Medical tourism in Thailand on the rise


Medical tourism is a billion dollar industry in Southeast Asia — and countries like Singapore and Thailand are growing the share of the market by offering state-of-the-art medical services at affordable prices.

SINGAPORE: A growing number of people are seeking medical treatment in Thailand as healthcare costs at other countries rise. Thailand is actively developing its medical tourism sector — offering high-quality treatment and service at affordable prices.

According to a survey of 13,000 tourists done by VISA, six per cent said they traveled for health reasons.

Ooi Huey Tyng, country manager for Singapore and Brunei at VISA Worldwide, said: “31 per cent of these people actually chose Southeast Asia as their travel destinations, with Thailand and Singapore coming out as top destinations in the Southeast Asian countries.

“The two countries combined actually attracted 3.1 million in terms of foreign patients, with Thailand attracting 2.4 million and Singapore about 850,000.”

According to the study, Thailand ranks number nine, and Singapore number 13 among the world’s top destinations for medical tourists.

The reason is simple — cost. Treatments in Bangkok are generally 25 per cent cheaper than in Singapore.

Nithiwat Gusriurai, deputy director of Bangkok Hospital, said: “The advantages of Thailand compared to Singapore and Malaysia are price and hospitality. Thailand is also a major tourist destination. However, our weakness is the English language. We have less English-speaking people compared to Singapore and Malaysia.”

Even so, the number of foreign patients in Thailand grows at a yearly rate of 16 per cent. In 2011, they generated US$3.15 billion in revenue, compared to just above US$800 million in Singapore.

In recent years, Thailand has been reporting a higher number of overseas patients from the United States and Western Europe who are choosing the Kingdom over Singapore because of lower costs.

Thailand is now turning to the middle-east to expand the medical tourism industry. Foreign patients from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are now allowed to stay in Thailand for up to 90 days instead of just 30.

While Thailand attracts the budget conscious medical tourists, Singapore prefers to compete on high-quality healthcare. Although its medical services are the most expensive in the region, the island-state has a reputation for good high-end specialist care and surgery, such as neurosurgical procedures and heart transplants.

Singapore may get to maintain its title of Asia’s best healthcare system, as proclaimed by the World Health Organisation in 2000, but when it comes to medical tourism, it is cost-effectiveness that matters the most.

As long as Thailand continues to offer high-quality medical services at a more affordable price, it is most likely that the title of ASEAN’s top medical tourism destination will go to the Land of Smiles.

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We are a group of well-traveled individuals, both disabled and able-bodied . We have all worked in the disabled travel industry and we understand the accessibility issues that disabled people can face when coming to Thailand. We are interested in actively promoting disabled access with local businesses particularly, and with raising public awareness of disabled issues generally throughout Thailand.

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