Although Malaysia is an Islamic country, tourists from the Middle East make Thailand and Singapore their choice of destination over Malaysia when it comes to getting medical treatment.
Making this statement, Secretary General of the National Chambers of Commerce and Industry Malaysia (NCCIM), Datuk Syed Hussien Al-Habshee said the lack of effective marketing strategy was the reason for Malaysia being left behind the two countries in the multi billion ringgit medical tourism sector.
"Although we have the clear edge in terms of religion, Muslim hospital staff, halal food and other aspects, Middle East tourists prefer to go to Thailand and Singapore.
"Due to this, the country continues to be left far behind the two neighbouring countries in the sector which is growing annually and worth billions of ringgit," he told Bernama in an interview here Tuesday.
Just last year alone, 6,000 medical tourists from the Middle East went to Thailand for various forms of treatment in the country's hospitals.
He said the Middle East medical tourists arrivals in Thailand were either financed by their respective government agencies or private funds.
Syed Hussien, who is also former Malaysian Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, said there needed to be more integrated strategies for the sector from government agencies involved.
The three ministries involved, namely the Ministry of Health, Ministry of International Trade and Industry and Tourism Ministry should have a strategy to promote and market Malaysia as a premier medical tourism destination, he said.
He also said that in his recent trip to Muscat, Oman, to attend the International Tourism Market (ITM) conference and exhibition, he found Thailand aggressively promoting its medical tourism facilities to tourists from the country, with medical officers attending to special queries.
Syed Hussien said there was a need for Malaysia during its tourism promotion to also focus on the special area of medical tourism.
This will be in line with the government's objectives to shift the country's economy to being services based, he added.