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Malaysia pays a close look at health and spa tourism

Medical tourism is a promising niche market for Malaysia. If the quality of medical facilities is easy to control, the Ministry of Tourism steps up its effort to clean up the Spa industry from its undesirable elements.

PUTRAJAYA- Healthcare tourism revenue in Malaysia jumped last year to RM 511.2 million (US$ 160 million), a growth of 34.9% over 2010. A total of 583,296 foreign patients from more than 20 countries came to get medical treatment in Malaysia last year, Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council co-chairman Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop said. “International patients come to our country because we have good infrastructure, quality doctors, and our prices remain reasonable,” Nor Mohamed said during a recent press conference held last week in conjunction with Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai. Liow said Malaysia was a highly demanded destination for specialized treatments in orthopaedics, cardiology and cosmetic surgery.

Spa makes also Malaysia increasingly attractive. However, the Ministry of Tourism has decided to better monitor facilities offered in the country under the “Spa” appellation to weed out the ones which are more related to sex activities than proper “well-being” treatments. Many spa facilities seem to employ foreign staff for anything but spa. Tourism Minister Dr Ng Yen Yen said the move is now including a self-regulatory rating system for spa operators.

The ministry made also recommendation to the Immigration Department for approving the employment of foreign spa therapists. “Local council authorities must take the responsibility to ensure that illegal massage centres are weeded out,” she told recently reporters after launching the Spa Therapist Training Programme. Of the 1,300 spa therapists in Malaysia, it is estimated that 40% only are locals. “Under the ministry’s self-assessment programme, our officers visited 402 spas, of which 134 did not qualify for rating. Of this, a total of 30 spas ceased operations,” she said. During her visit, the Minister indicated that Malaysia now provides a program to train spa therapists in a move to professionalise the industry. The scheme would help the spa industry generating RM 666 million (US$ 210 million) in revenues as well as over 5,500 therapists by year 2020.

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Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.

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