Malaysia is increasingly gaining prominence as a medical tourism destination with visitors from other parts of the world, but there is greater need to publicise the industry.
A travel & wellness services management industry executive told Business Circle that whilst medical tourism has been defined as a patient opting to obtain medical treatment in a less developed part of the world, local industry players strongly believe Malaysia has a compelling proposition to offer in terms of medical tourism.
“There are numerous high end hospitals with first class facilities in the country to cater to the needs of tourists but due to the lack of publicity, tourists are flocking to neighbouring countries instead,” the source offers.
Recognising the potential that medical tourism holds for Malaysia, in October 2011, the Malaysian government corporatised the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) to develop and promote Malaysia as one of the main destination for healthcare services in the region.
It is understood that the government is addressing this issue with the MHTC opening an office in Dhaka and Jakarta respectively, while earmarking Hong Kong as its next choice base.
“This will prove vital in promoting the country which is regarded as having a matured health care industry,” the source says.
He observes that it is still early days for the medical tourism industry in the country as the take up by tourist is still relatively low.
At the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Expo held last year, Malaysia’s Minister of Health Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai was quoted as saying Malaysia received 583,000 foreign patients and he was confident that the numbers would continue to increase as it had done, ten-fold over the last decade.
Furthermore, a recent report from the national news agency, Bernama stated that that the country has been ‘inducted’ as a medical tourism destination on MyMEDholiday.com, a portal and ratings website that provides information to foreigners seeking comprehensive healthcare services mainly in India and several Southeast Asia countries.
On the profiles of people who visit Malaysia for medical tourism, the industry executive says that although there has been an inflow of tourists from the United States as well as countries in Europe and the Middle East, many come for a mere “one-off” procedure.
“Medical tourism packages do not appeal to these tourists as that would require them to travel to the country frequently. There was also the issue of the more developed nations having first class medical facilities particularly in treating the more common health risk illness,” the source says.
However, he is of the view that there much potential from Singaporean tourists due to the country’s proximity to Malaysia as well as its stronger currency against the Malaysian ringgit.
On popular medical treatments being sought by tourists, the source is quick to point out that fertility clinics are gaining popularity particularly among tourists in from the Middle East who value privacy.
He adds that these tourists are willing spend over US$100,000 to undergo fertility diagnosis tests as well as medical treatments in Malaysia even though such facilities are readily available in their respective countries. Middle East tourists also favour Malaysia as a choice destination over Singapore due to their concerns of halal friendliness in all the former’s hospitals – public and private.
On the other hand, he says there is a growing demand for dental and plastic surgery being performed in Malaysia from tourists from the United States and countries in Europe.