Malaysia's health tourism sector, which has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, is showing signs of a stronger comeback as the nation heads into 2023, propelled by the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint 2021-2025.
Malaysia has built a strong reputation as a safe and trusted global destination for healthcare over the past 10 years, with visitors from across the world coming for a range of treatments.
In the next phase, this segment will continue to focus on treatment services such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), cardiology, oncology, orthopaedic, neurology, dental, aesthetics and general health screening, while unleashing the full potential of the industry, covering the areas of preventive treatments and healthcare.
Five-year industry blueprint
Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) chief executive officer Mohd Daud Mohd Arif said, during the recovery phase, more emphasis is being placed on the healthcare travel ecosystem as readiness measures for the industry to recover and move into a new phase.
“We are now in a solid position to embark on the next phase of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint in 2023 to rebuild the industry, while enhancing service delivery of a seamless end-to-end experience for all healthcare travellers.
“Guided strongly by the blueprint, we are on course for a continuous and sustainable industry growth, focusing on providing the best Malaysia halthcare travel experience by leveraging our strengths in three key pillars.
“The three pillars consist of the Healthcare Travel Ecosystem, which focuses on enhancing service quality and experience of care; Malaysia Healthcare Brand, to increase brand cohesiveness across key touchpoints and amplify our brand equity in core markets; Markets, (which) we are looking at growing beyond primary markets and exploring more niche markets to strengthen our presence,” Mohd Daud said in an interview.
MHTC will be enhancing these pillars through collaborations with local, regional and global stakeholders to create value for the entire industry.
“The rebuild phase will also see the industry driving forward with a focus on both curative and preventive treatments as well as several niche branding initiatives such as in cardiology, oncology, fertility, and dental treatments as well as premium wellness offerings, inviting healthcare travellers to experience and rediscover the best of healthcare in Malaysia,” he added.
Currently, Malaysia is ranked among the top medical tourism destinations in Asia, alongside India, Thailand, Singapore and South Korea.
President of the Association of Private Hospitals (APHM) Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh has said, Malaysia is one of the best in South-East Asia in terms of cost and high standard of healthcare.
Mohd Daud said Malaysia’s healthcare system has been internationally recognised and has garnered numerous global accolades over the years. They include International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) Destination of the Year: Malaysia (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2020); IMTJ Cluster of the Year: Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020); Asia Pacific Healthcare and Medical Tourism Awards (2016-2022); and International Living: Asia’s Top Destination for Retirement Living (2015-2022).
He said Malaysia saw significant declines in healthcare travel revenue from RM1.7bil in 2019 to RM777mil and RM585mil in 2020 and 2021 respectively, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“However, the industry’s swift response to the pandemic has led to fruitful results. Anchoring heavily on public-private partnerships (PPPs), our success as a destination has been an all-industry effort. Together, we have cultivated a solid ecosystem, further positioning Malaysia as a safe and trusted destination for healthcare travellers as we recover from the pandemic,” he added.
Following the opening of borders in April this year, the sector has seen an encouraging surge in the number of healthcare traveller arrivals.
“As of the third quarter of (Q3) 2022, the industry recorded RM726mil of revenue, bringing us closer to our target of achieving RM1bil for 2022. This signifies the healthcare travellers’ trust on Malaysia as a safe and trusted healthcare travel destination, as well as the industry’s positive recovery and growth,” Mohd Daud said.
Discover new fields
Leveraging the demand for niche treatments and its excellent track records, MHTC aims to continue developing existing offerings and enhancing the Malaysia healthcare experiences through niche branding initiatives, which include preventive healthcare and wellness.
“In recent years, the global population has become increasingly diligent in prioritising their physical and mental wellness.
“In response to this trend, Malaysia healthcare introduced a Premium Wellness Programme, an industry-wide collaborative effort with top-tier private hospitals, hotels and travel companies in the country to integrate comprehensive health screening, world-class accommodation and leisure tour offerings into one convenient comprehensive premium package for healthcare travellers.
“Through this programme, we aim to empower the global population by inspiring healthier lifestyles via enhanced health screening offerings, with options for add-ons for dental aesthetics, cosmetic procedures and focused screenings and treatments for Hepatitis C, cancer and heart related disease,” said Mohd Daud.
Malaysia Healthcare has identified Indonesia, China, Bangladesh and Myanmar as core markets based on the volume of healthcare travellers, as well as the growth potential in the respective markets.
It also plans to increase the market penetration in those countries while aggressively raising the country’s profile in secondary markets like Hong Kong, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore and Australia.
“Currently, Indonesia represents one of the key markets for Malaysia Healthcare, with healthcare travellers from Jakarta, Surabaya, and Medan making up the majority of those seeking care in Malaysia, to complement the healthcare services obtained in their home country.
“Penang and Melaka are healthcare travel hot spots for Indonesian travellers, dominating more than 70% of total arrivals,” he added.
In terms of travellers by origin, Malaysia continues to attract healthcare travellers from many countries, not just within the region.
For the past decade, citizens from Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Britain, and the United States make up the top countries of arrival in Malaysia.
Poised for positive growth
Meanwhile, MSU Medical Centre (MSUMC) chief executive officer Zahri Abd Ghani said the health tourism sector’s growth after the pandemic brought positive spill-over effects on the organisation.
Buoyed by the turnaround, MSUMC undertook to refresh its mission of “Caring, Healing, Educating” by providing quality, accessible and affordable services to its customers based on MHTC’s recovery plan for the industry.
MSUMC which began operations in January 2019, offers treatment services such as neurosurgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, orthopaedic, cardiology, nephrology, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and ophthalmology.
“In general, the segment for overseas patients at MSUMC covers health check-up such as brain and backbone screening package, orthopaedic, plastic and reconstructive surgery, general surgery, nephrology, neurosurgery and cardiology.
“The world-class health care services provided by hospitals such as MSUMC, continue to open the floodgates for healthcare tourism. Malaysia has emerged as one of the preferred destinations for medical tourists given its highly-specialised medical treatment options, reasonable fees and patient comfort coupled with experienced medical experts who are fully equipped to meet patient demands,” he added.
MSUMC has earned international recognition for its reconstructive surgery such as for lymphoedema (chronic condition that causes swelling in the body’s tissue), gum cancer, acid burn, omphalocele (birth defect of the abdominal wall) and craniofacial growth (the cranial base matures earlier than the face).
MSUMC has also received full accreditation from the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) for a four-year term as recognition for achieving compliance to service quality and healthcare safety standards.
“The recognition that Malaysia earns as among the world’s best medical and healthcare tourism destinations augurs well for the sector, which remains on a positive trajectory with ample room for growth,” he said adding that it would directly push demand for skilled human resources and generate more employment opportunities.
He said MSUMC has proactively worked in collaboration with the health tourism industry stakeholders particularly MHTC which plays a vital role in promoting Malaysia’s health tourism to the global community through cooperation with regional and international media practitioners.
A senior lecturer from the Faculty of Hotel and Tourism Management, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Melaka, Akmal Adanan said, emphasis should be given towards safety and health aspects based on set guidelines by the authorities, noting that local health tourism management practices should be on par with international standards to gain tourist confidence.
Industry players should be ready to offer flexible, reasonable and varied service packages in addition to taking proactive steps in accepting the latest technology, such as adapting the Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications for data analysis and to meet customer needs.
“The ‘Chatbot’ system that is available in ML allows service providers to interact for 24 hours with their clients online to respond to various queries including providing effective treatment schedules.
“Hospital authorities and service providers should maximise their service promotions especially on the social media platform. The promotion content should be more creative, focusing on soft selling marketing approach such as short videos that provide information as well as useful health tips while promoting the facilities, doctors’ expertise and special services offered,” he said.
Coordination between the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, the Ministry of Health and MHTC should be strengthened to ensure the health tourism sector provides quality service and continue to attract more tourists from both locally and abroad.
Finance incentives aimed at boosting the operational resilience of the health tourism sector such as awarding of grants, subsidies, sponsorships and deductions or tax exemptions should be considered for the sector’s revival, in addition to tourist friendly policies, rules and procedures such as simplifying the visa process.
In addition, educational programmes, training and professional development courses for industry players can help enhance the quality of their products and services.
“In general, the tourism sector has experienced significant declines in terms of tourist arrivals and earnings due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It may take a long time before the industry can recover to its pre-pandemic levels.
“However, the health tourism sector is poised for positive growth next year given that quality health services are always in demand especially among tourists from neighbouring Indonesia and Singapore as well as China.
“Besides being blessed with scenic and attractive sites for tourists to spend their vacation, the highly trained doctors as well as competitive treatment costs are also a major draw among medical tourists to Malaysia,” he said, adding that continuous studies should be conducted on certain groups’ inclination for choosing treatment destinations. – Bernama