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Thailand moves to boost medical tourism in affluent markets

Under pressure from regional competition, the Thai government is targeting affluent markets in the region where demand is rising for better quality health care.

Although Thailand's medial tourism industry has grown tremendously in the past two decades, it is coming under increasing pressure from stiffer competition and weaker economic conditions in its key source regions, such as Russia and the Middle East. These source countries are not only experiencing a reduction in the number of outbound medical tourists but are also boosting their own inbound medical tourism sectors.

In response, the Thai government has begun shifting its promotional focus towards newer markets with growing affluence and rising demand for professional health care, such as China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

To encourage health tourism from these nations, the government has introduced new visa rules that triple the length of stay for medical tourists from 30 to 90 days, which will allow overseas patients to undergo move extensive procedures.

The Ministry of Public Health also unveiled a new series of packages as park of its "Visit Thailand Enhance Your Healthy Life" programme in early September 2016 in conjunction with state agencies and private healthcare providers.

Aimed at increasing the number of medical and wellness tourism patients to Thailand, the new initiatives allow medical tourists to have standard health checks at up to 70 internationally certified hospitals and clinics, enabling visitors to combine a regular medical assessment with their vacation. Additionally, the ministry is also introducing a wider range of dental and reproductive health services for overseas patients.

Thailand is increasingly dependent on medical tourism to expand its private hospital business according to research by the Kasikorn Research Centre.

Thailand is one of the most sought after medical destinations in Asia, But for its private hospitals to improve business and stay competitive, successfully promoting its medical tourism industry will be key, according to the Kasikorn Research Centre.

Business prospects at Thailand's private hospitals remain promising due to their ability to maintain double-digit growth rates in recent years. One of the bright spots has been that revenue from overseas patients as a percentage of total revenue increased to 27% in 2015 from 25% in 2011. That figure is expected to rise to 30% in 2018, thanks to the growing number of international patients visiting the country's private hospitals.

Although Thai patients account for around 70% of overall revenue the private hospitals rising medical costs and the improvement in the quality and scope of services offered at public hospitals has made it challenging for private hospitals to increase their market share. As a result, private hospitals are increasingly seeking out other sources of patient revenue beyond the local market.

Thailand's private hospitals are now looking at Myanmar and the Middle East as markets with attractive and promising potential. Other emerging markets include China, Vietnam and Indonesia. Despite medical tourism being a promising market, private hospitals still face fierce competition from neighbouring countries such as Malaysia. To be successful, Thai hospitals will need to adopt and engage in creative marketing strategies while offering services catering to the needs of patients from different countries.

Research shows that hospitals with successful medical tourism strategies will outshine their competitors. For example, the overall revenue of private hospitals targeting international patients is estimated to rise between 10% to 12% this year compared to revenue growth of only 7% to 9% for hospitals treating only Thai patients.