The long-awaited return of medical tourists is providing another source of external demand, alongside leisure and business travellers, driving the recovery of Singapore’s retail market.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, around 500,000 foreign patients traveled to Singapore for medical treatment every year, according to the Yusof Ishak Institute Singapore. They largely stopped entering Singapore when the borders were closed to short-term visitors from March 23, 2020 due to the pandemic.
With many international borders reopening, medical tourists are once again seeking treatment abroad due to a disparity in healthcare quality or limited healthcare capacity in their home country, where health care resources may have been prioritized to contain the pandemic over treating other health issues.
Singapore’s retail market will benefit from the revival of medical tourism, as overseas patients are often accompanied by family members, and their pent-up demand for travel and spending.
The high purchasing power of high-end regional medical tourists
Singapore is well-known in Asia for its high-quality and comprehensive healthcare services, ranging from health checkups to surgery, with well-trained medical specialists and state-of-the-art facilities. The Medical Tourism Association has ranked Singapore second overall in the Medical Tourism Index 2020-2021 and first for the quality of healthcare facilities and services.
Singapore attracts high-end regional medical tourists who prioritize high-quality healthcare services over cost. Moreover, the high disposable income and purchasing power of these visitors bodes well for the recovery of Singapore’s high-end retail market.
Travel-friendly protocols and perceptions of safety make Singapore an easy choice
The introduction of quarantine-free and test-free entry into Singapore for all fully vaccinated travelers and the introduction of quarantine-free entry into Singapore for non-fully vaccinated travelers reduce friction when traveling here for medical treatment.
Singapore has bolstered its global reputation by handling the pandemic particularly well compared to most developed economies. Going forward, Singapore’s pragmatic, careful and efficient approach to living with the pandemic offers patients reassurance of low infection risks and makes it an easy choice for travelers’ first overseas vacation after the pandemic. .
Indeed, healthcare providers are notably seeing more foreign patients (from Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, India, Vietnam and Laos) coming to Singapore for treatment following the introduction of protocols travel-friendly on April 1, 2022.. Pent-up demand from returning overseas patients already familiar with Singapore, accompanied by family members, will support retail sales growth.
New tourist offers to extend the length of stay and increase spending
The availability of high-end shopping destinations alongside new and renewed tourist attractions that provide unique experiences for patients and/or accompanying family members is expected to extend their length of stay and increase spending in Singapore. These deals include fitness and wellness packages to promote holistic wellbeing in city life, the upcoming indoor setting in Somerset offering live entertainment in the Orchard Road shopping belt and a sports facility of action in Somerset (2023).
The return of medical tourists is expected to support not only the recovery of Singapore’s tourism and retail industries, but also the recovery of the commercial property market.