Thailand reports medical travel sector recovery

An analyst report from Krungthai Compass, a research house under Krungthai Bank, has said Thailand’s medical tourism sector is steadily recovering from setbacks caused by the impact of Covid-19 and especially from the now-cancelled Thailand Pass scheme.

With Covid-era travel restrictions now relaxed, Thailand is once again drawing in visitors wanting to benefit from the country’s natural attractions while also taking care of their medical problems. But while visitors are returning, analysts predict the industry will not rebound significantly until 2023 when tourist numbers really pick up.

In an article published online, Krungthai analyst Sujitra Unno said that footfall in private hospitals improved significantly between January and June 2022, contributing to the recovery of the medical tourism sector.

She cited a report that sees 24 SET-listed private hospital service providers enjoying revenue and profit growth in the first quarter of 2022 when compared to the same period of the previous year. She stated that the hospitals’ total revenues increased 48.9% year-over-year (YoY) to over 125 billion baht (US$3.56 billion) in the first quarter of 2022 and their net profits grew by 173.8% YoY to over 24 billion baht. The growth was mainly attributed to revenue from Thai patients who sought medical treatment for Covid-19 infections.

The research centre predicts that the private hospital business will continue to expand by 19.8% YoY in 2023, which will help boost the country’s medical tourism business as well as total foreign patient revenue which, pre-Covid, accounted for about 30% of the total.

During Covid, private hospitals, particularly large hospital chains reliant on revenue from foreign patients, fell significantly. This is confirmed in a report by Kasikorn Research Center, which noted that the number of medical tourist arrivals declined by some 90% in 2021, with visitors from the Middle East, ASEAN countries and China making up the majority of those forced to delay hospital consultations.  Krungthai Compass estimates that of the 8.9 million foreign tourists who have arrived in Thailand in 2022, a relatively high percentage were here to receive medical treatment.

“We expect that next year, many private hospitals in Thailand will see their patients from China, Russia, Japan and the Middle East coming back to receive treatment services,” Sujitra said.

Thailand tops other countries in Asia in the number of hospitals which have been accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI). The country boasts 60 JCI-accredited medical sites nationwide, while India has 37, Japan 31, Malaysia 17 and Singapore 5, according to the JCI list as of December 2021.

According to the Krungthai report, medical services in Thailand help patients save 50-90% on medical expenses compared to what they would pay for similar services in the US. The majority of medical tourists come to the country to receive dental treatment, followed by plastic surgery and cosmetic treatment.

In addition, several cities in Thailand are top-rated tourist destinations with the highest healthcare scores in Southeast Asia on Numbeo’s Health Care Index 2022 Mid-year. Chiang Mai is at the top of the list, followed by Bangkok in third place and Pattaya in fourth.

The index was conducted based on a survey of website visitors on the overall quality of the health care system that included doctors, healthcare professionals, staff and medical treatment costs.

The Thai government has taken measures to re-invigorate the medical tourism industry. In addition to relaxing restrictions, it has promoted its positive performance in tackling Covid-19 as a way to attract foreign visitors.

Following the success of the Phuket Sandbox programme, the country’s pilot scheme to attract foreign visitors post pandemic, the government said it will turn the city into a medical centre, with plans to develop a plaza in the city that is equipped with an international elderly care centre, rehabilitation centre, and a palliative care centre.

Last year, the cabinet approved in principle a new visa scheme that allows foreigners who seek medical treatment to stay in the country for up to a year, without having to leave the country for visa renewals if the arrive on tourist visas.