Visa extension scheme to push medical hub target

Thailand’s healthcare and wellness business is expected to thrive with the government’s visa extension scheme for people from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam (CLMV) and China who come to the country for medical treatment.

The government is also extending long-stay, 10-year visas to citizens of 14 countries.

The visa extensions are intended to enhance the country’s position as a world-class medical tourism hub, said Noppadon Pakprot, deputy governor for tourism products and business at Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

The government last month extended the stay for medical tourists from CLMV and China from 30 to 90 days. The extended stay will also be applicable for up to four companions per patient.

Patients from these countries are the second group to be granted permission to stay in Thailand for 90 days. The government had previously granted longer visas to people from Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

Previously, people from those countries could only stay in Thailand for a month.

For the extended 10-year scheme, eligible foreigners will at first receive a permit to stay in the kingdom for five years, which can later be extended for another five years, said Mr Noppadon.

The permit would also be applicable for their spouses and children up to 20 years old.

The 14 eligible countries are: Australia, Japan, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, Canada and the US.

A study from GFK Market Wise showed that 2% of the 32 million visitors to Thailand last year came for medical treatment.

Kasikorn Research Center said medical and wellness institutions in Thailand provided 3.2 million treatments to foreigners last year, mostly medical checkups, cosmetic surgery and dental services.

Kasikornbank’s research house said international patients coming to Thailand will help generate 48-49 billion baht in income for private hospitals in 2017, a 3-4% increase year-on-year, compared with the 8% bump registered in 2016. The number of hospital visits made by international patients in 2017 may reach 3.3 million — 2.4 million from medical tourists and the rest from expats residing in Thailand.

Despite the promising outlook, the Thai medical service industry may face heightened competition both at home and from Asian rivals such as Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea, which are all working to become the regional leader in medical services.

To maintain competitiveness, Thai medical businesses will need to further cement their strengths, especially in terms of service quality and medical standards, because these are important factors that boost the confidence of international patients.

Apart from adopting effective, unique marketing strategies to reach targeted clients, Thai medical service providers may consider venturing into the general health and wellness business category to capture more international tourists, or older foreign tourists taking long-stay vacations in Thailand, the research house said.

In response to the health consciousness trend, the TAT on Friday organised Amazing Thailand Health and Wellness Tourism Showcase 2017, with a focus on innovations in functional and regenerative medicine.

According to a report by Visa and Oxford Economics, Thailand has once again been confirmed as one of Asia’s top medical tourism destinations. The country has 58 Joint Commission International accredited hospitals.

The event will further cement awareness of Thailand as the premier destination for health and wellness tourism, said Mr Noppadon.

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