Tourism Malaysia targets ASEAN countries first


Tourism Malaysia is hopeful that it can resume travel and welcome international tourists provided that Malaysia can keep its COVID-19 cases low.

Malaysia and Singapore have allowed cross-border travel already, but for essential services and official purposes only, and not yet for leisure.

Tourism Malaysia is hoping to establish travel corridors with other nations in South East Asia, but starting next year to prevent a potential spike on cases that happened in Vietnam after lifting its travel restrictions. The government is negotiating with Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, and Indonesia.

The Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council ( MHTC) estimates that there has been a 75% drop in medical tourism for Malaysia due to the pandemic.

Private hospitals actively involved in medical tourism have been severely impacted by the closure of the country's borders. To counter this, Mahkota Medical Centre has initiated various online or digital health activities to maintain a connection to its foreign patients. The hospital has 14 authorised offices in Indonesia and these facilities have been used to coordinate digital health talks for Indonesian patients.

It also has teleconsultation services to ensure minimal interruption in provision of care to foreign patients. In addition, it is providing medication delivery services to international patients who are not able to secure their medication in their home countries. All this is aimed at ensuring the hospital remains connected to its foreign customer base. For the hospital, Indonesians form the largest group of foreign patients. 30% of patients are from foreign countries and of this number, 95% cent are Indonesians. Patients also come from Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore. These patients seek a variety of services, from health screening and surgical procedures to oncology treatment.

Malaysia is an attractive healthcare destination because the healthcare system is very affordable. For Indonesians medical treatment in their home country can be costlier than in Malaysia. The nearness to Indonesia, a common language and that Malaysia is a Muslim country makes Indonesians feel comfortable there.

When foreign patients go to Malaysia or treatment they don't come alone. Three to four people often accompany them and the duration of their stay in Malaysia can be a week or more if the patient is undergoing cancer or fertility treatment. The companions or family members who accompany these patients usually stay in local hotels as well as shop and dine out regularly, so medical tourism has a ripple effect on other sectors.

It is important to ensure that medical tourism in Malaysia continues to thrive because it helps boost other industries and will help the economy to bounce back quicker, especially for hoteliers.

The situation post-Covid-19 is hard to predict, as it is difficult to determine when the medical tourism industry will be back on its feet again. The industry may show an improvement in the right direction by the end of next year, but there is no guarantee that patients will return in large numbers.

It is up to the government in Malaysia to extend the necessary support and incentives to help the medical tourism industry bounce back.



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