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Amidst a slowing economy, Thailand retains spot as world’s top medical tourism destination

February 23, 2019

Thailand attracted an estimated 1.8 – 2.5 million international patients in 2015*. Many of these patients stayed on afterward for a holiday, either in Bangkok or at one of the country’s beach resorts. More than one in three foreigners treated at Bumrungrad are from the Gulf states. While stubbornly low oil prices have led to decreased numbers of medical tourists from the Gulf region in recent quarters, the shortfall is made up by the growth of wealthy medical tourists from neighbouring Myanmar and Vietnam that have less-developed health care systems.

Thailand is well known for cosmetic and sex change procedures. Medical tourism generated 107 billion baht ($3 billion) of revenue in 2014, according to the latest Thai government estimate.

Other than directly supporting tens of thousands of jobs directly, the medical tourism industry provides significant spinoff benefits to the economy, such as food and beverage establishments, malls, hotels and even condominiums located near famous hospitals. Many of such apartments are frequently rented out to patients for short stay periods after their surgical procedures.

Recognizing the importance of health care to the Thai economy, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s military government has drafted a 10-year plan to promote the sector. As part of the plan, the staying period for medical treatment for patients from China, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam has been tripled to 90 days.

Amidst competition for medical tourists from regional rival Singapore, the country has managed to retain its spot as the world’s top destination for medical tourism.

*Source: (Patients Beyond Borders (Carolina), Thailand Ministry of Public Health, Kasikorn Research Centre

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