs. Houston's Medical Health Tourism." June 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/dubais-vs-houstons-medical-health-tourism/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Dubai's vs. Houston's Medical Health Tourism." June 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/dubais-vs-houstons-medical-health-tourism/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Dubai's vs. Houston's Medical Health Tourism'. 8 June.

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