Medical travel growing

 

Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia (APHM) board member, Dr K Kulaveerasingam, is projecting a 15 percent increase (compared with the past average of 20-25 percent) in medical tourism receipts for 2009 as fewer foreigners are expected to visit the country for medical treatment. On numbers, this would translate to 485,000 tourists, much lower than earlier APHM predictions of over 600,000.

“Due to the economic slowdown, some medical tourists may postpone treatments which are not serious such as cosmetic surgery and even hip and knee surgeries,” he said.

The number of foreigners visiting the country for medical tourism has more than tripled since 2003 to hit a total of 341,288 in 2007.

For the first nine months of 2008, over 282,000 foreigners came to Malaysia for medical treatment.

According to the 2007 figures, 72 percent of the foreign patients were from Indonesia, 10 percent from Singapore, 5 percent from Japan, 3 percent from Europe and 3 percent from India.

Penang, Malacca and Johor Baru are the favourite destinations. Penang Health Association chairman Dr Chan Kok Ewe expects flat growth for medical tourism for the group this year due to the slowdown and relative market saturation.

“Although we think the outlook is less encouraging, we should use this slack period to prepare for the next growth phase. To do this, we have to cultivate new markets.”

The majority of medical tourists visiting Penang are of Indonesian origin, who select Penang because of its proximity to north Sumatra, convenience of travel, and ease of cultural and language adaptation.

As part of the plan to expand market reach, Malaysia is targeting new markets such as Vietnam, Cambodia, the Middle East, United States, Europe and Canada.

APHM is collaborating with the Tourism Ministry to publish in July the Malaysian edition of Patients Beyond Borders to promote Malaysia as a medical tourism destination globally with special focus on the US.

APHM is also working on a video on Malaysian healthcare that can be used to promote Malaysia overseas, and brochures that take a more countrywide view of Malaysian healthcare.

Research also shows that a medical tourist spends double the amount of normal tourist – US$362 compared with US$144 per day.

Industry players together with government agencies will have to work hard to ensure that Malaysia can compete with Singapore and Thailand. Sime Darby Healthcare chief executive Elaine Cheong Pek Yin, said one of the ways for Malaysia to better compete is to have a central government agency with dynamic marketing and promotion.

Sunway Medical Centre chief operating officer Ch’ng Lin Ling points out that the Health Ministry and Tourism Malaysia will have to team up to promote the image of Malaysia and it is important for travel agents to further promote Malaysia in healthcare.

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