The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) will boost medical tourism in earnest in 2010. Thailand has high potential and marketing opportunities for medical tourism, and most foreign visitors using the service are those with high purchasing power. One reason for the new campaign is that latest estimates for visitor numbers have dropped to 1.2 million for 2009, from 1.3 million in 2008, and signs of falling numbers. This makes TAT’s target of 2 million medical tourists in 2010, and 10 million by 2015, very ambitious. The majority of Thailand’s medical tourist business now comes from Middle East countries
TAT is in the process of gathering information relating to health service providers, accommodation, rehabilitation facilities and tourism programs for companions, to be displayed on its website. Road shows will be later scheduled to target countries, as part of the marketing strategy, and the countries will include Vietnam. The Ministry of Tourism and Sports (MOTS) has been meeting businesses involved in medical tourism to discuss the business potential and cooperation for the best absolute outcome. The ministry is seeking approval for a visa fee waiver for medical tourists until the end of 2010 to help the industry.
Leading private hospital chains playing a key role in boosting Thailand as a medical-care service destination remain cautious over new investment this year, despite the authorities' assurance of a better outlook. The chains saw declining business in 2009 due to the global economic crisis, the airport shutdown and type-A (H1N1) influenza.
Hospitals have been active in investing in buildings and personnel to accommodate more foreign patients in the past years. Now they are more cautious. Phya Thai Hospital and Bangkok Dusit Medical Services (BDMS) are among those with investment plans to expand capacity on hold. Vibhavadi General Hospital is going ahead with its plan to construct a nine-storey building adjacent to the existing hospital, with work expected to be completed in 2010. The construction cost is Bt300 million, of which Bt200 million will be spent next year. After the building is completed, Vibhavadi will be able to serve 3000 outpatients per day, up from the current 1100.
BDMS may construct a second hospital in Abu Dhabi when the economy improves, but not in 2010. Phya Thai Hospital had planned to expand the existing hospitals in 2010 so as to increase capacity to serve both inpatients and outpatients, but has had to put the investment plan on hold after the fourth quarter's performance was not so good. Phya Thai operates three hospitals in Bangkok under the Phya Thai and Phya Thai Sriracha brands. It saw a decline in patient numbers after September, and although total numbers in the fourth quarter of 2009 were still above the same period in 2008, they were below the hospital's expectation.