Thai medical tourism sector is roaring back from Covid-19 pandemic, analysts say

With Covid-era travel restrictions now relaxed, Thailand is once again underlining its reputation in the medical field by drawing in visitors wanting to benefit from the country’s natural attractions while also taking care of their medical problems. But while visitors are returning, analysts predict the industry will not rebound significantly until 2023 when touristnumbers really pick up.

Moving in the right direction

An analysis report from Krungthai Compass, a research house under Krungthai Bank, said Thailand’s medical tourism sectoris recovering from setbacks caused by the impacts of Covid-19 and especially from the now-cancelled Thailand Pass scheme.

A surge in foreign tourists flooding into Thailand over the past few months has improved footfalls at private hospitals and given a promising outlook to the country’s medical tourism industry.

According to news reports, more than 3.1 million foreign tourists arrived the country in October, a rise of more than43% over September.

Krungthai analyst Sujitra Unno said in an article published online that private hospitals’ footfalls improved significantly between January and June 2022, contributing to the recovery of the medical tourism sector.

She cited a report that sees 24 SET-listed private hospital service providers enjoying revenue and profit growth in the first quarter of 2022 when compared to the same period of the previous year.

According to her, the hospitals’ total revenues increased 48.9% year-over-year (YoY) to over 125 billion baht in the first quarter of 2022 and their net profits grew by 173.8% YoY to over 24 billion baht. The growth was mainly attributed torevenues from Thai patients who sought medical treatment for Covid-19 infections.

The research center predicted the private hospital business will continue to expand by 19.8% YoY in 2023, which will help boost the country’s medical tourism business as well as total foreign patient revenue which, pre-Covid, accounted for about 30% of the total.

During Covid, private hospitals, particularly large hospital chains reliant on revenue from foreign patients, fell significantly. This is confirmed in a report by Kasikorn Research Center, which noted that the number of medical tourist arrivals declined by some 90% in 2021, with visitors from the Middle East, ASEAN countries and China making up the majority of those forced to delay hospital consultations. Krungthai Compass estimates that of the 8.9 million foreign tourists who have arrived in Thailand in 2022, a relatively high percentage were here to receive medical treatment.

“We expect that next year, many private hospitals in Thailand will see their patients from China, Russia, Japan and the Middle East coming back to receive treatment services,” Sujitra said.

An ideal destination for medical tourism

High-quality medical care, cost-effectiveness and lower cost of living that is great for long-stay patients make Thailand a preferred destination for many international patients. This is also backed by the government’s efforts in turning the country into a ‘world medical center’.

Thailand tops other countries in Asia in the number of hospitals which have been accredited by Joint Commission International (JCI), the top global standard for health care quality and patient safety. The country boasts 60 JCI-accredited medical sites nationwide, while India has 37, Japan 31, Malaysia 17 and Singapore 5, according to the JCI list as of December 2021.

The JCI accreditation has become a key stamp of approval for hospitals in developing countries seeking medical tourists.

According to the Krungthai report, medical services in Thailand help patients save 50-90% on medical expenses compared to what they would pay for similar services in the US. The majority of medical tourists come to the country to receive dental treatment, followed by plastic surgery and cosmetic treatment.

In addition, several cities in Thailand are top-rated tourist destinations with the highest healthcare scores in Southeast Asia on Numbeo’s Health Care Index 2022 Mid-year. Chiang Mai is at the top of the list, followed by Bangkok in third place and Pattaya in fourth.

The index was conducted based on a survey of website visitors on the overall quality of the health care system that included doctors, healthcare professionals, staff and medical treatment costs.

Chiang Mai leads other cities due to its popularity amongst foreigners, the lower cost of living, convenience, local culture and high-quality public health system at an affordable price.

Gearing up to become a center of wellness and medical services  

With these factors, Thailand’s potential for growth in this lucrative market is strong.

According to Allied Market Research, the global medical tourism market achieved approximately US$104.68 billion in 2019 and it’s expected to reach US$273.72 billion by 2027. The research center estimates Thailand’s medical tourism market will hit US$24.4 billion (or around 760 billion baht) in 2027, compared to US$9.1 billion (or around 200 billion baht) in 2019. In 2019, Thailand gained 9% of market share in global medical tourism.

The Thai government has taken measures to invigorate the medical tourism industry in order to bring the country to the forefront as a top medical hub in wellness, medical services, products and academics.

In addition to relaxing restrictions, the government has used the country’s excellent performance in tackling Covid-19 to promote its medical tourism and health treatment to attract foreign visitors.

Following the success of the Phuket Sandbox programme, the country’s pilot scheme to lure foreign visitors, it said it will turn the city into a world-class medical center and develop a plaza in the city that is equipped with an international elderly care center, rehabilitation center, and a palliative care center.

Last year, the cabinet approved in principle a new visa scheme that allows foreigners who seek medical treatment to stay in the country for up to a year, without having to leave the country for visa renewals if the arrive on tourist visas.

By Veena Thoopkrajae 


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