The drop in oil prices and currency depreciation has resulted in Malaysia becoming an affordable destination for medical tourism.
By Priya Rama
In the last few years, Malaysia has emerged at the top of several international healthcare and living
This was revealed by Sherene Azli, the CEO of Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC), which is an agency under the purview of the Ministry of Health Malaysia responsible of curating the country’s healthcare travel scene.
“We want Malaysia to be the first country that comes to mind when anyone thinks of healthcare because it offers quality, accessibility, and affordability plus ease of communication,” said Sherene.
A testament to Malaysia’s booming medical industry is the revenue of RM900 million in 2015, RM1 billion in 2016, and an estimated RM1.3 billion in 2017.
“Despite stiff competition from countries such as India, Thailand and Singapore, Malaysia has exceeded its target revenue of RM1 billion in 2016. However, that’s just the healthcare spending, without taking into consideration the tourism element such as food and hotels; so we estimate the total impact to the economy to be about RM5 billion,” she pointed out.
Based on Table 1, it is a fact that Malaysia’s healthcare services are among the cheapest in the world, compared to the US, Thailand, Singapore and South Korea.
Elaborating on this, Sherene said, “While Singapore is well -known for its quality and complexity of the cases they cover, they do not have a ceiling for charges; so they can ‘freely’ charge for everything that they offer which makes them costly.
“South Korea is popular for its cosmetic and niche markets. However, they charge foreigners 3 times more than locals. In hot favourite Thailand, the medical tourism is driven by a few hospitals that offer them; unlike Malaysia where it’s a national agenda. Also, Thailand charges 50% more than Malaysia,” she highlighted.
Today, Malaysia’s healthcare has been recognised as on par but more affordable than most countries. “However, we can’t go and tell people that we are cheap; cheap doesn’t sound right.
“Thus, we position Malaysia as offering quality healthcare, with almost immediate accessibility and an affordable cost attached to it. The quality is not compromised by the pricing since our prices are regulated. Foreigners pay pretty much the same as locals,” explained Sherene.
To a question on how MHTC will achieve its RM1.3 billion revenue target in 2017, Sherene shared, “Last year, this region has been challenged by a number of economic turmoil, namely the drop in oil prices and currency depreciation. This has resulted in Malaysia’s proposition becoming more important as an affordable destination for medical travel.
“Therefore, this year, we will be focussing on countries that are closer to us, which we know will have the demand for overseas travel. These are people who would have gone to the more expensive countries like the US and UK, but because of the turmoil, it’s becoming less affordable for them. And those are the countries we target,” she stated.
Sherene (left) highlighted China as an example. “The Chinese used to go to US and Japan if they wanted to get any kind of treatment. But the treatments there have become expensive.
“Now, we are going back to them, promote our targeted services with different packages and entice them into Malaysia. They mostly opt for Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), or what we call IVF here.”
Looking forward, Malaysia will be focussing on 5 core countries, namely Indonesia, China, India, Vietnam and Myanmar. “Indonesia is a huge market for us to tap together with China and India, as well as the ‘regular’ Middle Easterners. We anticipate our 30% growth this year to come from these markets,” revealed Sherene.
According to MHTC, the top services include cardiology, oncology, orthopaedic, paediatric care, IVF and blood-related treatments, especially for the Middle East market, while the Brits and Australians mostly come here for dental and cosmetics.