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Turkey is about to overtake France as Europe’s second-most popular destination (and for a really weird reason)

If you're not into medical tourism, Turkey still has plenty to offer

A man pictured from behind wearing a backpack and looking out over the coast in Turkey
Oziel Gómez / Pexels

Europe is undeniably a dream destination for travelers across the globe. The sun-soaked beaches of Spain are the top draw for a European vacation, followed by historic locales like Paris and Rome. However, a new contender on the continent is stepping up to kick the city of lights down a notch, and it’s far from your typical tourist hotspot. Turkey, formally known as the Republic of Türkiye, is poised to overtake France as Europe’s second-most popular holiday spot — and not for the reasons you may think.

The Istanbul, Turkey skyline at sunset
RIDVAN AYRIK/Pexels

Why is Turkey trending as a European vacation spot?

It’s no secret that Turkey boasts a rich tapestry of history, culture, and stunning landscapes. From the ancient wonders of Istanbul to the surreal rock-carved landscape of Cappadocia, the country is something of a treasure trove for explorers and those with a zest for adventure. Not to mention the draw of trying an honest-to-goodness Turkish Delight straight from the source. But in recent years, something unexpected has drawn visitors in droves: affordable and quality medical treatments.

Yes, you read that right. Turkey isn’t just a haven for breathtaking sights and sumptuous kebabs; it’s also now a known hotspot for medical tourism. Turkey has experienced an astounding 70% increase in visitor numbers compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to the World Travel Market (WTM) Global Travel Report. The influx is reported to be largely thanks to Turkey’s flourishing medical tourism sector.

In 2022, more than 44.6 million people flocked to Turkey, with a staggering 1.2 million labeled as ‘medical tourists.’ Fast forward to 2023, and the numbers continue to skyrocket, with a projected total visitor count set to surpass 50 million. That’s a significant leap, especially when nearly 746,290 medical tourists had already sought treatments by the first half of the year, according to the WTM report.

Have you heard about “Turkey teeth” yet? If you’re in the United States, you may not yet have heard the laments from British dentists discouraging the practice, but it’s essentially a procedure in which the teeth are filed down and crowns are put in place. It’s similar to the process of veneers but with a much lower price tag and risks of nerve damage and dental complications, which the National Health Service in the United Kingdom has warned residents against. This phenomenon reflects just a fraction of the procedures sought in Turkey. More than 250,000 foreigners annually visit for various treatments, which, above and beyond discount dental work, includes hair transplantation, laser-eye correction, and weight-loss surgeries — all at a much lower price point than in other areas of the world.

An idyllic coastline in Turkey
Engin Akyurt/Pexels

Turkey has much more to offer than medical tourism 

Turkey’s allure isn’t solely rooted in the country’s affordable healthcare. The vibrant history, diverse culture, and stunning scenery are all major draws for travelers. Its coastline, adorned with crystalline waters and high-end resorts, offers a more budget-friendly alternative to the French Riviera or the Italian coast but with a similar Euro-centric vibe.

Tourists continue to flock to Istanbul, with its bustling neighborhoods and breathtaking Ottoman architecture. Ephesus is also an ancient marvel on the West Coast, which stands tall with colossal monuments from centuries past — in and of itself a different sort of Turkish delight for history buffs.

Interestingly, Turkey’s appeal to a select group of travelers extends beyond its attractions. The country is one of the few European destinations that has not banned flights from Russia. According to the WTM Global Travel Report, this has contributed to the influx of Russian tourists, with an expected seven million total visitors in 2023 compared to just five million in 2022.

Whether visiting for medical reasons or simply taking in all that the region has to offer travelers, the overall surge in tourism numbers is predicted to propel Turkey beyond France as Europe’s second most-visited country by 2024.

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Ashley Jones
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ashley is a freelance journalist with bylines across a range of online and print publications.
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