October 3, 2013
There’s a famous television advertising campaign in America for alkaline batteries. The company is Energizer and the commercials feature a pink, battery-powered toy bunny wearing sunglasses, banging a drum, spinning and scuttling through various scenarios, never stopping. The tagline is “it keeps going, and going…”
In Asia it’s not bunnies or batteries, it’s the medical tourism industry, and it keeps growing, and growing… especially in Thailand where, in 2012, roughly 2.5 million international patients partook of the country’s wide variety of medical treatments . in internationally accredited hospitals and clinics, staffed by world-class doctors and surgeons.
This huge number of medical tourists accounts for about 10% of the country’s total annual visitors and makes Thailand the world’s most visited medical tourism destination. Over the past several years, the number of healthcare travelers heading to Thailand has increased by about 13% per annum, with the Japanese leading the way in terms of medical tourists by nationality (aided by the significant Japanese expat community here).
In 2010 and 2011, the list of medical visitors to Thailand was identical, with the Japanese followed by patients from ASEAN countries (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), then by guests from more developed places like the Middle East, the US, and the UK who are looking for not only affordability (as in the case of the latter two) but better quality.
Last year, however, there were some interesting changes in Thailand’s top 5. The final figures provided by Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health and the Kasikorn Research Center indicate that the number of visiting ASEAN patients not only decreased in 2012 – relinquishing its long-time hold on the second position – but fell out of the top 5 altogether.
Where have they gone? With the emergence of Malaysia’s and Singapore’s medical tourism industries, these nearby neighbors can now earnestly compete with the excellent health care quality in Thailand and the outstanding travel and tourism options it affords visitors. As a result they have begun to attract a much larger share of the ASEAN market.
Thailand is still certainly welcoming a fair amount of ASEAN patients and their overall reduction isn’t necessarily a bad thing, judging by the revenue assessments. While the overall quantity of medical tourists was up by the 13% figure in 2012, spending was up anywhere from 25% to 44%, depending on whose estimates you’re reading.
So, as more ASEAN patients have visited Malaysia and Singapore, these countries have witnessed a significant decrease in the number of American, British, and Australian patients, and it appears that Thailand has been the one to pull up the slack: in 2012 they gained a much greater share of these long-haul, higher-spending visitors from the West and Middle East (GCC, or Gulf Cooperation Council) who are attracted to Thailand’s world-class specialist clinics and everything else the country has to offer to tourists, medical or otherwise.
They’re coming for everything from cardiology to fertility treatments to Asian Rhinoplasty . and they’re contributing to a certain fact about Thailand’s medical tourism industry: it keeps growing, and growing…