Medical tourism, an industry that is heavily reliant on international travel, has certainly been badly affected by Covid-19. But experts still believe that the sector will come back bigger – and most importantly, better – after the pandemic.
Tapping into this growth, however, would require hospitals and medical tourism providers to rethink their strategies.
ALSO READ: Time to focus on Malaysian healthcare travellers amid the pandemic
Tourism Educators Association of Malaysia president Dr Mohd Raziff Jamaluddin says a crucial point is creating healthcare tourism packages that complements post-pandemic travel behaviour.
“The essential step is creating an attractive package that is affordable to a broader segment of the market. Thus far, the medical package has covered health screening, treatment, accommodation, transportation, and recreational activities.
“The package previously is appealing, but with so many people affected by Covid-19, it is the right time to expand to middle-income groups, particularly those in Europe and the Middle East, who can afford the products due to currency conversion rates,” Mohd Raziff explains.
That being said, KPJ president and managing director Ahmad Shahizam Mohd Shariff believes the pandemic has given the medical tourism sector a chance to better itself.
“Many countries are now developing measures to build a more resilient medical tourism industry post-Covid-19. These include preparing plans to support the industry’s sustainable recovery, promoting digital transitions and moving towards a greener tourism system, as well as rethinking tourism for the future.
“Rebuilding the tourism industry is a priority, but the sector must become more sustainable and resilient in the future,” he says.
As part of measures to improve the sector, Ahmad Shahizam says medical tourism providers need to provide clear information to healthcare travellers by limiting uncertainties wherever possible.
“Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, our international patient centre continues to provide additional services to our international patients and partners. This includes teleconsultation services to our existing patients, web seminars and medical delivery services.
“All these aim to ensure hospitals remain connected to our patients and partners while waiting for some form of normalcy to resume,” Ahmad Shahizam explains.
Meanwhile, the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) foresees the industry will need to go through some initial bumps, post-pandemic.
“The global severity of Covid-19 has posed several challenges for the healthcare travel industry, especially now as we navigate through a pandemic. We expect that overall, healthcare destinations may be met with more reluctance as patients look for alternative treatment plans,” says MHTC chief executive officer Mohd Daud Mohd Arif.
The recovery of the medical tourism sector in Malaysia, according to Mohd Daud, will depend on several factors. These include domestic and global vaccine rollouts, easing of interstate and international border restrictions and closures, as well as a return of confidence for tourists to start travelling again.
“MHTC continues to work with the public-private stakeholders within the healthcare travel industry. However, our first and foremost priority is to focus on the security and wellbeing of our nation, ensuring the inoculation of our population to achieve herd immunity and curb the spread of the virus,” he says.
Mohd Daud is, however, optimistic that medical tourism providers in Malaysia can get through these challenging period.
“We remain optimistic that Malaysia’s healthcare will rebound owing to the reputation we have carefully built over the past 10 years, and our value propositions of world-class quality, ease of accessibility, and affordability for healthcare treatments,” he adds.
When the medical tourism sector does recover, MHTC estimates the industry could contribute up to RM10bil to the economy by 2025.
“As such, it is vital that we stay ‘top of mind’ for healthcare travellers when it comes to our position as the world’s healthcare marvel,” says Mohd Daud.
On MHTC’s part, the agency will be providing patient support and enhancing end-to-end infrastructure including digital adoption as part of its efforts to help the sector recover.
While the agency is hoping to fully welcome international healthcare travellers back again, MHTC stresses that the wellbeing of Malaysians would be a top priority.
“As we reach post-pandemic normalcy, we foresee that there will be some adjustments made across the sphere for healthcare providers. This must be done while continuing to ensure that the safety and wellbeing of Malaysians are not compromised,” Mohd Daud says.