Malaysia tries to parlay appeal to Muslim visitors into medical tourism push

Tue Jul 29, 2014 5:17pm EDT
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By Trinna Leong

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Muslim tourists have long chosen Malaysia, its beaches and its malls as a holiday destination thanks to cultural affinity.

Now the Southeast Asian country, where Muslims make up about 60 percent of the population, wants to parlay its visitor dividend into a bid to overtake its neighbors for the world's medical tourism crown.

It seeks to appeal to less affluent patients with reasonably priced treatments. But figures show it has some ground to make up on Thailand and Singapore in boosting its share of an industry that generates $38 billion to $55 billion annually.

Malaysia is a new player in the market, competing with experienced, branded names. But it is quickly attracting the attention of patients, earning third place for "best and most affordable healthcare" by International Living, a lifestyle magazine. 

"Thailand's pricing is not attractive any more and Singapore can't cope with the flood of patients," said Jacob Thomas, president of the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia.

"We are one of the easiest countries to enter. Most foreigners don't need to fill in a landing form."

The number of foreigners seeking care in Malaysia more than doubled over five years to 770,134 in 2013. Most patients are from Indonesia, followed by the Middle East and North Africa, areas with plenty of new money and where healthcare is inadequate or dogged by long waiting lists.

That compares with 850,000 in Singapore in 2012 and nearly 2.5 million last year in Thailand, though that figure includes spa stays and resident expatriates.   Continued...

A general view of Prince Court Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur July 26, 2014. REUTERS/Olivia Harris