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Medical Tourism: Now and Then

How is medical tourism different after COVID-19?

By Afrina Ghazali | January 28th, 2022

A lot of things have been severely affected since the COVID-19 and medical tourism is certainly not an exception. Flashback to the pre-pandemic, medical tourism had a major growth rate in the tourism industry. However, the industry relies greatly on international travel, so, due to the travel bans and lockdowns, the growth rate has dented tremendously. But how unalike can medical tourism be before and after the pandemic?

Medical Tourism

Travelling abroad for medical aid has been trendsetting since the start of the last decade and it was very popularly marketed in Asian countries due to its significant economic benefits. Although it was greatly and especially popular in Southeast Asia, Dubai was regarded as the world leader among the emerging market destinations. It was an eye-opener for most people to realise that seeking medical procedures in medical tourism marketed countries is exciting as high-quality medical services were easily accessible at a low cost with a short waiting time. So, what was unaffordable and what would have been a long queue in the waiting list would then be made possible abroad and promptly.

Reasons for medical tourism may vary greatly from which country they come from, their payslip or their records of medical history, but some of the most frequently performed procedures among medical tourists include cardiovascular treatments, dental treatments, orthopaedic treatments, cosmetic treatments and a few others.


A few countries in Asia have been targeted hotspots for medical tourists over the last decade and many initiatives have been made to bring in more foreign patients. Thailand for instance had started the strategic plan known as "Thailand: A Hub of Wellness and Medical Services" in 2016 to secure the country's position as a regional leader in medical tourism. The UAE introduced a new visa policy and offered packages that could cover the entire tourists' trip in conjunction with their support in the economy of medical tourism. The Indian government likewise had announced a new visa offer for medical purposes in 2017.

The medical tourism boom was greatly prompted by the increased awareness especially among the citizens of the higher incomed countries and this has led to a great increase of inbound visits by medical tourists in 2019. It was reported that at least 14 million visits were made for the purpose of medical tourism globally. With that, it was expected that the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) would grow from 4.5% and up to 15% over the next few years. 

However, what no one had predicted was the coming of the COVID-19 that became a total hit globally and affected almost all industries including medical tourism.

Post-COVID Era

As though lockdowns were not hard, travelling abroad is now even harder. It is just no longer possible to simply book a plane ticket within the day because a lot of procedures need to be involved in international travels and looking at it right now, not all countries have allowed entries for visiting foreigners. So, not only will you need to check if the country allows entry, but you must also go for COVID-19 testing because only those proved negative of COVID-19 will be allowed to travel.

When it is harder for people to travel, this will instantly affect the rate of medical tourists and data have shown that Year-On-Year (YOY) revenue has dropped gravely and one of Thailand's main medical tourism healthcare providers has reported that at least 94% of YOY revenue was decimated in 2020. 

It is believed to take some time to level up to how it was like before the pandemic, therefore, many measures and initiatives are being implemented to revive the market industry. Some countries have expedited the pandemic recovery and Dubai again, for instance, has been handling COVID-19 well to be ranked as the most COVID-19 safe and restoring the confidence for tourists' number to level up. It has since then been at the forefront and is welcoming medical tourists since September 2020. 

Other countries like Thailand and Malaysia have introduced "travel bubbles" and testing programmes whereby tourists will be allowed entry in some cities in support of encouraging and promoting the tourism industry. Germany on the other hand has recently launched German healthcare accreditation provider Temos that confirms and convinces tourists that clinics and hospitals meet necessary standards.

Above all, the first step on the road to recovery involves different implementations of solutions that can help reboot the confidence of medical travellers and as observed in the recent positive performance by Dubai, other countries must take more steps forward to resuscitate medical tourism in their respective countries.