Thailand is aggressively promoted as the health care center of the Asian region, aiming to attract 265.000 Indonesian visitors this year. Thailand focuses on the Indonesian market because of the country’s large population and the growth in visitors seeking medical care abroad along with their shopping. The expectancy of growth in visitor numbers is also supported by availability of flights and a tax waiver for Indonesian passport holders starting next year. International health tourism in Thailand is steadily increasing and the country can not miss on the opportunity to win those visitors, having several competitors in the area.

Original article: “Indonesian visitors a promotion priority” by Chadamas Chinmaneevong in Bangkok Post, Section:Business and Financial News. (18 August, 2008)

Essay by Daisy Modiano
Master in Tourism Destination Management student 2008/2009

Medical tourism is a rapidly growing industry and with intense competition especially in the Asian countries. Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore & India seem to be the main countries in the Asian region that have developed their medical systems and opened their markets to accept patient-visitors from all around the world seeking much cheaper and faster medical treatments or alternative therapies combined with a trip to an exotic destination.

The factors that have led people seeking medical assistance outside their home country could be that medical treatment in most western countries in nowadays very expensive, insurance coverage is usually not sufficient, there are long waiting lists and there is an excess in supply in other destinations. Globalization can also play a role in this growth since now traveling to any part of the world is so much easier than it used to be, and previously remote destinations have now become accessible. Medical clinics also employ doctors and staff that have studied or acquired experience in the west, adding credibility to their organization, thus creating a feeling of security to their foreign patients. Partnerships and franchising are also possible, between destination clinics and western organizations, adding to the growth of medical tourism in Asia and maybe attracting the government’s support through legislation and funding. As mentioned in the article “Indonesian visitors a promotion priority” for Thailand, the availability of flights from several airlines between specific neighboring or overseas countries, as well as legislation amendments as the tax waiver for Indonesian citizens, are incentives for visitors.

The state plays an important role in the development of medical tourism, acknowledging the huge economic potential that the sector has and supporting its growth but also ensuring that this growth will not create a future problem within the countries borders. First of all, is it safe? It is certainly cheaper and faster to seek medical treatment in Malaysia or India, and a apparently a bit less in Thailand, but with all this growing demand from foreign visitors the state needs to monitor the medical institutions, ensuring that the offered services are not only safe, but also up to the visitor’s-patient’s expectations as it would be very risky to let them down. There is also an obvious need for investment in facilities and infrastructure as this growing demand has to be met accordingly.

As far as the tourism businesses are concerned, there is certainly a gain for them as well. As the visitors for medical or wellness reasons are growing to the destinations, there is the equal need not only to accommodate them but also entertain them with extra leisure activities providing an “experience” while being at that destination. So along with the rise of medical tourism there is opportunity for growth of its tourism sector in general, providing even more benefits to the host destination.
And what about the host community? In a destination where there is intense promotion of its health sector to the foreign public, looking to get the most out of the potential economic benefits, the local residents should be the first to be adequately and properly serviced. With increasing numbers of outside visitors, and intense promotion from the state’s side for more, it is very probable that the supply of medical clinics and doctors will stop growing equally. The host community that will continue needing medical care is likely to face longer waiting periods and maybe a price increase because of that growth of demand.  So it is again the state’s role to foresee these scenarios and prepare correctly for these changes, in order to protect its people and have true benefits from the fast growing medical tourism.