Government to push Thailand as premier medical tourism centre

01 May 2018 5 min. read

The Thai government is putting in place infrastructure and mechanisms to promote medical tourism in the country, with a programme of special class visas being instituted.

A recent medical tourism industry focus analysis by Big Four professional services firm KPMG in Thailand identifies the global trends in the growing healthcare sector. Globally, medical tourism is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 17.9% between 2013 and 2019. The KPMG report estimates that it will become a $32.5 billion per year business by 2019, and will comprise one of the highest growth areas within the Thai economy.

Thailand, ranked 18th globally in the International Healthcare Research Center’s Medical Tourism Index, is expecting to cash in on this development. Due to a high number of professionals in the health care sector and well-developed infrastructure, the country has scored 13th on the same index in terms of quality of facilities and services provided. Now, the local industry is setting itself up for a 16% increase in demand for medical services during the years 2017-2020. During the past year, there were approximately 3-4% more international patients than in previous years, and this number is expected to increase further, reaching upwards of 3 million patients annually.

The tourism industry overall is set to expand 12% each year, slightly lower than the rate of expected rise in the medical tourism industry (14%). Annually, 25 million tourists visit Thailand according to a 2016 Medical Tourism Index. Due to the increasing numbers of tourists and expats who are coming to the country for medical treatment, in combination with the nation’s rising middle class, the Thai government is embracing the opportunity for medical expansion.Thailand Medical Tourism Industry Rating

Government incentives 

Through a number of incentives, the Thai government wants to capitalise on the market development of medical tourism. Thailand is shifting public policy towards creating an environment wherein medical tourists can access the country’s services with ease. Some of Thailand’s measures to increase attractiveness are based on allowing tourists the ability to stay through specific medical visas.

Part of the government’s strategic plan to become a global medical hub involves the loosening of visa restrictions and the creation of smart visas. Extending visas from 30 days to 90 days for citizens of China along with those of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV) will increase treatment options and draw customers with the promise of quality facilities.

Another part of Thailand’s strategy is to draw on a wealth of customers from developed nations in the Anglosphere, Japan and some European nations such as Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. A long-stay visa will be available for medical tourists – aiming to attract citizen from these increasingly ageing populations. This is especially true in the sense of aged care facilities according to Nawarat Nitikeatipong, Director of Audit Healthcare for KPMG in Thailand, who said that both “foreigners, as well as locals, are the target customers.”

“Senior and assisted living facilities will play an important role in promoting medical tourism in Thailand. This type of business model requires a combination of expertise in real estate development and healthcare services. Therefore, when it comes to accounting treatments, there must be a clear separation of revenue recognition for both,” Nitikeatipong stated.Thailand Medical Tourism Industry Spec'sAside from visa extensions for medical patients, in February 2018 Thailand began offering Smart Visas, aimed at attracting highly skilled professionals. The Smart Visa is available for professionals within 12 categories including one for “affluent, medical and wellness tourism.” The aim of the visa is to attract talent, investors, executives and start-ups to the country.

The visa itself means that foreigners do not need a work permit and are free to work for up to four years in the country. The visa holder is not required to report earnings quarterly, which is required on other working visas, but annually, and dependents up to the age of 20 and spouses are also welcome to join the Smart Visa holder.

“The combination of quality care and low service cost makes Thailand very competitive in attracting overseas travellers for medical check-ups, cosmetic services and dental services, with an increasing focus on health and wellness,” said Douglas Webb, Partner, Advisory from KPMG in Thailand. “While other regional leaders like Singapore and South Korea are competing for many of the same visitors with high quality care, medical tourists also value the unique attractiveness of Thailand’s low priced hotels, culture, shopping and service-minded tourism industry. Continued promotion by the Tourism Authority of Thailand and visa extension schemes will be important to attract more international tourists as competition intensifies.”

A recent report from Asian-centric strategy firm Solidiance suggested that the largest economies of ASEAN, including Thailand, could together face a $320 billion budgetary black-hole in the healthcare sector in less than a decade.