Medical Tourism Marketing Strategy in Thailand

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Medical Tourism in Thailand and Its Marketing Strategies
Jutamas Rerkrujipimol1 and Ilian Assenov2 1 Faculty of Hospitality & Tourism Prince of Songkla University, Phuket, Thailand yokspa@yahoo.com Faculty of Hospitality & Tourism Prince of Songkla University, Phuket, Thailand ilian@phuket.psu.ac.th 2

Abstract
Thailand has emerged as a leading medical tourism destination in recent years. The increase in the number of international patients shows that Thailand has great potential for medical tourism and the improvement of its marketing strategies will further increase the image of Thailand as a medical tourism destination. In order to face off the challenges of growing competition form India, Singapore, Malaysia and other destinations, Thailand needs among other things to improve its marketing as a favourite medical tourism destination in the region. Therefore, this exploratory research was set to evaluate the current marketing strategies of healthcare providers and intermediaries through interviews with stakeholders and observation, and to propose effective marketing strategies for preserving and enhancing Thailand’s position as a leading medical tourism destination. This qualitative research employed semi-structured interviews to examine the current marketing strategies of Thailand’s healthcare service providers. Interviews took place with healthcare service providers (public hospitals, private hospitals, and clinics), medical travel agents and related parties, at several popular tourism destinations of Thailand: Bangkok, Phuket, and Pattaya. Respondents were selected through purposive sampling. In addition, observation of stakeholders’ websites and online marketing of service providers of competitors (Singapore, India, and Malaysia) took place. The paper identifies the strengths of Thailand’s healthcare service providers and points at a number of problems that may reduce the growth opportunity of this industry. These include lack of practical government policies with regard to medical tourism and of other supporting regulations, lack of organization as a cooperation centre aimed at promoting the medical tourism industry as a whole, remaining low awareness of the opportunities presented by the industry among potential foreign patients, and shortage of doctors and qualified medical staff. Measures for improvement are suggested. Keywords: medical travel, medical tourism, Thailand, marketing strategies

1. Introduction
Medical tourism is a new form of a niche tourism market which has been rapidly growing in the recent years. The term “Medical tourism” describes tourists who travel to oversea countries to obtain healthcare services and facilities such as medical, dental and surgical care whilst having the opportunity to combine it with visiting the tourist attractions of that country. The main groups of Medical tourists come from the industrialized countries of the world especially Europe, the UK, Middle East, Japan, U.S. and Canada where the cost of medical treatment is very expensive and there are often long waiting times for treatments [1]. Other than Thailand, countries that are currently promoting medical tourism are Bolivia, Brazil, Belgium, Cuba, Costa Rica, Hungary, India, Israel, Jordan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Poland, Singapore and South Korea. The main reasons for the growing popularity in medical tourism are: 1.) The long waiting lists in the developed countries, 2.) The low cost of medical treatments in developing countries, 3.) The affordable international air fares and favorable exchange rates, 4.) The Internet; with the development of communications, new companies have emerged who acts as middlemen between international patients and hospital networks, giving patients easy access to information, prices and option, 5.) The state-of-art technology that has been adopted by the new healthcare services [2]. Thailand has emerged in recent years as one of the leaders in the industry. Data collected from 30...
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