Travellers bitten by medical tourism bug

by Criselda E. Diala and Asma Ali Zain ,  Khaleej times | 2006-11-05

For a growing number of travellers from the UAE, Southeast Asia has become more than a leisure and business destination.

The region boasts of a huge demand for its medical tourism as international patients continue to flock to countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore for their healthcare needs.

“We see an increasing volume of Middle East tourists who combine their leisure trips with medical check-ups,” said Shaikh Rahmatullah, Middle East Representative of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

During the first seven months of this year alone, Rahmatullah said approximately 62,000 UAE patients have gone to hospitals in Thailand for various medical services.

“In most cases, international patients combine their medical trip with leisure travel, especially when they are travelling with family members. For instance, an elderly member of a family will go for medical treatment and later spend the rest of their journey with younger family members on beaches or shopping tours,” he said.

Rahmatullah explained that Thailand has been involved in medical tourism since 1980, but it was only during the past five years that they have noted a dramatic increase in foreign patients, particularly Arab nationals. “In 2004, over a million international patients have sought medical care in Thailand, generating a revenue of about US$ 770 million (Dh 2.83 billion),” he said.

New market

Syed Muhadzir Jamallulil, Director (UAE & Gulf) of Tourism Malaysia ™, admitted that medical tourism is a relatively new market for Malaysia, but it has become one of the most important tourism features that they are developing.

“We have been promoting our healthcare facilities since 1998 but only at a domestic and regional level. It was only during the past two years that we have been aggressive in our campaigns in the UAE and other countries.”



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