Hospitals and hotels grab onto panacea

Hospitals and hotels grab onto panacea

Wellness services may be the cure to the pandemic-induced economic swoon

Tobacco plants from an Australian strain are being used by a Thai firm as part of a process to produce a Covid-19 vaccine.
Tobacco plants from an Australian strain are being used by a Thai firm as part of a process to produce a Covid-19 vaccine.

Opportunity is presenting itself in a time of crisis for hoteliers and hospital owners, with the term "wellness" an important connecting piece within a collapsed jigsaw.

Local hospital operators and real estate developers are gradually expanding their footprints to capture a lucrative opportunity, tapping into the wellness fad.

According to the Global Wellness Institute, the global wellness economy is worth US$4.5 trillion. Wellness tourism accounts for $639 billion, with Asia emerging as the top gainer in wellness tourism trips and revenue.

Although there are no foreign tourists arriving in Thailand on regular visas, the time is ripe for entrepreneurs to adapt their business models to ensure survival and prepare for foreign tourists seeking wellness and medical tourism once the country fully reopens.


Thonburi Healthcare Group (THG), with 15 hospitals under its umbrella, is seeking to join hands with hoteliers to venture into the healthcare and wellness business, as the field is growing in the wake of the pandemic.

"THG is looking for allies in the hotel industry who share the same interests," THG owner and chairman Boon Vanasin said, referring to new healthcare and wellness projects.

The company already built Jin Wellbeing County, a residential and wellness complex, in Pathum Thani's Khlong Luang district to serve Thailand's ageing society.

There is room for new investments in the healthcare industry, an opportunity created by the crisis, Dr Boon said.

The spread of the coronavirus has dealt a heavy blow to the hotel industry, but this is the time for hotel owners to consider diversifying their businesses to survive, he said.

"The outbreak has spurred hospitals to adapt more quickly. They need to develop technologies and innovations to support medical services," said Dr Boon.

"These technologies will help reduce costs over the long term."

The Thai government has taken notice of the wellness trend, listing wellness tourism as one of 12 targeted S-curve industries that form the heart of the much-touted Eastern Economic Corridor project.

Wellness tourism generated substantial revenue before the pandemic. Last year Thailand racked up 409 billion baht from the wellness industry, according to a media report cited by Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

Jin Wellbeing County, a residential and wellness complex of Thonburi Healthcare Group in Pathum Thani. The complex is meant to serve Thailand's ageing society.

The growth trend for healthcare businesses is also reflected by new investment applications for tax privileges.

From January to September of 2020, applicants submitted 65 projects in the medical industry to the Board of Investment (BoI), compared with only seven for scientific testing services and five biotechnology projects.

Baiya Phytopharm, a pharmaceutical startup, is among the applicants that joined the BoI's tax incentive scheme.

Co-founder and chief executive Suthira Taychakhoonavdh said Baiya Phytopharm is developing Covid-19 vaccines and a Covid-19 medicine.

The support for investment in the medical industry is part of state efforts to make Thailand a medical hub in Asean.

"Being a medical hub does not mean we only offer medical services to foreigners," said Duangjai Asawachintachit, the BoI secretary-general.

She wants to see Thailand be more self-reliant, both in terms of technological development and manufacturing.

"We'll continue to support new investments ranging from uses of raw materials to production of finished goods," said Ms Duangjai.

Suthira: Developing medicines


As the global health emergency highlights the need for health-related quality of life improvements, especially in preventive practices, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) aims to utilise the country's advantage in standardising the public health system and technology to help revive the battered tourism industry.

"There is an opportunity in the health and wellness market to attract potential groups of tourists with high purchasing power, making Thailand the acknowledged medical and wellness resort of the world," said Yuthasak Supasorn, the TAT governor.

In the upcoming year, the TAT plans to promote this segment by introducing five health and wellness tourism campaigns.

The first campaign offers telemedicine services for more than 1 million overseas Thais who face obstacles in accessing healthcare services while residing in foreign countries.

He said Thais who stay abroad can use teleconsulting services, which may be followed up by further treatments in Thailand.

They also can obtain referrals for medical services here in their foreign communities.

Hotels in Thailand should adapt to the new distribution channel under a "hotelistic" concept to offer health and wellness services for travellers, such as medical checkups and immunity fighter packages, said Mr Yuthasak.

The agency is organising online health marketplaces in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer segments to promote local operators in the health and wellness segment.

According to the Public Health Ministry, health and wellness tourism generated 450 billion baht last year. Of that amount, 41 billion baht comes from medical services, while 409 billion was derived from health and wellness tourism, making up 15.6% of overall tourism receipts last year.

Mr Yuthasak said further collaborations on a government-to-government level should allow state agency officers from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and the Middle East to receive medical treatments in Thailand.

The TAT plans to work with global health insurance companies to include Thailand as a destination in their insurance packages.

In addition, 29 TAT overseas offices expect to add more agents and media content to raise brand awareness about their tourism products and services, aiming to make the country the top destination for health and wellness options.

Boon: Room for new investments


SET-listed Pruksa Holding was the first housing developer to shift to hospital development, with an investment of 4.94 billion baht in 2018 to construct Vimut Hospital in Saphan Khwai area.

Piya Prayong, director of Pruksa Holding, said the hospital should offer recurring income as the healthcare business is huge, with a market value of more than 600 billion baht.

"By offering affordable prices, Vimut Hospital will target the mid-range segment," he said.

"This is a new venture for Pruksa and a personal passion of Thongma Vijitpongpun, Pruksa's major shareholder."

Krittavith Lertutsahakul, chief executive of Vimut Hospital, said the hospital aims to be a tertiary care general hospital and plans to have a geriatric centre as 20% of Thais will be aged 60 or older by 2021.

"We postponed the first phase with 100 beds from this year to May 2021 because of the pandemic," he said.

"Full operation with a total of 236 beds will start in the next few years, in line with demand."

The hospital expects to speed up its goal for full capacity if demand for healthcare surges, said Dr Krittavith.

Autthanop Pandkamnerd, chief executive of property developer Cissa Group, said the company shifted to development of health and wellness hospitals to capitalise on the rising global trend of health and well-being.

"The government plans to promote the country as a medical hub, while offering support for tourism and disease-prevention measures," he said.

These factors have established Thailand as a destination for tourists and foreigners with purchasing power who are looking for a disease-free destination that can also provide quality medical centres and exclusive venues for relaxation, said Mr Autthanop.

Cissa joined V Plast Medical Group to conduct a feasibility study for a megaproject development -- a health and wellness hospital combined with a luxury resort, called Natai Medical Center & Resort -- in Phangnga with an investment of 3.5 billion baht.

"People are more focused on their health and will consider staying in a hotel with strict hygiene measures after going through the pandemic," he said.

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