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16 Aug 2021

Econ Digest

Prolonged COVID-19 causes private hospitals reliant on medical tourism to encounter difficulty


Thailand was a leader in the medical tourism market in Asia before COVID-19 emerged. The number of medical tourists, especially those coming for health check-ups, cosmetic surgery, dentistry, orthopedic surgery and cardiac surgery, was on a rising trend. Medical tourism generated medical revenue of at least THB39 billion per year for private hospitals, accounting for approximately 24% of the total private hospital revenue. 

However, private hospitals are one many businesses that have been severely affected by the COVID-19 outbreaks, especially private hospitals that are normally reliant on revenue from foreign patients through medical tourism, as such patients are currently prohibited from entering Thailand. KResearch projects that, under the circumstances of the most recent wave of COVID-19, the Thai medical tourism market in 2021 will continue its declining trend that began last year, with the number of medical tourist arrivals amounting to around 10,000-20,000, or decreasing not less than 90%YoY. The demographics of medical tourists that are expected to see the biggest contractions include people from the Middle East, China and ASEAN countries, which account for approximately 30% of total foreign patient revenues.

Looking ahead, 2022 is expected to be another challenging and difficult year, while the speed of recovery for the medical tourism market will depend on COVID-19 management and the efficiency of nationwide vaccination programs. KResearch believes that, if the current wave of COVID-19 can be resolved by the end of 2021 with daily cases falling to below 1,000 people and with no reports of new clusters, medical tourist arrivals may gradually pick up and can be expected to be within the range of 130,000-180,000 in 2022. Nevertheless, close attention should be paid to the COVID-19 pandemic and its management in Thailand. Should the situation extend into 2022, the number of Thailand’s inbound medical tourists could be less than previously forecast.

In addition, there may be other risks that may arise, especially new emerging diseases which operators must be prepared for by, for instance, adopting medical technology, especially in the case that patients are unable to come to Thailand for treatment. Diversifying customer bases by targeting multiple segments and offering new medical services may also help offset risks.

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Econ Digest