ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Thailand challenged in medical tourism
They said the sector must develop a strategy, especially in public-private partnerships, an area in which Thailand still lags neighbouring countries, especially Singapore.
Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and India have emerged as the four major medical tourism players in Asia. Even though Thailand has the highest number of foreign patient arrivals, Singapore has a very fast growth rate.
Despite Thailand's competitive advantages over its rivals, political uncertainty is prompting foreign patients to have second thoughts about coming here for treatment.
Research also suggests this to be a market that is highly influenced by perceptions of political unrest. Once problems develop, demand declines very rapidly and takes a long time to recover. The strengthening baht has made Thailand's medical tourism industry less competitive in terms of costs, especially compared with India.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand and other agencies are being urged to play a more active role in promoting medical tourism, such as by advertising and easing regulatory constraints..
Private operators must find and develop their niches. Malaysia is a good example in that the sector's focused strategy on Muslim patients has attracted a high number of patients from Indonesia.
"You need to define your niche in the market you serve well, in terms of both quality and costs," said Dr Tiffany. "For example, this country is famous for elective surgery treatments."
Public hospitals would be pressured to upgrade their services once the sector is liberalised under the Asean Economic Community in 2015, which will allow foreign investors to acquire up to 70 percent ownership of private hospitals.
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