Medical tourism to Thailand from the UAE is expected to remain strong despite changes to health insurance policies in Abu Dhabi, according to Thailand’s tourism agency.
In April, Health Authority Abu Dhabi cut benefits for expats covered by insurer Daman, and Emiratis under its Thiqa programme, to check medical expenses and encourage medical treatment in Abu Dhabi. It is now more expensive for some patients to seek treatments abroad.
Emiratis who seek treatment abroad, including in Thailand, are either self-paying or do so at the expense of the Ministry of Health.
“[The changes in health policy] is a concern, but only Abu Dhabi patients will be impacted by this,” said Tanes Petsuwan, the deputy governor for international markets at the Tourism Authority of Thailand (Tat). “We have seen no impact yet of the changes in health insurance policies in Abu Dhabi. We are still optimistic [about the numbers from the UAE] as we capitalise on our prices, the range of treatments available, and [short] waiting period.”
He was speaking on the sidelines of the International Medical Travel Exhibition and Conference in Dubai yesterday.
Last year, Thailand received 150,000 medical tourists from the UAE, a 2.5 per cent increase over 2014.
“Thailand will remain a viable medical tourism destination for the people from the UAE,” Mr Petsuwan said.
Tat launched a medical tourism roadshow yesterday in Dubai, where Thai officials and hospital executives met travel agencies, local government officials and health authorities. They will also be stopping over in Oman and Kuwait as part of a week-long roadshow.
Among the top medical treatments that patients from the UAE seek in Thailand are orthopaedic surgeries, cardiac procedures, general medical check-ups and eye surgeries, Mr Petsuwan said.
Thailand received 30 million tourists last year, of which about 16 million, or 53 per cent, came for medical and wellness treatments. Tourists who specifically sought medical treatments came in at 857,086, a 25 per cent increase over the previous year, and the rest – about 15 million – came for wellness tourism, a 38 per cent increase over 2014, according to the latest data from Tat.
By the end of 2018 Thailand expects to receive about 1 million medical tourists, up from the 928,734 expected this year, and more than 25 million people for wellness tourism, up from 17 million estimated this year, Tat said.
Al Meroz Hotel, Thailand’s first halal hotel, which opened in November, is working with hospitals in Bangkok to offer special packages for medical tourists from the UAE.
The country has about 53 JCI-accredited hospitals in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai. The accreditation, given by the Joint Commission International of the United States, is a standardisation marker for healthcare service providers around the world.
“We want to appoint [a medical tourism facilitator] in the UAE to increase the number of medical tourists from here,” said Norachan Na Ayutthaya, a spokeswoman for Phyathai 2 Hospital, a tertiary care international hospital in Bangkok. “Most of the patients from the UAE at our hospital are self-paying, so they are seeking another treatment destination and are budgeting for this.”
About 15 to 20 per cent of its patients are international, with Oman one of the top four source markets along with Cambodia, Myanmar and China.
At Pattaya’s Bangkok Hospital, about 55 per cent of the patients are international.
“If patients believe in the health care they seek, and can afford, they will travel for it,” said Juthaporn Huyakorn, the director of business development at the hospital, referring to changes in Abu Dhabi’s health insurance policies.
Thailand generated 63.49 billion baht (Dh6.68bn) from medical and wellness tourism last year, a 15 per cent increase over 2014. The spending on medical tourism was about 19,864 baht per person per trip last year compared with about 1,658 baht per person per trip in wellness tourism.
Arabian Gulf nationals can stay in Thailand for medical treatment for 90 days without a visa.