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Wellness Tourism

What does the future merging of medical and wellness tourism mean for Thailand?

Author: Ingo Schweder / Date: Tue, 03/26/2019 - 01:07
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Thailand is also a leading wellness tourism destination. The country is ranked 14th in the world, earning $12 billion per year from wellness.

Both medical and wellness tourism have been important segments of Thailand’s tourism industry for many years. The future will see them increasingly merge. 

The “Land of Smiles” welcomed over 38 million international tourists last year, an impressive 7.5% increase over 2017. Official expectations for this year are for over 41 million. 

Can this realistically continue? Is it even desirable?

While mass tourism built the Thai tourism industry, worries about overtourism are understandably mounting. Overtourism leads to overcrowding, a strain on infrastructure and pollution. One way of handling it is to open up more domestic destinations to spread the load. The other is for Thailand to shift its focus towards higher value tourism. Medical and wellness tourism are a powerful answer, and they will work best when working together. 

Thailand has a well-deserved reputation as a medical tourism destination. Around 2.5 million medical tourists visit Thailand every year for a wide range of procedures. The country has numerous internationally accredited hospitals. Bumrungrad Hospital alone serves over 800,000 international patients per year. 

At the same time, Thailand is also a leading wellness tourism destination. The country is ranked 14th in the world, earning $12 billion per year from wellness. Thai massage is internationally popular, along with Thai boxing. The cuisine is varied, nutritious and delicious. Wellness resorts such as Chiva Som, Samahita and Kamalaya have established an international reputation for their programmes. Globally, wellness tourism is growing at an average rate of 6.5% per year, twice that of the overall tourism market, and international wellness tourists spend an average of 53% more than regular international tourists. 

Medical and Wellness Comes Together

Around the world, we see many hospitals are starting to look more like hotels – just look at the guest rooms at Bumrungrad. A hospitable service manner is becoming a necessity. On the other side, there is a clear trend of wellness resorts investing in more sophisticated medical equipment and hiring health professionals. Many resorts actually have hospital licenses, and are able to offer advanced medical analytics, innovative stem cell treatments, and plastic surgery, amongst many other procedures.

The synergies between wellness tourism and medical tourism are indisputable. Already, most medical tourists spend a few days in a hospital and then a longer period in a regular hotel for recuperation. To bring the hospital stay and recuperation period together under one roof and one organisation ensures a better and more consistent experience and quality of service. 

The merger of medical and wellness tourism also facilitates leading medical expertise being combined with a truly holistic approach to overall well being that includes a nutritious diet, physical fitness, mental wellness, thermal bathing and complementary treatments. The best medical knowledge is combined with a hotelier’s mind-set towards guest service. 

High Times for Thailand

The recent legalisation of medical marijuana in Thailand presents a potential boost to the country’s positioning of itself as a hub for medical and wellness tourism. Marijuana presents numerous health benefits, especially in terms of pain relief. While the law is still somewhat restrictive, and many practicalities and logistical issues still have to be worked out, this is a positive direction. Further marijuana legalisation was even made a major campaign issue for one of the parties in the recent election. 

In addition to conventional medical professionals, Thai traditional medicine practitioners are also eligible to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes. Foreigners will even be allowed to bring it into the country in amounts that have been prescribed for them by their doctor at home.

It is likely that it won't be too long before we see both hospitals and wellness resorts in Thailand introducing marijuana into their treatment options.

Getting it Right 

Merging medical and wellness tourism will require a careful balancing of skills and processes. Medical professionals often lack a customer service mind-set and hospitality professionals often lack technical knowhow. Finding staff with the right expertise is vital to the success of any merged medical and wellness operation. However, the potential profits for anyone who succeeds will be very attractive. Thailand is well placed to capitalise on their trend.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ingo Schweder

Founder & CEO

Injecting fresh ideas and professional management into the rapidly expanding wellness hospitality sector, Ingo Schweder brings together more than 30 years of experience in the spa and hospitality industries. He leads the multidisciplinary teams at GOCO Hospitality and Horwath HTL Health and Wellness to strategise, conceptualise, design and manage the latest wellness developments for the world’s top hospitality and real estate brands. From individual hotel spas to dedicated wellness resorts and master planned mixed-use developments, Ingo’s experience and insights have taken over 400 projects worth more than $1.4 billion across upwards of 42 countries from initial idea to profitable realisation and on-going management. The company manages GOCO-branded spas in Italy, Greece and the UAE, and owns the Glen Ivy Hot Springs in Southern California, the United States’ oldest and highest grossing spa. GOCO Hospitality is currently developing several GOCO Retreats in strategic spots around the world. Ingo was formerly a board member of Mandarin Oriental and earlier Corporate Director of Operations for Oberoi Hotels & Resorts. Under his guidance, Ananda in the Himalayas, the globally recognised destination spa, was established.