MHTC to focus on making travel bubble more attainable

Since July 1 last year, medical tourists have begun coming into the country through the healthcare bubble, but in very limited numbers, says MHTC acting CEO


THE Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) will focus on making the healthcare travel bubble more accessible this year, placing priority on safety measures.

Its acting CEO Nik Yazmin Nik Azman said at present, medical tourists cannot come into the country by commercial airlines. Instead, they have to use, either chartered ferries, flights, or medical evacuation.

“In line with that, we are working very closely with airlines and hospitals to make this process easier and to enable chartered flights to come in more regularly while reducing cost,” she said during the virtual “BizTalks with MHTC: Creating New Opportunities for Medical Tourism” webinar yesterday.

According to Nik Yazmin, since July 1 last year, medical tourists have begun coming into the country through the healthcare bubble but in very limited numbers.

“Last year, we had about 100 people came in through this channel with very tight standard operating procedures.

“We have had so many enquiries but unfortunately, we are not able to accommodate them because of restrictions,” she said.

Nik Yazmin added that ultimately, the sector will only recover once borders are reopened, and so herd immunity must be reached quickly.

“We need to look at the vaccine rollout for both Malaysians within the country and medical tourists who are coming in.

“This is to ensure both sides remain safe and free from the virus. The demand is definitely there; it is more about enabling the process,” she said.

Malaysia is currently one of the top destinations globally for medical tourism, comprising both the private and public sectors.

Indonesia still makes up the bulk of medical tourists at 60%, while China has also been one of the larger markets, followed by Australia and New Zealand.

In 2019, Malaysia received 1.22 million visitors, enjoying 17% of revenue increase of RM1.7 billion in hospital receipts, while 2020 saw a decrease in expectation of RM780 million due to the drop in healthcare travel activity.

“The top three services that medical tourists come here for include oncology, fertility services and cardiology, especially paediatric cardiology.

“Many Indonesians come here for oncology treatments while the China market is developed in particular to promote fertility services,” she said.

She added that aesthetic services are popular with tourists from Australia and New Zealand, while orthopedics have also been gaining some traction.

Meanwhile, Nik Yazmin said MHTC welcomes investments at the moment and is also looking at solving the different issues in various touch points, including translation, booking appointments, monitoring aftercare and others.

“Some of them can be done through technology, so we want to strengthen everything along the value chain.

“There has been a huge focus on digital frameworks and we are happy for any kind of digital disruptions, as seen by how the pandemic accelerated all of it,” she said.

She added that some of the main challenges MHTC expects this year include a change in patient psyche, telemedicine, pharmaceutical geofencing and emerging new markets.

“Some of the newer value offerings being seen and worked on include medical travel nannies, at-home fertility monitoring, online mental health services, subscription-based on evacuation and new technology,” Nik Yazmin said.

Read our previous report here

MHTC: Covid-19 vaccine tourism a possibility, but Malaysians first