COVID-19 AND HEALTH TOURISM
Health tourism activities among the Malaysian’s healthcare providers are not new. Although there’s a stiff competition in between few popular healthcare destinations in the region such as Singapore with the guaranteed top-notch technology, Thailand with other tourism sector packages attractions, an even India, a well-known healthcare services within affordable costing, but still, potential of the industry for Malaysian’s private hospitals is massive. Majority, if not almost all tertiary private hospitals located in Klang Valley, Malacca, Penang and Johor Bahru are putting an effort to gain good business in health tourism sector. Few of the hospitals and medium size medical centres focusing on promoting wellness and preventive of healthcare, quite a number of hospitals and aesthetic centres offering cosmetic and aesthetic treatment, while most the healthcare players positioned themselves as high-end tertiary care destination with a guaranteed customer satisfaction experience and the rest been trying their luck with a little bit of everything; bread-and-butter of healthcare services with an additional healthcare products as niche services in the industry.
According to the statistics provided by Malaysia Health Tourism Council, health travelers numbers developed tremendously well from 643,000 recorded in 2011 it grow to 1.2 million in 2018. Indonesians health travelers make up about 60% of medical tourists in Malaysia, while the remaining are mainly from China, the Middle East region and a bit from other regions. Factors on most Indonesians (that could afford – Middle and upper income group) seeking treatment mostly in Malaysia, Singapore and few other countries are:
- Perception towards local providers
- Geographical advantage – easy access
- Low doctor – patient ratio & minimum waiting period
- Good track record
- High quality care & better medical facilities with affordable cost
- Effective and consistent promotion
The Pandemic strike!
Almost all private hospitals are affected especially in health tourism business segment by the Covid-19 pandemic that originated from China started back in December 2019 and spread to Asia in early 2020 and the whole world by March /April 2020. Total patients worldwide recorded at 55.6 million as at January 2021 with 2.5 million deaths. Since the enforcement of Movement Control Order (MCO) with other series of limitations by the Malaysian Government, most of the industry players are affected mainly with the execution of cross-borders movement restriction. Players in health tourism business are badly affected on this due to almost no health travelers’ turn-up since February 2020 until this article was written. Even until now, no one can expect when will this restriction could be lifted. Based on the hospital’s that I’m attached now, listed below are the areas of direct implications happened during the pandemic restriction enforcement:
- Digital platforms
- Physical brand exposure
Business sustaining and recovery factors
The only solution for the hospital to remain viable and to make the brand significant in current and future era within the targeted market is to establish series of direct to consumers’ activities that could maintain a good brand exposure during the cross-border restriction period. It can be seen as a small initiative and less business momentum but surely it could contribute towards the current segment’s objectives; for time being! Activities such as Teleconsultation by the specialist doctors, Webinars with targeted group, SocMed live sessions, Medicine delivery and others is vital in maintaining business reputation and brand loyalty in the international market.
With the whole world is still struggling from Covid-19 pandemic and health tourism activities are nearing zero or standstill, the rules of the game will never be the same going forward. Post-Covid-19 landscape of health tourism industry will bring each destination to a starting point from where the race to become attractive again begins; the initial market exploration, effective marketing plan, investment rate capability and conversion forecast will be back to square one equally among all private hospitals. Every single healthcare player will have to be on the drawing board again sooner or later as the situation will get better eventually. This time around, it will not be about getting patients attracted to holistic patient journey or value for money treatment but a lot will depend on the following factors:
- Travelling restriction
- Economic recovery
- Service availability
- Brand sustainability & loyalty
- Social responsibilities
Malaysian Healthcare players has successfully positioned itself previously as the destination of choice for health travelers especially among the Indonesian patients seeking treatment in the fields of cardiology, orthopedics integrated with holistic sub-specialties, Ophthalmology, Urology and others; this former success won’t and shouldn’t be abandoned with the Covid-19 pandemics glitches. Market will get better sooner or later and it shall be at the desired level back again.
As mentioned above, the health tourism sectors will recover gradually; back to its former glory. Captain of industry, market leaders, healthcare players and other parties related to the segment acknowledged that the pandemic has hit the healthcare tourism sector hard and expected the market to decline even further down in earlier quarters of 2021. Yet, most of the healthcare players are prepared to address any disruption in the inflow of medical tourists by continuously engaging with the industry’s stakeholders and the authorities to upgrade existing SOPs so that they fulfil the needs of the current situation and in the near future requirements.
‘There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope’
KPJ Klang Specialist Hospital