The plan: a vacation on the Spanish coast – or else a tour of Madrid and its landmarks – a visit to the fertility clinic, and hopefully a return home with a baby growing inside.
Spain is a reference in Europe when it comes to assisted reproduction: 40% of all treatments carried out on the continent are performed here, according to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE).
“And this trend will keep growing,” says this body.
There are no specific figures for a type of visitor whom Spanish tourism authorities currently classify under “Tourism: Other,” along with people who come for purposes such as hunting, running or yoga.
Between January and February, there were 7.2 million visitors to Spain, of whom 952,930 fell under this category, which excludes recreational and business tourism.
“I am writing to you from a very, very remote town in Australia...” begins an email that arrived recently at a Madrid fertility clinic named ProcreaTec.
“Word of mouth works,” says Laura Alonso, head of the clinic’s communications department. “And these days, word of mouth takes place online, through messages posted on forums, social media and so on. Those messages can reach every corner of the Earth, and have been key in the international development of Spanish [fertility] clinics.”
The center where Alonso works opened in 2008, “with the crisis in full swing.” Because of falling numbers of Spanish clients, managers were forced to look abroad for new customers. Aided by technology, they have managed to build up a database in which half of their patients hail from other countries.
“Between 2014 and 2015 there’s been an 18% rise in international [assisted reproduction] cycles,” she adds.
The rates are similar at other Spanish clinics, including IVI, the country’s largest such center.
The first contact is usually through email. After chatting with the patient-care team in German, English, Italian or French, the conversation moves on to a video conference.
The couples only show up physically at the end, when the embryos are inserted into the woman’s uterus.
But someone who is coming all the way from Australia to Spain is not going to stay for just two days, especially not in one of the world’s top tourist destinations, which had over 65 million visitors last year.
“People began demanding vacation experiences,” explains the ProcreaTec spokeswoman. “We don’t organize holiday packages ourselves, but we do put patients in touch with tour operators or hotels.”
For the first time this year, the International Medical Travel Summit, one of the world’s best-known health tourism gatherings, will be held in Madrid rather than in Britain.
“People choose Spain as a reproductive tourism destination because their own countries have legal limitations that do not favor assisted reproduction,” says Enrique Criado, who heads the Marbella-based center FIV.
The rise of this kind of tourism can be explained by Spain’s protective legislation, its good reputation in the field of assisted reproduction, its high success rates and its reasonable prices (between €600 and €6,000 depending on the treatment).
And it all becomes even more attractive if patients are given the chance to combine the treatment with several days of sun and sand.
English version by Susana Urra.