Shifts in medical tourism

BANGKOK, 1 August 2017: Kasikorn Research Centre estimates income from international patients at private hospitals will generate THB48 to THB49 billion this year, an increase of 3% to 4% year-on-year.

The bank think-tank unit said the number of patients from the Middle East has declined steadily, mainly due to a change in healthcare policies in their home countries and an improvement in quality and standards of their public health systems.

However, the drop in medical tourists from the Middle East should be compensated by international patients from other regions, in particular Asia such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Japan.

The centre estimates that international patients will help generate some THB48 to THB49 billion in income for the country’s private hospitals in 2017, increasing 3% to 4% year-on-year, against an 8% increase from last year.

The number of international medical tourism visits this year should reach 2.4 million with another 900,000 hospital visits by expatriates in Thailand.

The centre said: “Despite the promising outlook, Thai medical-service related businesses may face heightened competition from new providers in the domestic market and Asian rivals such as Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea, which are all competing to become the regional leader in medical services.”

To maintain competitiveness, Thai medical businesses will need to cement their strengths, especially service quality and medical standards, because these are important factors that boost the confidence of international patients.

But there is room for expansion.

“Thai medical service providers may consider venturing into the general health and wellness business category to capture more international tourists, or older foreign tourists taking long-stay vacations in Thailand.”

Medical tourism is a key factor that can boost Thailand’s income, but the Ministry of Tourism and Sports as well as Tourism Authority of Thailand must be more supportive to reach out to new markets.

Deputy Prime Minister Thanasak Patimaprakorn said earlier this month that visitors to Thailand from China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam who are seeking medical treatment are now allowed to stay for up to 90 days visa-free. The same privilege is also offered to as many as four people accompanying them.

Visitors age 50 years or older from 14 countries also can apply for long-stay visas valid for up to 10 years from the current tenure of one year. Permission will initially be extended for five years and an additional five years can be added for people who meet the conditions. The same privilege is also offered to their spouse and children under 20.

The 14 eligible nationalities are the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, France, Australia, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Finland, Denmark and Canada.

Both measures are designed to support Thailand to become a medical and wellness tourist destination and world-class medical hub which will help boost more revenue and build quality tourism for the kingdom.

Kasikorn Research Centre is a subsidiary company of Kasikorn Bank, which conducts tourism and business research mainly on Thailand’s economy including tourism with reliable recommendations and indicators on business prospects.