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Emerging markets’ medical tourism industry well-positioned for post-Covid growth

As annual tourist arrivals recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, countries like Mexico, Turkiye, Malaysia, Thailand, UAE, and India are set to benefit from the growth of their medical tourism industries.

These nations are implementing policies, improving digital health capabilities, and collaborating between public and private sectors to position themselves as global medical tourism hubs.

Despite regional economic challenges, affordability, and high-quality healthcare services continue to attract medical tourists to these emerging markets.



MALAYSIA: Recovery in annual tourist arrivals following disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will support the growth of the medical tourism industries in Mexico, Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand, UAE and India.

BMI, a unit of Fitch Solutions, said the emerging markets above would continue to make concerted efforts to promote their medical tourism industries, implementing supportive policies to attract medical tourists over the short to medium term.

These governments will roll out important developments to promote their medical tourism industries including enhancements to digital health capabilities, changes to visa requirements to support medical tourism and collaborations between the public and private sector to improve healthcare and position themselves as global medical tourism hubs.

“We expect Mexico, Turkiye, Malaysia, Thailand, India and UAE will continue to enhance their offerings and draw on their competitive advantages, which include a number of high-quality healthcare providers offering affordable healthcare, to attract medical tourists.

“These markets are popular tourist destinations for global travellers and their tourism industries, in terms of annual visitors, are all starting to approach pre-Covid levels,” it said in a statement on Monday (11 Sept).

The research house forecasts that total annual tourist arrivals in all of these markets, with the exception of Thailand, will have reached pre-Covid levels by 2024.

The recovery of tourism will support these markets’ efforts to bolster their medical tourism industries.

Recovering Tourism Industries Will Support Medical Tourism Demand

Select Emerging Markets – Total Tourist Arrivals, million (2019-2025)

National efforts to promote medical tourism indicate a country’s commitment to become a leading provider of global medical services globally

In some markets, this level of commitment is demonstrated by specific councils or bodies established to promote the medical tourism industry and attract medical tourists.

For example, in Turkiye, the state-owned International Health Services (USHAS) was created in 2019 to promote and regulate medical tourism, while in Malaysia medical tourism is promoted through the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC), which operates under the country’s Ministry of Health.

“Emerging markets heavily rely on their respective regions as source markets for medical tourism, therefore regional macroeconomic headwinds will pose risks to medical tourism industries.

“Higher energy prices amid the Russia-Ukraine war, high inflation and economic slowdowns may deter medical tourists from seeking medical care abroad and instead opt for care in their home country due to higher travel costs and decreased spending power.

“Emerging markets heavily rely on their respective regions for their medical tourism industries, with some markets seeing a significant number of medical tourist arrivals from just a few markets,” it said.

In India, the leading five source markets (Bangladesh, Iraq, Maldives, Afghanistan and Oman) for medical tourists in 2021 represented 80% of total medical tourists.

The availability of high-quality, affordable healthcare services is a key driver of India’s medical tourism industry.

“India’s reliance, however, on select markets for medical tourism makes it vulnerable to economic slowdowns in these markets, with decreased spending power and higher travel costs potentially deterring patients from travelling for abroad medical care.

“Macroeconomic headwinds may also impact medical tourism industries in emerging markets that are popular destinations for patients from developed markets seeking non-urgent medical procedures, as patients with reduced spending power reconsider services that are not urgent,” it said.

Medical Tourists From Bangladesh Key To India’s Medical Tourism Market

India – Medical Tourist Arrivals From Top Five Countries Of Origin & Total Medical Tourist Arrival, Annual (2018-2021)

This includes markets like Turkiye, which is a popular medical tourism destination for patients from developed markets in Europe.

Turkiye’s medical tourism industry has recovered well from the impact of Covid-19, with visitor numbers in 2022 exceeding pre-Covid levels, said the research arm.

Medical tourists will continue to seek care in nearby countries that offer more affordable healthcare and higher-quality healthcare services

The availability of more affordable healthcare and proximity to the United States is key to Mexico’s medical tourism industry, as almost 1 million visitors from the US visited Mexico for medical treatment annually (pre-Covid), according to the Mexican Council for the Medical Tourism Industry.

“The availability of higher quality healthcare services in a nearby or neighbouring country is also key driver of medical tourism. This is particularly common for high-income patients from one emerging market seeking higher quality healthcare in another emerging market.

“Between 2018 and 2021, India’s largest source market for medical tourists was Bangladesh, with patients from Bangladesh accounting for more than 50% of total medical tourist arrivals in 2021, according to India’s Ministry of Tourism and Bureau of Immigration,” it said.

Malaysia’s well-developed healthcare system makes it a popular destination for patients from Asia-Pacific, while its affordability makes it a key attraction for medical tourists from Singapore.

“Malaysia is seeking to enhance its digital health landscape to boost its medical tourism industry targeting electronic healthcare records and big data.

“While MHTC launched a ‘one-stop-portal’ in February 2023 to improve the overall experience of medical tourists and to make easy access of Malaysia’s healthcare information,” it said.

According to the latest data from MHTC, the medical tourism industry generated RM1.3 billion revenue in 2022, up significantly from RM600 million in 2021, due to the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions globally and recovering tourist arrivals.

Malaysia – Revenues Generated From Healthcare Travellers, RM million (2017-2022)

UAE’s medical tourism industry benefits from patients seeking high-quality healthcare, with medical tourists increasingly attracted to the country’s rapidly developing healthcare sector and strategic geographic location.

According to Dubai Health Authority, in 2022, Asia was the leading source market for Dubai’s medical tourism industry in eight healthcare services such as dermatology, dentistry, gynaecology, orthopaedics, plastic surgery, ophthalmology, fertility treatments, and hospitalisation services.

“UAE’s geographical location makes the country accessible to tourists from Asia, Africa, and Europe. Its government has highlighted healthcare and medical tourism as key for its economic diversification efforts.

“This has supported significant growth for the medical tourism industry, with the number of medical tourists increasing year-on-year and revenue growth.

Dubai’s medical tourism grew 31% in 2022 compared to 2019.

UAE’s Medical Tourism Industry Growing Rapidly

Dubai – Annual Medical Tourism Visitors (2017-2022)

Selected Emerging Markets – Recent Medical Tourism Developments

Market Development
Mexico 2020: Patients Beyond Borders estimate that 1.4 mil to 3 mil people visit Mexico annually for medical treatment.
Turkiye 2023: USHAS outlines ambitions to attract 1.5 mil visitors and US$10 bil in revenues from medical tourism.
Malaysia May 2023: MHTC signed two Memorandum of Understandings with medical tourism and healthcare facilitators, Passage Asia and Ezy Healthcare, to boost marketing of Malaysia’s medical tourism industry in Australia and New Zealand.
Thailand January 2023: Introduced new visas for medical treatment to attract medical tourists.
Key change is a reduced fee for applicants, while the new visa also allows for multiple entries, with the previous medical visa only allowing for one entry.
UAE March 2023: Ministry of Health and Prevention announced launch of the Smart Digital Health Framework by end of 2023 to ensure all healthcare providers offer a minimum of one health service remotely. A key aim of the framework is to enhance medical tourism.
India January 2022: Ministry of Tourism launched the ‘Heal in India’ medical tourism campaign to build medical travellers confidence in India’s healthcare
professionals and services and ensure quality control measures.

Source: BMI

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