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Thailand strengthens its appeal as a spa and medical tourism destination

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BANGKOK, Thailand (eTN) – Thailand continues to look at diversifying its tourism product to target a larger number of high-spending travelers for niche markets.

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BANGKOK, Thailand (eTN) – Thailand continues to look at diversifying its tourism product to target a larger number of high-spending travelers for niche markets. And for over a decade, medical and spa tourism has been identified by both the private sector and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) as one of the most promising activities. According to TAT, the Thai government wants now to turn Thailand into a “World-Class Health Provider” by 2014. It follows first attempts to lift up Thailand’s status as a medical destination in the late 2000s when the country launched its project, “Thailand, Spa Capital of Asia.”

Sophisticated spas such as Chiva-Som in Hua Hin, Deravana Spa from Dusit International, or Six Senses Spa contributed to a shift in image over the last two decades. International hospitals such as Bumrungrad International Hospital have gained a reputation around the world.

According to TAT, some 1.4 million visitors come for medical or spa treatments to Thailand every year. Total projected earnings from the medical/spa activity could then generate up to US$11.5 billion over the five-year period of 2010-14. Broken down, earnings projection for medical treatments would generate over the 2010-14 period US$8 billion, with spa and wellness services bringing in US$2.23 billion, and sales of products and supplies – US$1.3 billion.

While Thailand definitely gained its reputation on the medical world stage, the country needs to further define the criteria of excellence. According to Apichai Jearadisak, Advisor for the Federation of Thai Spa Associations, Thailand already is leading in the regional spa market with over 1,200 spas from international standards.

“There are, of course, so many spas all across the country. But all Thai spa associations in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Commerce have introduced a classification with standards evaluated in the same way than in the hotel industry. We have then Platinum, Gold, and Silver classifying spas. It assures that all the supply chain and personnel working in those classified spas offer a high-quality product. We estimate that over 400 of them are luxury or high-end spas,” he explained.

Strict recruitment policy is for example implemented with certificated practitioners. Mr. Jearadisak highlights that spas are working to upgrade services and products, as well as hygienic standards. “We see a trend by many spas to introduce organic spas using exclusively organic products; Muslim-style spas is another future option to please also some of our customers from the Middle East. There is no ‘halal’ spa as such, but organic spa[s] should already answer to this specific market,” he added. Efforts are currently underway to also increase the level of English skills at spas all around the country.

On the medical side, Dr. Med. Prapa Wongphaet, President of the Thailand Medical Tourism Cluster, explained, “Thailand has more than 30 international accredited hospitals in Bangkok and various tourist destinations such as Pattaya, Phuket, Samui, Hua Hin, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, or Hat Yai.” If including public hospitals, Thailand has over 200 public and private medical facilities with a “Hospital Accreditation Certificate” assured by the Healthcare Accreditation Institute, a public organization.

In the last few years, the government has looked to further strengthen the image and the appeal for foreign travelers. Although reasonable health costs and the high quality of services are among the top decision factors for travelers, good insurance coverage schemes and international marketing efforts helped to make medical tourism more attractive. TAT and the Thailand Medical Tourism Cluster have both created public websites providing information to any potential travelers
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