Thailand is well known as a tourist destination because of its sandy beaches and beautiful nature, but its reputation as a health tourism destination is growing as well. Thailand boasts modern and internationally accredited hospitals, cosmopolitan reputation, and a favorable geographic location. We may think that Thailand has little more to do to become a premier health tourism destination, but “the future of Thai health tourism is currently at a crossroads,” according to Mr. Krod Rojanastein, President of the Spa Association of Thailand.
The medical tourism industry is a rapidly-growing and high-potential industry for the ASEAN region. Globally, the medical tourism market is valued at an estimated US $36.9 billion in 2018 according to Grand View Research. Thailand is the market leader in the ASEAN region with 3.2 million annual health tourists, 50 percent of patient share, and a health tourism revenue of US $1.29 billion as of 2016. The wellness tourism market is even larger, estimated at US $639.4 billion in 2017 by the Global Wellness Institute. Thailand again leads the ASEAN region in number of patient trips at 12.5 million and patient expenditures at US $12 billion in 2017.
In this context, Mr. Krod identified three emerging trends that could expand the potential of Thailand to become a global leader in health tourism.
- Shift from Medical Tourism to Wellness Tourism: Health tourism can include many different types of treatments. These can be separated into the two larger categories of medical treatments and wellness treatments. Medical treatments focus on treating and curing illnesses, including things like surgeries and visits to specialist doctors. On the other hand, wellness treatments are often preventative and used to maintain or improve health. These types of treatments can include mental and spiritual wellness treatments as well as spa and massage experiences. As the population both in Thailand and around the globe age, people will focus more and more on preventive wellness and care for non-communicable diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Thailand is already known for its medical treatments, and Mr. Krod sees an opportunity for growth by promoting Thailand’s ample resources for the wellness side of health tourism.
- Focus on Holistic Healthcare: People are starting to approach treatments holistically, looking into the many factors that can contribute to health and wellness. Mr. Krod suggested that to be a leader in the health tourism industry, Thailand needs to look at health and wellness from a variety of angles: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, social, and environmental. When people look abroad for healthcare, they take many factors into account besides cost. Health tourists are looking for preventative and health-promoting care that takes mental and physical elements into consideration. People are also increasingly seeking out safe and natural medical practices that take them outside a traditional hospital environment. Due to its long history of local and natural health practices, Thailand is well positioned to become a global leader in providing holistic health tourism experiences.
- Integrating Technology into the Health Tourism Industry: Mr. Krod discussed utilizing technology to increase access to preventative care in Thailand. He gave the example of Ping An, a one-stop healthcare platform in China that combines mobile health technology and AI to connect people with healthcare solutions online. Solutions like this can help a greater number of people access healthcare while saving costs for both users and medical providers. He suggested, for instance, that health providers look into forming joint ventures with transportation companies to create an online-offline healthcare ecosystem to fully connect patients with healthcare services. A system like this could prove attractive for health tourists looking for a complete and smoothly-facilitated healthcare experience.
Mr. Krod was one of the panelists at the regional conference, “ASEAN SMEs: A Health Tourism Roadmap from Regional to Global Market,” implemented by Kenan Foundation Asia in collaboration with the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF), the ASEAN Secretariat, and Thailand’s Office of Small and Medium Enterprise Promotion (OSMEP). The conference brought together leaders from the health tourism industry from several ASEAN states to present on their country’s health tourism development as well as international experts who presented on best practices in health tourism.
To learn more about medical and wellness tourism in Thailand and ASEAN, download our presentation on enhancing the competitiveness of small businesses within the sector: www.kenan-asia.org/enhancing-asean-sme