Singapore, Malaysia tough rivals to Thailand’s quest to be medical hub

Singapore, Malaysia tough rivals to Thailand’s quest to be medical hub

Monday, Nov 11, 2013
The Nation/Asia News Network
By Bamrung Amnatcharoenrit

THAILAND – Thailand should prove itself more if it wants to become a regional hub for medical tourism in the long term, competing with arch-rivals Singapore and Malaysia. One major barrier to this quest is politics. If political demonstrations become chaotic to the point of closing airports, this will undermine patients’ confidence, and they might decide to go elsewhere, said Pongsakorn Chindawatana, a professional doctor and also senior director of communication at Bangkok Dusit Medical Services.So far, there have been no cancellations of trips to the company’s hospitals. The political scenario at present is still considered acceptable. However, the company will have to keep monitoring the situation closely over the next few months, he said.

Speaking after a seminar on “Business Power for the Future of Thai Tourism” held by the Department of Tourism, he said Thailand was second to no other country in the region for the quality of its medical services.

The country’s medical advancement is also internationally recognised for its high standards.

It is essential for the government and private sectors to make a joint effort to promote this service on the global stage.

It is already true Thailand is a hub, but only geographically. So far, there is no clear evidence to show that any country in the region, whether Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand, will succeed in the goal of becoming such a hub permanently. All three nations are still scrambling to adopt marketing strategies to publicise their services and claim status as the regional medical-service destination.

Singapore has a competitive edge as a Chinese-speaking nation, which makes it attractive to the large number of affluent mainland Chinese.

Also, the island nation has earned a reputation for its medical services founded by Britain during its colonial period, boosting patients’ confidence.

Most important, it has marketed these services aggressively.

Also, Singapore is a rich country. Pongsakorn said it was most likely that the country would expand its service regionally, especially into Thailand, by establishing hospital networks or other forms of medical services, after the opening of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.

Meanwhile Malaysia, as a Muslim nation, has kept in touch with Arab patients.

These two examples, he said, show that cost may not be a key factor for some foreign tourist groups when they decide where to go. They will choose to go to the country where they feel most comfortable, especially in terms of culture and language. But Thailand has its own attractions.

The Kingdom is rich in natural tourism resources, from beach to mountainous destinations, where patients can recuperate after their treatments. Friendly service and good hospitality are also magnets.

Beyond Bangkok, provincial choices include Chiang Mai and Phuket.

In terms of cost, Thailand is also 10-15 per cent cheaper than those other two nations. More important, 35 private hospitals here have been certified by The Joint Commission, a US-based accreditation organisation for healthcare services.

This will help strengthen confidence among patients, especially from the United States and Europe.

Pongsakorn said Thailand should keep its focus on the ASEAN market, which shows big potential, especially after the AEC opening. Because of their less advanced medical development, the number of people from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia coming to Thailand for treatment is on the rise.

“We have no need to adjust ourselves much to serve people from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia because they share similarities with Thai culture,” he said.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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