leading medical tourism destination – Global Homework Experts

Abstract

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Thailand has emerged as a leading medical tourism destination in recent years. The increase in the number of international patients shows that Thailand has great potential for medical tourism and the improvement of its marketing strategies will further increase the image of Thailand as a medical tourism destination. In order to face off the challenges of growing competition form India, Singapore, Malaysia and other destinations, Thailand needs among other things to improve its marketing as a favourite medical tourism destination in the region. Therefore, this exploratory research was set to evaluate the current marketing strategies of healthcare providers and intermediaries through interviews with stakeholders and observation, and to propose effective marketing strategies for preserving and enhancing Thailand’s position as a leading medical tourism destination.

This qualitative research employed semi-structured interviews to examine the current marketing strategies of Thailand’s healthcare service providers. Interviews took place with healthcare service providers (public hospitals, private hospitals, and clinics), medical travel agents and related parties, at several popular tourism destinations of Thailand: Bangkok, Phuket, and Pattaya. Respondents were selected through purposive sampling. In addition, observation of stakeholders’ websites and online marketing of service providers of competitors (Singapore, India, and Malaysia) took place.

The paper identifies the strengths of Thailand’s healthcare service providers and points at a number of problems that may reduce the growth opportunity of this industry. These include lack of practical government policies with regard to medical tourism and of other supporting regulations, lack of organization as a cooperation centre aimed at promoting the medical tourism industry as a whole, remaining low awareness of the opportunities presented by the industry among potential foreign patients, and shortage of doctors and qualified medical staff. Measures for improvement are suggested.

Keywords: medical travel, medical tourism, Thailand, marketing strategies

  1. Introduction

Medical tourism is a new form of a niche tourism market which has been rapidly growing in the recent years. The term “Medical tourism” describes tourists who travel to oversea countries to obtain healthcare services and facilities such as medical, dental and surgical care whilst having the opportunity to combine it with visiting the tourist attractions of that country. The main groups of Medical tourists come from the industrialized countries of the world especially Europe, the UK, Middle East, Japan, U.S. and Canada where the cost of medical treatment is very expensive and there are often long waiting times for treatments [1]. Other than Thailand, countries that are currently promoting medical tourism are Bolivia, Brazil, Belgium, Cuba, Costa Rica, Hungary, India, Israel, Jordan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Poland, Singapore and South Korea. The main reasons for the growing popularity in medical tourism are: 1.) The long waiting lists in the developed countries, 2.) The low cost of medical treatments in developing countries, 3.) The affordable international air fares and favorable exchange rates,

4.) The Internet; with the development of communications, new companies have emerged who acts as middlemen between international patients and hospital networks, giving patients easy access to information, prices and option, 5.) The state-of-art technology that has been adopted by the new healthcare services [2]. Thailand has emerged in recent years as one of the leaders in the industry. Data collected from 30 private hospitals by Department of Export Promotion of Ministry of Commerce shows the increasing number of international patients who came to obtain the medical treatments in private hospitals in Thailand. In 1997 only 120,000 patients came for medical treatment; since then, the number has drastically increased to 975,532 in 2003 and 1,356,000 in 2006 (see Figure 1).

Source: Data collected from 30 private hospitals by Department of Export Promotion, Ministry of Commerce (cited in http://mrd-hss.moph.go.th/ac/download.asp) Thailand has a number of competitive advantages: it is already a well-known tourist destination; it is one of the first countries which entered the medical tourism market; it is known for its unique culture of service – the renown Thai hospitality; and also provides high quality services by qualified staff at a reasonable price. Under the guidance and regulation of the Ministry of Public Health, some Thai hospitals have been recognized and approved for the standards set by the Hospital Accreditation of both Thailand and International (Joint Commission International or JCI), and also other international standards such as ISO and Hazards and Critical Control Points Principle (HACCP).

Thailand’s main Asian competitors in the industry of medical tourism are India, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong [3]. India, with its lower cost of health services, has recently emerged as an important competitor to Thailand. It had approximately 150,000 patients in 2004 and the Indian government predicted that this industry could grow by 13% per year in the near future [4]. Despite this, India still lacks the quality of standards and infrastructure, and suffers from a negative image due to the low hygiene and sanitation perception of travelers. Singapore has high living standards, a strong government support for the medical tourism industry, excellent English speaking communication and high quality medical services. Their services are offered at somewhat higher prices than in Thailand but are still much cheaper than in developed countries. In 2006, 410,000 patients traveled to Singapore specifically for healthcare and the country hopes to attract 1 million medical travelers annually by 2012 (www.singaporemedicine.com).

Malaysia also offers low prices for healthcare services, and as a predominantly Muslim country has a competitive advantage in attracting patients from the Middle East [5]. According to the Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia [6], the number of international patients seeking medical services in Malaysia has grown from 75,210 patients in 2001 to 296,687 patients in 2006 and generated 59 million USD in revenue. In order to face off the challenges of growing competition, Thailand needs among other things to improve its marketing of healthcare services.

Therefore, this research was set with the objectives to study and observe the current marketing strategies of service providers in medical tourism in Thailand (public hospitals, private hospitals, clinics, and medical travel agents) and related parties such as the Ministry of Public Health, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and to analyze and evaluate the marketing strategies of Thailand and its main competitors in the region (Singapore, India, and Malaysia) in order to come up with a proposal of effective marketing strategies to develop and promote medical tourism in the country. This is the first such study carried out in Thailand, and is expected to enhance knowledge as well as to contribute to the development effective planning in the future and to enhancing the co-operation between stakeholders.

current marketing strategies of Thailand’s medical tourism service providers. Interviews took place with healthcare service providers (public hospitals, private hospitals, and clinics), medical travel agents and related parties, at several popular tourism destinations of Thailand: Bangkok, Phuket, and Pattaya. Respondents were selected through purposive sampling, based on information from secondary data and the researchers’ experience in the area, as well as observation of healthcare providers’ websites.

Criteria for inclusion in the interview list included: membership in Thailand Private Hospital Association, high number of international patients who received medical treatments, active marketing on the Internet, and non-medical care serviced provided to the patients. The interview topics included questions related to current and future target markets and marketing strategies, channel distribution, positioning, main competitors, threats to medical tourism in Thailand, industry collaboration, involvement of new stakeholders, medical travel packaging, and other relevant topics. In addition, observation of stakeholders’ websites and online marketing of service providers of competitors (Singapore, India, and Malaysia) was used to accomplish the objectives of the study.

  1. Results and Discussions

The findings from the interviews with the healthcare service providers and observation of stakeholders’ websites about the current marketing strategies used by Thailand’s healthcare service providers are described based on the 7 Ps of marketing mix: Product, Price, Place, Promotion, People, Process, and Physical Evidence [7], [8]. Product: Thailand’s healthcare service providers offer a wide range of tertiary and elective medical treatments such as Cardiology, Orthopedic, Cosmetic and

  1. Methodology

This qualitative research employed semi-structured interviews to examine the Plastic surgery, Dental care, Eye treatment, and etc. to attract the international patients. Well-trained medical staff with international board certification (US, UK, Australia, Germany, Japan) are considered as a valuable asset of the companies and used as an important tool to promote healthcare services. The patients of Bumrungrad Hospital and Bangkok Hospital Medical Center (the major player of Thailand’s medical tourism business) can select their required doctors through their websites by name, gender, photo, medical qualification, their specialty, language spoken, and even the working day. Moreover, the cutting-edge technology and equipment available made by each service provider was also used as one of the major products in this industry.

Quality of treatment in a less-developed and developing countries is the major concern raised by the medical travelers from industrialized countries. Most of respondents commented that Thailand is still considered as developing country among Westerners, especially those who have never been in the country before, so the availability of high quality medical care services is not easily recognized – unlike Singapore, with its positive image of high living standards country.

However, the results of previous research [2] about satisfaction with h