Medical drive to lure tourists

DURING their annual family vacation this year, Yemeni sisters Najla and Muna Abdullah Ali Hamood each received a gold bracelet from their father, plus a health screening. 

The jewellery was from a Little India goldsmith; the check-up was at Gleneagles Hospital. 

The sisters have been here with their parents for the past three weeks to visit Singapore’s doctors, shopping centres and Sentosa. Doctors found that Najla, 20, had an ovarian cyst, while 15-year-old Muna had a skin allergy.  

It has been nearly a year since the Government launched SingaporeMedicine, a drive to exploit the country’s potential as a health-care hub and attract visitors like the Abdullahs. 

This year, some 270,000 medical tourists are expected to visit Singapore and spend S$500mil (RM1.1bil), the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) told The Sunday Times. Their number will be about one-fifth more than last year’s 230,000. 

STB declined to reveal how much they spent then, but did say the 210,000 who came here in 2002 spent S$420mil (RM924mil). 

From advertorials of ‘satisfied patients’ to seminars, from limousines to bellboy service, no effort has been spared to woo the rupiah, the pound and the riyal of the medical tourists.  

A medical tourist spends S$588 (RM1,294) a day on average, compared with the average traveller’s S$233 (RM513), said STB, and he stays for less than 3.1 days, which is how long the average traveller spends here. 

Medical tourists spend 2.73 days here on average, because nine in 10 are outpatients who zip in and out. 

STB is one of three agencies which helm Singapore Medicine. The Economic Development Board (EDB) develops new capabilities in the industry, while International Enterprise Singapore helps health-care players expand regionally.  

The race won’t be easy. Thailand took S$815mil (RM1.793bil) from 800,000 overseas patients last year, while Malaysia earned RM150mil (S$68mil) from 100,000 visitors and has its eye set on RM2.2bil by 2011. 

But the past year’s efforts succeeded in ‘strengthening the brand position of Singapore’, said STB’s assistant CEO, Dr Chan Tat Hon, who is also director for health-care services. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network  

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