Medical tourists -

September 27, 2020

The ban on inbound tourism has hit Bumrungrad International Hospital. Before the pandemic, a large proportion of their revenue comes from the more than 50% of patients who are overseas medical tourists. Ian Youngman looks into the future for medical travel to Thailand.

Bumrungrad has recently stepped up telemedicine, as well as conducting at-home blood tests, vaccinations and drug deliveries. 

The hospital group claims 632,000 international medical episodes (note: this is patient episodes/visits rather than unique patient numbers) from over 180 countries, with patients from Myanmar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait accounting for the biggest share by revenue. Two-thirds of revenue in 2019 came from non-Thai patients.

Bumrungrad is also currently the target of a pending takeover offer by Bangkok Dusit Medical Services, the largest hospital operator in Thailand, and the crisis makes it very vulnerable.

The Thai Tourism Board is preparing to launch a “We Love Thailand” campaign to boost domestic tourism, in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.The one or two year campaign will help the industry until the market regains the confidence of foreign tourists. Initially, visitors from China, South Korea and Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) are expected to return to Thailand.

For an economy that derives 12-14% of its gross domestic product from tourism, the impact of the pandemic has been severe, with expectations that recovery will take three years.

When borders open and international travel bans are lifted, China will almost certainly resume its dominant role in Thailand’s inbound tourism sector. 

The Phuket Hotels Association, with 74 member hotels, is working on a local initiative that will centre on issues of safety and hygiene.

Local airlines including Thai AirAsia, Thai Lion Air and Bangkok Airways have already outlined their inflight social distancing measures: mask-wearing for all passengers, no food and drinks served or sold on board, and empty middle seats, to be rolled out with the resumption of some domestic flights in May.

A vaccine for the novel coronavirus is needed to help reverse a plunge in Thailand’s critical tourism sector, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand. But in reality, this could take years.

Medical tourism is one of the main sectors driving the Thai economy. To support the national transformation into an advanced economy driven by science, technology, and innovation, the government unveiled an ambitious 20-year strategy – Thailand 4.0 – in May 2016. Under the strategy, the Thai government identified a need to help the country become a hub of wellness and medical services within a ten-year time frame.

The government plan ‘A Strategic Plan to Develop Thailand as an International Medical Hub (2016–2025)’ aims to turn Thailand into a medical hub in four major areas: wellness, medical services, academics and products. Even before the crisis, there were doubts on the ability of the country to meet these targets.

At present there is no timeline or strategy for Thailand for medical tourists to resume inbound international medical tourism.