Medical tourism to Asia-Pacific to cross $20bn-mark by 2019

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hospitals-in-chiang-maiWith medical travelers mainly hailing from the Middle East, Africa and Asian countries, and a smaller portion from the US and Europe, health tourism is in strong growth mode in Asia-Pacific. A new report by global consultancy Frost & Sullivan, “Asia-Pacific Medical Tourism Outlook,” found that the market earned revenues of $9.62 billion in 2014 and – based on an estimated annual growth rate of 16.3 per cent – is expected to reach $20.47 billion by 2019.

The main reason why the region – particularly the countries Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia and India, and to a smaller extent the Philippines and Vietnam – is so popular among medical tourists, is that the healthcare industry has reached highly developed standards in medical procedures and infrastructure while most providers are still charging comparably low fees. Furthermore, in countries such as Singapore and Thailand, government agencies have been set up to help market their expertise globally, acknowledging that medical tourism has become a major money-maker. They launched “international desks” abroad to assist overseas patients with everything from doctors’ appointments to accommodation, and eased visa regulations particularly for health travelers and those who need to be treated over a longer period of time. Special medical travel agencies sprouted, and hospitals catering for medical tourists arrange welcome services and transport at the destination airports.

“The medical tourism industry in Asia-Pacific has been experiencing a boom owing to its offer of quality healthcare, ease of access due to availability of travel options and the affordability of treatment compared to western countries,” says Frost & Sullivan expert Rhenu Bhuller.

Currently, Thailand holds the highest market share as per patient numbers in Asia’s medical tourism market, followed by India and Singapore. South Korea stood at the fourth spot in the year 2014 and is likely to more than double its market share by the year 2020, while Malaysia was holding the last spot in 2014.

In comparison: Market leader Thailand expects to generate earnings in excess of $3 billion from some 2.4 million travelers seeking health treatment – including spa and wellness and resident expats – this year, according to Kasikorn Research Center, a subsidiary of Thailand’s Kasikorn Bank. This represents revenue growth of 15 per cent year-on-year. Main sources of health travelers are Japan, other Southeast Asian countries and the Middle East, particularly Gulf nations.

Malaysia, in turn, the last on the top-five list, aims at earning around $220 million from medical tourist this year, after $191 million in 2014. The country is undertaking big efforts to increase the number of medical tourists, particularly from Muslim countries. Last year, it welcomed around 790,000 health tourists and has set the target for this year to 1 million.

“The main challenge is the lack of awareness about Malaysia as a health tourism destination. Middle East travelers go to Malaysia for a holiday but go to Thailand for medical treatment. We don’t shout loud enough about our unique value proposition,” says Sherene Azura Azli, CEO of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council.

Forst & Sullivan’s Bhuller remains highly positive about the market.

“Overall, the medical tourism revenue growth rate is expected to be in the double digits till 2019,” she says, adding that “the traditional markets like Thailand, India and Singapore are expected to grow at a steady pace, whereas Malaysia and South Korea are likely to experience stronger growth, albeit from a lower revenue base.”

However, the industry is becoming more competitive with new medical tourism hotspots emerging, healthcare providers expanding abroad and, namely in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), source countries strengthening their local healthcare infrastructure to minimise the outflow of tourists or to position themselves as medical tourism destinations on the global radar, led by the UAE and Qatar. GCC healthcare project spending is set to rise to $1.45 billion in 2015, with around 70 mega-hospital projects currently ongoing in the region, and Qatar alone plans to build up to 48 new healthcare facilities by 2020.

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With medical travelers mainly hailing from the Middle East, Africa and Asian countries, and a smaller portion from the US and Europe, health tourism is in strong growth mode in Asia-Pacific. A new report by global consultancy Frost & Sullivan, “Asia-Pacific Medical Tourism Outlook,” found that the market earned revenues of $9.62 billion in 2014 and – based on an estimated annual growth rate of 16.3 per cent – is expected to reach $20.47 billion by 2019. The main reason why the region – particularly the countries Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia and India, and to a smaller extent the...

Reading Time: 3 minutes

hospitals-in-chiang-maiWith medical travelers mainly hailing from the Middle East, Africa and Asian countries, and a smaller portion from the US and Europe, health tourism is in strong growth mode in Asia-Pacific. A new report by global consultancy Frost & Sullivan, “Asia-Pacific Medical Tourism Outlook,” found that the market earned revenues of $9.62 billion in 2014 and – based on an estimated annual growth rate of 16.3 per cent – is expected to reach $20.47 billion by 2019.

The main reason why the region – particularly the countries Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia and India, and to a smaller extent the Philippines and Vietnam – is so popular among medical tourists, is that the healthcare industry has reached highly developed standards in medical procedures and infrastructure while most providers are still charging comparably low fees. Furthermore, in countries such as Singapore and Thailand, government agencies have been set up to help market their expertise globally, acknowledging that medical tourism has become a major money-maker. They launched “international desks” abroad to assist overseas patients with everything from doctors’ appointments to accommodation, and eased visa regulations particularly for health travelers and those who need to be treated over a longer period of time. Special medical travel agencies sprouted, and hospitals catering for medical tourists arrange welcome services and transport at the destination airports.

“The medical tourism industry in Asia-Pacific has been experiencing a boom owing to its offer of quality healthcare, ease of access due to availability of travel options and the affordability of treatment compared to western countries,” says Frost & Sullivan expert Rhenu Bhuller.

Currently, Thailand holds the highest market share as per patient numbers in Asia’s medical tourism market, followed by India and Singapore. South Korea stood at the fourth spot in the year 2014 and is likely to more than double its market share by the year 2020, while Malaysia was holding the last spot in 2014.

In comparison: Market leader Thailand expects to generate earnings in excess of $3 billion from some 2.4 million travelers seeking health treatment – including spa and wellness and resident expats – this year, according to Kasikorn Research Center, a subsidiary of Thailand’s Kasikorn Bank. This represents revenue growth of 15 per cent year-on-year. Main sources of health travelers are Japan, other Southeast Asian countries and the Middle East, particularly Gulf nations.

Malaysia, in turn, the last on the top-five list, aims at earning around $220 million from medical tourist this year, after $191 million in 2014. The country is undertaking big efforts to increase the number of medical tourists, particularly from Muslim countries. Last year, it welcomed around 790,000 health tourists and has set the target for this year to 1 million.

“The main challenge is the lack of awareness about Malaysia as a health tourism destination. Middle East travelers go to Malaysia for a holiday but go to Thailand for medical treatment. We don’t shout loud enough about our unique value proposition,” says Sherene Azura Azli, CEO of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council.

Forst & Sullivan’s Bhuller remains highly positive about the market.

“Overall, the medical tourism revenue growth rate is expected to be in the double digits till 2019,” she says, adding that “the traditional markets like Thailand, India and Singapore are expected to grow at a steady pace, whereas Malaysia and South Korea are likely to experience stronger growth, albeit from a lower revenue base.”

However, the industry is becoming more competitive with new medical tourism hotspots emerging, healthcare providers expanding abroad and, namely in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), source countries strengthening their local healthcare infrastructure to minimise the outflow of tourists or to position themselves as medical tourism destinations on the global radar, led by the UAE and Qatar. GCC healthcare project spending is set to rise to $1.45 billion in 2015, with around 70 mega-hospital projects currently ongoing in the region, and Qatar alone plans to build up to 48 new healthcare facilities by 2020.

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