Thailand to revive medical tourism amid COVID-19 pandemic


BANGKOK – As the Thai government plans to reopen the country to foreign tourists as part of its learning-to-live strategy with COVID, Thai companies aim to offer COVID-related services as well as boost tourism medical.

The upscale international hospital in Bumrungrad has launched its first COVID-19 recovery clinic, offering all COVID solutions to wealthy Thais and foreigners, as the government prepares to reopen the country around November.

“The COVID-19 recovery unit is a medical center for people whose lives are affected by COVID,” Artirat Charukitpipat, director general of the hospital, said last Wednesday. The Bumrungrad unit provides care for infected patients and also treats people with “long COVID” symptoms such as lung problems.

The hospital provides treatment for outpatients and inpatients, including quarantine, intensive care and telemedicine for patients in home isolation. The hospital also offers rehabilitation services to patients with symptoms of COVID long to help them regain their strength and fully recover.

Bangkok Dusit Medical Services, Thailand’s largest private healthcare group, also offers a high-end alternative quarantine center in the heart of Bangkok. From October 1, it offers quarantine packages of seven, 10 or 14 days, depending on the traveler’s vaccination status.

Other leading hospitals in Bangkok and major cities across the country have launched similar services to meet growing demand as the country opens up to tourists and foreign investors.

Bumrungrad provides care for infected patients and also treats people with symptoms of “long COVID”. (Photo courtesy of the hospital)

This is in line with the government’s goal of promoting Thai medical tourism as part of its drive to position Thailand as the medical hub of ASEAN, providing high quality medical services at competitive prices.

“We have great potential – with medical professionals and unique Thai hospitality – to be ready to be the medical hub,” a senior official from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) told Nikkei Asia.

Currently, Thailand has 64 hospitals that meet the accreditation standards of the International Joint Commission, the highest number in ASEAN and the fourth in the world, making the country ready to take advantage of medical tourism.

The kingdom earned 59.8 billion baht ($ 1.8 billion) in 2019 before it was hit by the pandemic. This accounted for 3% of all foreign tourism revenue and was growing at around 3.5% per year, mainly serving customers from America, Europe and the Middle East.

Normally, the Khaosan Road in central Bangkok is crowded with tourists. Tourism plays a key role in Thailand’s economy – it grossed 3 trillion baht ($ 89 billion) in 2019, accounting for 18% of the country’s GDP. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

No medical tourism income was reported in 2020-2021 as the market plunged, largely due to the lockdown. However, the Tourism Authority of Thailand remains confident in the country’s potential for medical tourism, implementing a proactive promotion plan and targeting 5% revenue growth in 2022.

This is in line with global trends – the global medical tourism industry is expected to be worth around $ 808 billion in 2021, with a growth rate of up to 7.5% per year, according to Global Wellness Economy Monitor 2017. This has left the place for Thailand to capitalize on, especially at a time when the pandemic offers new business opportunities.

With 27.7% of the total population now fully vaccinated in two injections, the government aims to reopen the country by enforcing a “living with COVID” policy. Not only are hospitals and medical companies launching services to capitalize on the strategy, but mobile operators and other businesses are also gearing up for the country to open up.

Companies in particular are offering COVID-related services to those who cannot afford expensive luxury care in high-end hospitals at a time when the need for COVID treatment could potentially increase again after borders reopen.

This would help provide medication and appropriate treatment for patients who wish to practice home isolation and help reduce bed occupancies in public hospitals if new cases of COVID rise again when the country reopens for foreign tourists.

Advance Info Service (AIS), the country’s largest mobile operator, has partnered with hospital chains and medical startups to provide free telemedicine services. The company also allows customers to use their payment points to get discounts when purchasing COVID-19 drugs and insurance.

“After living with COVID for about two years, we have found that Thais are more interested in their health and want to protect themselves from COVID,” said Bussaya Satirapipatkul, head of customer management and services at AIS.


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