Friday, June 27, 2014

Malaysia - Malaysia Urged To Play 'Catch-Up' In Medical Tourism Field

KUALA LUMPUR, June 22 (Bernama) -- In 1997, Thailand's hospital sector faced its greatest challenge yet in the wake of the global financial crisis.

The Thai Baht collapsed, and many hospitals which had ramped up their capacity, saw patient numbers plunge.

They then came up with an idea. Why not market Thailand an affordable healthcare destination to reduce the supply glut and bring in foreign currency?

And now, Thailand boasts itself as one of the world's top medical tourism spots.

The country ushered in 2.5 million tourists last year seeking medical treatment, translating into total receipts of US$4.31 billion.

Malaysia, on the contrary, received 770,134 medical tourists last year.

Despite the figure having doubled since 2010, industry watchers said Malaysia had a lot of catching up to do.

According to Villa Media International Corporate Director of Medical Services, Datuk Professor Dr Nor Shahidah, Malaysia is well positioned to win more medical tourist dollars.

"Malaysia has an affordable and good healthcare system. We are a multiracial, multicultural society with good food, and all this bodes well for the industry," she told a forum here recently.

Citing figures from the World Health Tourism Congress, she said Malaysia's medical tourism sector revenue is expected to jump to RM630 million this year, from RM288 million in 2009.

However, the country has to find its niche in fending off the intense competition from neighbouring rivals such as Singapore and South Korea, industry watchers said.

One area is halal healthcare, Shahidah noted.

"Demand for halal personal care products and pharmaceuticals is driven by increased consumer knowledge and ingredients used in the formulation of such products as well as the way it is produced.

"Conscientious consumers are specifically reaching out for halal-endorsed products and choose to spend money on cosmetics and pharmaceuticals to fit religious and cultural requirements," she added.

The global Muslim consumer base is estimated at 1.8 billion across 100 countries.

According to CIMB Securities Thailand Equity Research Head, Kasem Prunratanamala, Malaysia should take advantage of Thailand's existing political turmoil as tourists are refraining from visiting the country.

Thailand has faced months of unrest beginning with anti-government protests in Bangkok in November. The military took power via a coup last month.

Despite Thailand still holding on to the crown, its medical tourism sector is not without a fair share of challenges, Kasem said.

"These include a shortage of medical staff, a lack of foreign language skills, weaker research and development, and incomplete medical malpractice regulations," he added.

Industry watchers also advised local players to pay attention to the location of their medical facilities.

Family members accompanying the patient would want a location near shopping malls and hotels, so that they can enjoy a hassle-free vacation, while the person concerned seeks treatment, they said.

Jason Tan Lin King

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