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Medical tourism industry expected to be worth US$4 billion by 2012

 Asia’s burgeoning medical tourism industry, expected to be worth at least US$4 billion by 2012, is proving a windfall for the travel and hospitality sector.

Abacus International President and CEO Don Birch said, “The lure of low-cost, high quality healthcare in Asia is estimated to be attracting more than 1.3 million tourists a year to the key locations – Thailand, Singapore, India, South Korea and Malaysia.”

“This is a new breed of travellers. They have particular needs, they are going to these locations for a specific reason, and reports are showing that their daily spend is more than double that of other tourists.”

Government research on this rapidly-growing business shows a medical tourist spends average US$362 a day, compared with the average traveller’s spend of US$144.

“This spend alone makes medical tourists a highly-attractive niche for travel agencies and the hospitality sector,” Mr Birch said.

“What we’re seeing now is an increase in the number of service providers in the industry specialising to meet the needs of this market, with tailored packages and services, and building partnerships with treatment providers to increase their catchment of customers.”

Medical tourism is growing rapidly, far outstripping the 4 to 6% growth in general travel bookings predicted for 2006, with the number of medical tourist visits to many countries swelling by 20 to 30% a year. The industry in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and India, currently worth around half a billion dollars a year in Asia, is projected to generate more than US$4.4 billion by 2012.

Mr Birch said the spin-offs – which extend well beyond the medical, travel and tourism sectors – have attracted strong government interest across Asia, and efforts to woo medical tourists have added further impetus to the growth.

India’s medical tourism business is growing at 30% per year and is forecast to generate at least US$2.2 billion a year by 2012. Singapore is targeting to attract one million foreign patients annually and push the GDP contribution from this sector above US$1.6 billion, while Malaysia expects medical tourism receipts to be in the region of US$590 million in five years’ time.

Coupled with strong growth in Asia’s other well-established medical tourism markets, such as Thailand and South Korea, the industry is set to confidently stride past US$4 billion by 2012.

The current estimated 1.32 million medical tourists come to Asia from all corners of the world – including US and Europe but much of the travel is within Asia, Mr Birch said.

“While the long-haul market is important and growing, much of the business is Intra-Asia. Some of the key origin markets are Indonesia, Malaysia, the Middle East and Greater China. This provides a good spin-off for airlines and low cost carriers especially those providing direct flights within the region”.

“ Asia is a preferred healthcare destination and is set to grow further, fuelled by the relatively low-priced healthcare services available,” said Mr Birch.

But Mr Birch added that while low cost maybe a draw-card for some patients, the assurance of a good quality healthcare system is important. “Many hospitals and medical institutions that cater to the tourist market are among the best in the world.”

India promotes its private healthcare sector as a tourist attraction, providing first-class service at a third-world price. The Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre in New Delhi boast a death rate for coronary bypass patients of 0.8%. This compares with 2.35% for the same procedure in New York, said Escorts’ cardiovascular surgeon Mr Naresh Trehan.

Mr Birch added, “In many respects, Asia is an ideal growth environment for medical tourism, with competitively-priced, quality healthcare services in major tourist cities and connected by extensive global travel networks.”

Hospitals and travel partners are actively working together to offer customised medical packages to travellers and their families.

An emerging trend is the bundling of five-star healthcare services with unconventional post-operation treatment. India is providing traditional recuperation forms such as yoga and naturopathy, while Thailand is promoting its ancient Thai herbal remedies to the West, Middle East and Far East



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