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ASEAN ANALYSIS  27 July 2010

Tourism up in Asia

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   27 July 2010

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Reports for the first half of the year are filtering in from the many countries that comprise the 10-member Asean group and the results are positive.

The Philippines is up and even beleaguered Thailand, which had a major and deadly political crisis, showed an increase of 13 percent in the first half of the year. The U.N.'s World Tourism Organization predicts 4 percent growth in global tourism this year, in line with the industry's average growth over the past 15 years.

The secretary-general of the agency, Taleb Rifai, said Friday this shows that tourism has more or less recovered from the global financial crisis.

"We have just closed in on the results of the first four months of 2010 globally and we're up seven percent growth as compared to 2009," he said. "While 2009 was one of the worst years that we have ever seen in the last six decades, we were down 4 percent. So this rebound has been stronger and faster than we thought. And, the important thing also is that this recovery is being basically driven and led by Asia."

One of the emerging factors propelling the tourism industry in Asia is medical tourism and it is no coincidence that a lot of that surgery is optional. The hotspots for medical tourism are Thailand, Singapore and now India.

At Bangkok’s Bumrungrad Hospital, one of the best established medical tourism destinations, profits improved in 2009, but are still 22 percent down from2007.

In the medium term, many providers in the region are looking to the U.S. healthcare market for more growth. A heart bypass operation that might cost $130,000 in the U.S. could cost less than $30,000 in Bangkok, for example.

The recent takeover of Singapore’s Parkway hospital by Malaysia’s state-run investment arm, Khazanah, points out the lucrative nature of the health business in the region. Parkway runs three hospitals in Singapore, with a fourth under development, plus one in energy-rich Brunei, six in China and two in India. In addition, it runs 11 in Malaysia, including nine operated by the Pantai group, in which it has a 40 percent stake, with Khazanah holding the remaining 60 percent.

Medical tourism is surely a factor that will drive the Asian tourist industry as the world economy improves.

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