Medical tourism is defined as travel that contributes to physical, mental, and spiritual health through medical and wellness-based activities. Medical tourism is not confined to travel to hospitals and/or clinics, but also includes trips to spas and other wellness centres such as confinement and physiotherapy centres, as well as spiritual destinations for meditation. Any trip taken for the purpose of the betterment of a traveller’s wellness is thus categorised as medical tourism.
Medical tourism is growing as an industry globally, and developed countries such as the United States, European countries and countries in the Middle East are all promoting medical tourism as part of their key economic activities. This has been aided by the advancement of technology from the medical and transportation sectors and the hospitality industry such as the accommodation and food and beverage sectors .
On a local scale, medical tourism in Malaysia is growing rapidly in terms of arrivals and receipts. In 2011, we welcomed 643,000 medical tourists as compared to 1.2 million in 2018. Malaysia has successfully grown the industry to be one of the leading global destinations for international patients in Asia and beyond. The establishment of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) is one of the factors for this tremendous success. In this regard, we can also see the robust collaboration between the government and private sectors to further develop this industry.
In line with the development of medical tourism at the state level, Sarawak is also currently embarking on medical tourism. In 2018, roughly 4.5 million of visitors in Sarawak were medical tourists who contributed to an estimated amount of RM8 billion in tourism receipts. In many parts of the state, we have numerous modern, top-grade specialist centres and hospitals. Some of these hospitals collaborate with other tourism providers such as hotels and travel agencies to create specialised medical tourism packages for patients.
Sarawak has an advantage in this segment due to several factors. First, our location is strategic and accessible via roads and flights. Neighboring countries such as Indonesia and Brunei can easily access the services provided by our healthcare teams. Our hot equatorial climate also contributes significantly to a patient’s recovery time after medical procedures. Our currency being lower than neighbouring countries such as Singapore and Brunei, we are able to give high standards of healthcare at relatively competitive prices. Besides ease of access and cost being a determinant of inbound travel, Sarawak is also a favourable destination because of the low crime rate in the state, providing additional peace of mind for medical tourists.
In a nutshell, medical tourism has been expanding progressively in the past few years. This segment is potentially viable and profitable from an economic point of view. We hope to see further development in medical and wellness tourism, specifically in Sarawak, which has the potential to Sarawak to be a global leader.