Political instability and sharp gains in the baht are having a profound effect on the medical tourism industry, turning regional competitors into a major challenge, say international experts.
They said the sector must develop a focused strategy and especially public-private partnerships, an area in which Thailand still lags neighbouring countries, especially Singapore.
Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and India have emerged as the four major medical tourism players in Asia. Even though Thailand has the highest number of foreign patient arrivals, Singapore has a very fast growth rate, said Paul Tiffany, a business consultant.
He said despite Thailand’s competitive advantages over its rivals, political uncertainty is prompting foreign patients to have second thoughts about coming here for treatment.
Research also suggests this to be a market that is highly influenced by perceptions of political unrest. Once problems develop, demand declines very rapidly and takes a long time to recover.
“For example, medical tourism [in the US] collapsed after 9/11 and took a minimum of five years to recover to where it had been in 2000,” said Dr Tiffany.
The strengthening baht has made Thailand’s medical tourism industry less competitive in terms of costs, especially compared with India.
“With the baht now trading above 30 to the dollar, the cost of medical treatment in Thailand has risen substantially over the past couple of years,” said Dr Tiffany, a visiting professor at Chulalongkorn University’s Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration.