The “Ah” has gone from “Amazing Thailand”. At least in medical tourism.
In the days immediately following the anti-government protests in Bangkok, social network users on the internet found it hard to restrain themselves from gloating over the apparent destruction of Thailand as a medical destination and the opportunities this may present to other countries.
A great deal now hinges on how the Thai government, specifically its tourism arm, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), acts to promote Thailand as a medical tourism destination in the coming year.
Sustained and cohesive promotion efforts are not likely to happen soon, insiders agree. While TAT has been working on a medical tourism marketing plan for almost a year, it has faced leadership changes and budget cuts. It has had to put other priorities, namely bringing back Burma, Bangladesh, Indonesia, tourists – any tourists – ahead of promotion of medical travel and health tourism.
Thailand medical tourism not a priority
TAT has, however, announced that it will continue promotion of Thailand’s spa, wellness and medical services in the Middle East. Otherwise, its focus is on niche markets particularly golf, wedding, beauty, diving and green tourism from the region, bringing in tourists from China, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong. No mention of medical tourism.
The revenue challenge for private hospitals
The private hospitals have their own problems. With droves of expatriate foreigners having moved out of Thailand, hospitals like Bumrungrad International and Bangkok Hospital Medical Center are working on solidifying their home base and focusing efforts on bringing back local Thai residents, who often view these high end private hospitals as too expensive. Both hospitals continue to draw medical travelers from surrounding countries like Burma, Bangladesh and Indonesia, and from the Middle East.
Medical tourism boosted by Bumrungrad
Thailand as a medical destination was not put on the medical travel map by government policies and programs. Thailand became known as a medical destination because its top hospitals, primarily Bumrungrad, carried the torch almost single-handedly for Thai medical care. And they will continue to do this, with or without official government support.
In today’s changed medical tourism environment, and without coordinated promotion of medical tourism by government and trade groups, will hospitals like Bumrungrad or Bangkok Hospital Medical Center be able to maintain their position within the global or even regional medical tourism industry?
Rise of Phuket and Chiang Mai
Will these hospitals, and Bangkok itself, lose out to other destinations within Thailand such as the northern city of Chiang Mai or the tropical island of Phuket? Not at all.
What remains of Thai medical tourism will continue to favor Bangkok despite Phuket-based interests’ heavy-handed promotion of the island as an alternative destination to Bangkok. Phuket has daily international flights by regular and discount airlines to dozens of regional cities, and it has lovely resorts. But its two private hospitals, Phuket International and Bangkok Phuket, are considered by most local expat residents a second choice to flying into Bangkok for care. The two private hospitals are considered overpriced, with high hospital costs and doctor fees, and an undistinguished roster of doctors.
If fewer patients stop in Thailand on their medical journeys, where do they go instead?