Thailand is setting a new goal to become a global medical and wellness destination by 2024, aiming to lure international travellers and 1 million overseas Thais, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
As the pandemic raises awareness about healthcare and accelerates demand for preventive and regenerative medicine, the TAT sees an opportunity, particularly with the country's solid reputation for medical services, said TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn.
Before the outbreak, the country already had a solid market share in medical and wellness, with 3.2 million international travellers and 45 billion baht total income in 2018, Mr Yuthasak said.
To achieve this new goal in five years, the TAT will expand the target market to some 1 million Thais living abroad after witnessing their difficulties in accessing medical services in other countries at a critical time.
Srisuda Wanapinyosak, deputy governor of the TAT for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, said the plan will consist of five campaigns.
The first is to provide telemedicine for overseas Thais under a partnership with the online platform for medical services, Dr A to Z, and the Department of Consular Affairs.
Ms Srisuda said online services are cheaper than seeing doctors in foreign countries and will provide Thais better well-being and attract more of them to return to seek additional medical services on home soil.
The second campaign is to enlist hotels as stakeholders in tapping medical and wellness tourists globally.
The TAT will encourage more hotels in Thailand to develop healthcare services on the property by collaborating with accredited hospitals to provide some types of medical or health treatments that do not need to take place at hospitals, such as general check-ups, ozone therapy, immunity boosters or chelation therapy.
"Hotels can be another communication and distribution channel to publicise health services in Thailand," Ms Srisuda said. "They can work with partner hospitals in giving preliminary consultations before guests travel to Thailand for medical packages."
Another campaign focuses on increasing market reach to various sources by creating a business-to-business online platform for health and wellness operators in Thailand and health agents or facilitators overseas.
The fourth campaign is to expand the government-to-government partnership to more countries, targeting civil servants who have state insurance.
The fifth campaign is to increase agents and media outreach through 29 TAT offices globally.
Vorasit Pongkumpunt, group vice-president of Nora Resorts and Hotels Group, said demand for health and wellness will strengthen after the pandemic.
This is a key segment for boosting tourism in Koh Samui, alongside entertainment, natural resources and community tourism, Mr Vorasit said.
Some 10% of 600 hotels on the island are focused on health and wellness, but more players will jump into this market to gain a new source of revenue, he said.