Attracting more medical tourists to Malaysia


The government’s recent decision to extend visa-free stays to tourists from China and India has helped improve medical tourism numbers. — Photos: Pixabay

The Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) aims to generate RM2.4ibil in revenue from the health tourism sector this year, which is expected to contribute an economic spillover to other industries of about RM9.6bil.

Its chief executive officer Dr Mohamed Ali Abu Bakar said this includes industries such as hospitality and transportation.

He said this confidence was based on data collected up to November 2023, when the industry achieved a revenue of over RM1.92bil, in addition to the federal government’s move to grant visa-free stays of up to 30 days in Malaysia to citizens from China and India, effective Dec 1 last year.

“This means that the total amount not only exceeded the initial target for 2023, but also reached the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint 2021-2025 target of RM2bil, two years earlier.

“This will also set a new record for the highest achievement in the industry, surpassing the best achievement before the pandemic in 2019 of RM1.7bil,” he revealed.

He said his team is optimistic that the country will see more medical tourist arrivals with the visa-free entry decision, given that China and India are also among the countries that contribute to the number of tourists in that category.

The visa-free entry decision also helps make it easier to facilitate the planning and processing of treatment or healthcare services, reduces the cost of applying for a visa, helps health tourists return to get a second opinion from specialists or for follow-up treatments and other treatments.

“The implementation of this visa facility is certainly timely because many countries, including China, have relaxed the conditions for entering and exiting their countries following the transition to the endemic phase which started two years ago,” he said.

Mohamed Ali said that over the past decade, Malaysia has been known as a destination for health tourists in the Asia Pacific region.

He said Malaysia recorded more than one million health tourist arrivals in 2023, which is an increase of more than 15% compared to the total arrivals in 2022 of more than 850,000 people.

He also said that Indonesia is the highest contributor of health tourists to Malaysia, with a percentage of 70% to 80% of the total number of such tourists.

Among the other countries contributing to medical tourism in Malaysia are Bangladesh, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, the United States and Britain.

Self-drive tourism is picking up in South-East Asia.Self-drive tourism is picking up in South-East Asia.

Self-drive tourism

Meanwhile, self-drive tourism will revitalise the industry in South-East Asia, said Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing.

He said that with self-drive tourism, tourists will be able to enjoy the natural scenery, urban landmarks, historical significance, cultures and other attractions of different states in Malaysia.

Among the suggested travel routes are: From Hat Yai (Thailand) to Kuala Lumpur via Sungai Kolok (Thailand) and Kota Baru (Kelantan), and Hat Yai to George Town (Penang) via Alor Setar in Kedah.

“The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture pledged to proactively cooperate with the relevant departments and agencies and arrange further negotiations with the Thai government in the short term, on the selection of self-drive tourism routes to promote the smooth launch of the plan,” Tiong said in a statement.

The plan was discussed during a meeting with ministers from Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam on the sidelines of the recent 2024 Asean Tourism Forum (ATF 2024) in Vientiane, Laos.

Tiong said that Malaysia and Asean countries have been actively promoting regional cooperation and emphasising the importance of cultural exchanges and unity to enhance Asean’s status as an important tourist destination.

He shared that Asean countries are a community that is not limited to promoting tourist attractions but also strives to create experiences that resonate with tourists, leave beautiful memories and establish lasting connections with the region.

“Presently, the hotel and tourism industry are gradually regaining their vitality and the changes, challenges and trends brought about by the post-pandemic era have entered a new phase.

“Now is the time to fully realise the potential and huge opportunities that can be harnessed and tap into Asean’s potential as a new hub for global tourism,” he said.

Tiong said during the meeting, he expressed Malaysia’s hope for close cooperation with member states to implement various priority projects and initiatives during the country’s rotating chairmanship of Asean in 2025.

During Malaysia’s tenure as chair, the country will host the Asean Tourism Forum in Johor Baru with the theme “United in Motion-Shaping ASEAN’s Tourism Tomorrow” to cultivate a sense of unity and cooperation that transcends geographical boundaries and cultural diversity.

More flights to Sarawak

Elsewhere, the Royal Brunei Airlines (RBA) will increase its flight frequency from Brunei to Kuching, Sarawak to four flights per week starting April 5. The flights will be on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

In a joint statement issued recently, RBA and the Sarawak Ministry of Transport said the decision was made based on the high passenger load to Sarawak in 2022 and last year, which averaged above 65%.

“For the coming festive season, tickets are on sale and if demand warrants, RBA will either upgrade the service using the bigger B787 Dreamliner aircraft or mount additional flights,” the statement said, adding that the Brunei-Kuching route is currently served by the A320 aircraft (Airbus).

RBA chief executive officer Captain Sabirin Abdul Hamid said the airline carried slightly more than 9,000 passengers into Kuching in the last financial year.

He said these were the passengers who transit through Brunei and from RBA’s 20 destinations.

“Kuching via Brunei had 11 to 13 weekly connections to other international destinations such as Bangkok, Dubai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Seoul, Jeddah, Melbourne, Manila, Tokyo, Ho Chi Minh, Surabaya, and Taipei.

“The additional Kuching frequency also introduces both-way connections for umrah opportunities and aims to develop the Korean market to visit Kuching by promoting new leisure and golf products,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sarawak Transport Minister, Datuk Lee Kim Shin said that the joint marketing campaign and roadshow with Sarawak Tourism Board should continue to promote the state via Brunei. – Bernama

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