Is there a crisis in Asia?


Some sections of the American press are predicting gloom and doom for the Asian medical tourism industry. But their main gripe seems to be that it is going to grow less slowly than earlier predictions suggested.

With US insurers, banks, car makers and others having to go to their government for hand outs which are often bigger than the entire medical budget of a small country, and thousands of Americans worried about losing their jobs and homes, suggesting medical tourism is in crisis because it is only growing slowly is patently absurd.

So what are they basing these figures on? A handful of random quotes from hospitals and agencies seem to be the main source. A few hospitals are admitting that they will have lower growth in 2009 then expected.

The ones being worst affected are those relying very heavily on American business. Bumrungrad International in Bangkok expects lower growth in 2009, but how much of this is due to recession and the cost of travel from the US to Thailand, and how much of it is the result of political unrest in the country, is unclear.

Asian countries such as Singapore, Thailand and India, which have attracted huge numbers of Americans, are now lowering their expectations. Just a few months ago, they had been anticipating rapid expansion, but the often-quoted prediction of 6 million Americans by 2010 is pure myth.

India often claims to attract one or two million medical tourists a year. Although many hospitals and agencies have built business plans on this, there is no proof that even one million overseas patients have visited the country in one year. The Indian Healthcare Federation and the Confederation of Indian Industry estimate that the country has the potential to attract 1 million tourists per annum, but potential and actual are far different. Recently, one of the leading Indian hospital groups, that is heavily involved in the sector, made a responsible estimate that India would see 450,000 visitors in 2008.

The next source of the gloom is from medical tourism agencies.

In the last few years, hundreds of start-up companies in the US hoping to serve the needs of medical tourists have sprung up. The goal was to develop a niche for themselves by handling all the logistics for Americans travelling abroad for medical care. Many have no experience or even any medical background. Most have been wildly optimistic over the number of individuals and businesses that will pay for overseas treatment. The 300 US-based agencies are competing with over 500 overseas agencies targeting Americans. Quite simply, there is not enough business to keep all of them afloat, and many will perish. But the good professional ones will prosper. Those counting on large numbers of Americans are especially at risk.

And the final source of the predictions of doom and gloom? None other than those institutions with the worst possible recent record of financial forecasting, stockbrokers and investment bankers!




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