Living With Covid: Thai Medical Tourism Industry

With the second anniversary of getting our lives adapted to covid coming up at the end of this year, many countries are pondering the possibility of embracing the “Living with covid” approach that would include reducing the number of restrictions and generally leading more normal lifestyles. Thailand is perhaps one of the best-known examples of such a strategy. As the Thai government is planning to reopen the country to foreign tourists, local businesses aim to offer COVID-related services as well as revive medical tourism.

For example, the upscale Bumrungrad International Hospital has already opened the doors of its first COVID-19 recovery clinic, focusing mostly on affluent Thais and foreigners, as the country reopening is scheduled roughly for November. The Bumrungrad unit takes care of the infected patients and also treats people who have "long COVID" symptoms such as lung problems.


Another shining example is Bangkok Dusit Medical Services, Thailand's largest private health care group, that opted for opening a high-end alternative quarantine resort in the heart of the country’s capital. Starting from the beginning of this month, it offers quarantine packages of seven, 10, or 14 days, depending on the traveler's vaccination status.


Such programs are in line with the government's aim to promote Thai medical tourism as part of its strategy to turn Thailand into the medical hub of ASEAN. Currently, Thailand’s statistics are impeccable: the country has 64 hospitals that meet Joint Commission International accreditation standards, the highest number in ASEAN and the fourth-highest worldwide, making the country perfectly placed to profit from medical tourism.


The kingdom earned 59.8 billion baht ($1.8 billion) in 2019 before it was hit by the pandemic, which amounted to 3% of all revenue from foreign tourism, with the sector’s focus largely on Americans, Europeans, and guests from the Middle East. While no medical tourism revenue was reported in 2020-2021 (for obvious reasons), the Tourism Authority of Thailand has faith in the nation's potential for medical tourism, using quite aggressive marketing techniques and targeting revenue growth of as high as 5% in 2022.


That matches global trends. According to the Global Wellness Economy Monitor 2017, the global medical tourism industry is forecast to be worth around $808 billion in 2021, with a growth rate of up to 7.5% per year. That is good news for Thailand as the country could capitalize on the rising demand, particularly at a time when the share of people paying heightened attention to their health is rising rapidly.


Apart from the government push, businesses are also setting their eye on the potential profits. Should the country succeed in its mission of positioning itself as a medical tourism hub, local and international investors will follow soon after further developing the necessary infrastructure and likely causing even bigger demand. Hopefully, no other unexpected pandemic outbreaks will stay on the way.

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