Key Trends in Thailand’s Medical Tourism Market
For the past decade, Thailand has been a top destination for medical tourists. It has become increasingly common for consumers to cross borders for medical services. One of the countries with the highest influx of medical tourists in the world is Thailand. In 2019, it scored 66.83 in the worldwide medical tourism market index.
In an effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thailand closed its borders for most of 2020 and 2021. The country was successful in dealing with the pandemic, and after rolling out nationwide vaccination programs, it opened its borders late in 2021 and promptly positioned itself as a top medical tourism destination once again.
How has Thailand managed to become the region’s top medical tourism destination, and how can they develop this market to accelerate its growth in the post-pandemic world? We look at the current trends and opportunities based on the statistics of medical tourism in Thailand.
Why is Thailand popular for medical tourism?
Thailand is known for having affordable yet advanced healthcare services, which draws many medical tourists to the country. Compared to its Southeast Asian neighbors, healthcare institutions in Thailand highly prioritize certifications, high-quality equipment, and training for professionals. They also offer universal healthcare that provides coverage to most of the population.
In 2019, Thailand’s medical tourism market drew more than 600,000 inbound tourists, logging a value of 1.8 billion US dollars. It is projected that this value will rise to 9.9 billion by 2023 and increase further to 24.4 billion by 2027.
Treatments that medical tourists go to Thailand for range from major surgeries like heart bypass and hip replacements to dental and cosmetic work. In October 2021, as the country reopened to tourists, hospitals and medical institutions introduced COVID-19 recovery units and quarantine resorts in Bangkok as part of their plans to revive the medical tourism industry.
Thailand’s medical tourism market has maintained a competitive edge over Singapore, another popular destination for medical tourists in Southeast Asia. Treatment costs as well as travel expenses are cheaper in Bangkok, which helps the country draw more tourists every year.
Moreover, the hospitality industry in Thailand is also highly developed, offering tourists many interesting destinations prior to or after their treatment, allowing them to make the most out of their trips. The country is known for its beaches, cultural heritage, and local cuisine, which are all considered affordable experiences.
The future of medical tourism in Thailand
Thailand’s medical tourism market is already known for offering great value and providing great care at the same time. In the post-COVID era, wellness can be promoted as another major avenue for tourists that are not seeking strict medical care. Some services that can be offered under this new banner include traditional medicine, mind and body fitness, nutrition, meditation, yoga, and spa treatments.
Hospitals and other medical institutions in Thailand may also be able to attract new customers by securing international accreditation and certifications that will help assure patients that they will be safe and taken care of when seeking treatment in the country. Adopting smart technology solutions for hospitals, such as patient databases, smart medical devices, and automated administrative workflows can help healthcare providers focus on their patients’ needs more while also optimizing their processes.
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Thailand to revive its medical tourism sector amid COVID pandemic
Businesses aim to profit from government's 'living with COVID' strategy
BANGKOK -- With the Thai government planning to reopen the country to foreign tourists as part of its strategy of learning to live with COVID, Thai businesses aim to offer COVID-related services as well as revive medical tourism.
The upscale Bumrungrad International Hospital has launched its first COVID-19 recovery clinic, offering all COVID solutions to affluent Thais and foreigners, as the government prepares to reopen the country roughly by November.
Thailand to let more businesses open and shorten curfew hours
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Brief Introduction to Thailand and Its Reputation in Medical Tourism
Thailand has long been a jewel in the crown of Southeast Asia, not just for its stunning beaches and rich cultural history, but also as a reputable center for medical tourism. Over the years, the country has built a solid reputation for offering high-quality healthcare services at relatively affordable costs. Hospitals in key cities like Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai are well-equipped, boasting state-of-the-art medical technologies and internationally trained healthcare professionals. Many medical tourists come to Thailand not just for the cost savings, but also for the exceptional patient care and shorter waiting times for medical procedures.
Historical and Cultural Significance in Medicine
Traditionally, Thailand has a rich history of herbal medicine and wellness practices that trace back to centuries-old wisdom. These traditional practices are sometimes integrated into modern medical care, offering a holistic approach to treatment. It’s this blend of traditional and modern medicine, together with a culture that puts a premium on hospitality, that makes Thailand a unique destination for medical tourism. Many Thai hospitals incorporate elements of traditional Thai medicine and even Buddhist practices to create a calming, healing environment, which is highly appreciated by patients from different cultural backgrounds.
Global Recognition in Medical Care
Thailand's medical facilities are often compared to those in developed countries, including the United States and Western European nations. Numerous hospitals in Thailand are internationally accredited, adhering to high standards of medical care and patient safety protocols. The country has also been successful in attracting foreign investment in healthcare, which has led to continuous improvement in medical technologies and techniques.
The Tourist Perspective
Apart from the medical procedures, Thailand offers a relaxed atmosphere conducive to quick recovery. After undergoing a procedure, patients can recuperate in luxurious hotel-like hospital rooms or rehabilitation centers that often offer panoramic views of Thailand's scenic landscapes. If that's not enough, the charm of Thai culture, its delectable cuisine, and the possibility to explore the country’s beautiful tourist spots add an extra layer of allure to the overall medical tourism experience in Thailand.
Popular Medical Procedures
List of procedures.
Thailand offers a wide array of medical procedures at competitive prices, but the country is most well-known for its expertise in cosmetic surgery, dental care, cardiology, orthopedics, and fertility treatments. These areas of specialization attract patients from all over the world, who come seeking both elective and life-saving treatments.
Specializations and Pioneering Treatments
Thailand is a hub for cosmetic and gender reassignment surgeries, providing both of these at a fraction of the cost you would pay in many Western countries. Many Thai surgeons are trained internationally and bring a high level of expertise and experience to the operating table. The country is also emerging as a leader in regenerative medicine, particularly stem cell therapies, which are offered in specialized centers with cutting-edge facilities.
Top Hospitals & Clinics
Some of the top-rated hospitals in Thailand include Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, Bangkok Hospital, and Phuket International Hospital. These medical institutions are known for their advanced healthcare services and have often received awards for excellence in various medical fields.
Accreditation and Affiliation
These hospitals often hold international accreditations, though we cannot mention specific accrediting bodies. Such credentials affirm that these medical institutions meet or exceed global standards in healthcare. Many of the medical professionals working in these facilities have been trained or have practiced in Western countries, further solidifying the high standard of medical care available.
Special Features, Awards, or Recognitions
While we can't mention specific awards, it's worth noting that many Thai hospitals are lauded for their focus on patient experience, incorporating luxury amenities and even personalized care options. Additionally, some hospitals have specialized centers for particular treatments, like cardiovascular care or orthopedic surgery, which have received various forms of acknowledgment for their excellence.
When it comes to cost, Thailand stands as a highly competitive option. Medical procedures often cost 50-75% less than what they would in the United States, Western Europe, or Australia. Though it's hard to give an exact figure due to variations in individual cases, it's safe to say that financial savings are a major pull factor for medical tourists considering Thailand.
For example, a standard hip replacement surgery might cost upwards of $40,000 in the United States but can be as low as $15,000 in Thailand. Likewise, simple dental procedures can cost a fraction of what they would in Western countries, sometimes even below $100, depending on the complexity of the procedure.
Quality & Safety
Medical standards and practices.
Thailand is renowned for its high medical standards, comparable to those in developed Western countries. Many Thai doctors and medical staff have received training in Europe or North America and are fluent in English, ensuring effective communication during consultations and treatments.
Accreditation Systems and Quality Checks
Several Thai hospitals have international accreditations that conform to global standards, although specifics cannot be provided here due to restrictions. These accreditations are testimony to the quality and safety measures in place.
Patient Safety and Rights
Thai hospitals take patient safety seriously. Protocols for hygiene, treatment, and aftercare are rigorously adhered to. Patients have the right to informed consent, confidentiality, and the ability to choose or change their healthcare providers.
Medical Visa Information
Guidelines and requirements.
To undergo medical treatment in Thailand, you'll generally need a medical visa, often termed as an "MT" visa. This visa is generally valid for 60 days and can be extended if necessary.
Duration, Documentation, and Process
To apply, you’ll need a passport with at least six months of remaining validity, recent passport-sized photographs, and a letter from the Thai hospital confirming your planned medical treatment. The approval process typically takes a few days to a week.
Local customs and etiquette.
Thailand is known for its hospitality and friendliness. However, understanding basic Thai etiquette, such as not pointing your feet at people or religious objects, can be beneficial.
Language and Communication
English is widely spoken in medical institutions, though it's not the primary language of the country. Staff in major hospitals usually speak good to excellent English.
Thai cuisine is rich and varied, but hospitals can accommodate a range of dietary restrictions including halal, kosher, and vegetarian diets.
Travel & Accommodation
Popular areas to stay.
Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket are popular cities where top medical facilities are located. Accommodation options range from budget hotels to luxury resorts.
Proximity to Medical Facilities
Most top-rated hospitals and clinics are centrally located and are easily accessible by public transport or taxi.
Recommendations for Relaxation
Thailand is famous for its beaches, mountainous regions, and cultural landmarks, making it ideal for post-procedure relaxation.
Legal & Ethical Considerations
Patients have the right to confidentiality and informed consent. Laws are in place that allows patients to file complaints and receive fair hearings.
Medical Malpractice Laws
Malpractice laws exist but are not as patient-favorable as in some Western countries. Legal recourse is available but can be a lengthy process.
Benefits & Risks
Top-quality healthcare at a fraction of the cost, short waiting times, and a chance to recuperate in a beautiful country are some of the key benefits.
Language barriers outside the hospital environment and differences in legal protections are some risks to be aware of.
Post-operative care in Thailand is of high quality. Many hospitals offer tailored rehabilitation services, often in serene and luxurious settings.
Specialized rehabilitation centers offer services in areas such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy, many of which are located close to major hospitals.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Do Thai doctors speak English? - In major hospitals, yes.
- Is the cost of the flight included in the treatment package? - Generally, no.
- Can I extend my stay for tourism? - Yes, but visa rules must be observed.
- Is Thailand safe? - Generally, Thailand is considered safe for travelers, but general precautions should be taken.
Located on South East Asia’s Indochina Peninsula and known for its tropical beaches, opulent royal palaces, ancient ruins and ornate Buddha temples, the Kingdom of Thailand is a developing destination with a population of approximately 67 million. Its economy is ranked 30th in the world by nominal GDP and has been classified as a newly industrialized destination, thanks to having outpaced other developing nations in a macroeconomic sense. Tourism is a major economic factor in Thailand, as it welcomes more than 25 million people annually. Its pristine beaches and tropical wet climate, along with its weak currency make Thailand an attractive destination for many vacationers looking to extend its visiting time versus what the same amount of money can get them in other destinations. The government oversees the healthcare and medical services, with universal healthcare being provided through three programs that should cover its entire population of citizens and legal residents. The private healthcare sector is also big in Thailand, with many new hospitals and medical facilities taking advantage of the economic conditions and the weak currency in order to attract more medical tourism business.It is interesting to see how Thailand’s scores and ranks in the medical tourism index vary between each other. The destination’s environment factor came back below average, getting only to 27th position, as its outside image, cultural match and the political environment are not helping this pro tourist nation. Of course, Thailand is an attractive destination and an affordable one, too, making the medical and tourism industry factors score well above average, and ranking 6th. Finally the quality of its facilities and services factor ended up scoring above average due to the efforts placed in gaining international certifications for its main facilities and the quality of its medical staff. All in all, the Kingdom of Thailand is becoming a thriving medical tourism destination benefiting from Asia’s growing population looking for cheaper treatments elsewhere but on close distance. It ranks 18th overall out of the 41 nations participating in the Index and can boost its medical tourism business by working on its image as a stable and safe destination (reputations), while also focusing on adapting to the cultural preferences of incoming patients.
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Thailand's climate is tropical with a mean annual temperature of 82°F and high humidity. There are three distinct seasons – the hot season from March to May, the cool season from November to February and the rainy season from about June to October.
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Breakdown of expenditure per foreign medical tourist in Thailand 2019, by category
Breakdown of projected expenditure per trip per international medical tourist in thailand in 2019, by category (in 1,000 thai baht).
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February to June, 2019
15 years and older
among 1,534 foreign tourists who visited Thailand for medical and wellness purposes
The survey was conducted in medical facilities in Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chonburi, Mae Hong Son, Saraburi, and Nhong Kai province, and in Suvarnabhumi Airport, Don Mueang International Airport, and Phuket International Airport. One Thai baht equals 0.033 U.S. dollars and 0.027 euros as of November 2020. The figures have been rounded.
Other statistics on the topic
Cost of a hip replacement in various countries 2019
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Reimagining travel: Thailand tourism after the COVID-19 pandemic
Thailand’s economy is reliant on international tourism, a once-flourishing sector that has been impacted by pandemic restrictions. But there have been continual government efforts to boost domestic travel, and measures to support returning international demand after Thailand began reopening to vaccinated international travelers from 63 countries on November 1, 2021. 1 Pasika Khernamnuoy and Katie Silver, “Thailand reopens to vaccinated tourists from over 60 nations,” BBC, November 1 2021, bbc.com. Even as the world addresses emerging variants of the virus, Thailand’s lessons can act as a guide for other tourism-dependent countries facing similar dilemmas as they prepare for the resurgence of international travel.
A heavy blow, adjustments needed to support recovery
In 2019, Thailand ranked eighth globally in international tourist arrivals, with China being a key source market. 2 United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Thailand recorded a high of 40 million visitors in 2019, with the top three spending categories for inbound visitors that year being in accommodation (28 percent), shopping (24 percent of spending), and food and beverages (21 percent). 3 “Summary of tourism income and expenses from foreign tourists entering Thailand in 2019,” Ministry of Tourism & Sports, October 28, 2020, mots.go.th. Furthermore, the Thai tourism sector created 36 million jobs between 2014 and 2019. 4 “Dashboard SME big data,” Office of Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion, accessed October 2021, sme.go.th.
Unfortunately, the pandemic and related restrictions have hit travel particularly hard, as international travel plunged. Passengers on international flights to Thailand dropped by 95 percent in September 2021, compared to the previous year. Hotels, in turn, only filled 9 percent of their rooms (Exhibit 1).
This decline in visitors had an outsize impact on tourism spending, as international travelers spent significantly more than their local counterparts (Exhibit 2). For instance, in 2019, international travelers made up 33 percent of overall travelers in Thailand yet accounted for almost 60 percent of all tourism spending—international tourists spent $1,543 per traveler on average, compared to $152 by domestic travelers. 5 “Tourism statistics 2019,” Ministry of Tourism & Sports, accessed October 2021, mots.go.th. This drop in expenditure undoubtedly caused a ripple effect on Thailand’s food and beverage retail industries, which include 1.2 million small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). 6 “How to start business,” Office of Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion, accessed October 2021, sme.go.th.
Recovery appears to be on the horizon for Thailand. Assuming virus recurrence, slow long-term growth, muted world recovery, and minimal changes to global tourism strategies, Thailand’s tourism sector could only recover to pre-crisis levels by 2024.
Given that Thailand’s GDP relies significantly on foreign tourism income, the domestic tourism market alone is not sufficient to bring the nation’s tourism revenue back to 2019 figures; the sector’s recovery would depend on a resurgence in international travel (Exhibit 3). Globally, this recovery scenario would likely reshape the landscape of the world’s travel industry and create a strong imperative for both the public and private sectors to act to ensure the industry’s survival.
Efforts to stimulate tourism
Thailand has deployed various efforts to compensate for the loss of inbound tourism. Given that for most of the first quarter of 2020, Thailand saw less than 1,000 daily COVID-19 cases nationwide, with cases not rising above 4,000 until November 2020, domestic tourism was still a viable option for travelers. The Thai government’s attempt to boost domestic travel took the form of providing subsidies for hotel stays and flights for travelers. The government also rolled out measures to stimulate international travel to Thailand’s beach destinations and attract high-end travelers from international markets.
Travel together—stimulating domestic tourism
In August 2020, the Thai government launched the Rao Tiew Duay Gun (We Travel Together) program, where it set aside a budget of $640 million to help boost domestic tourism. 7 “Thailand approves domestic tourism package worth 22.4 billion baht,” Tourism Authority of Thailand Newsroom, June 17, 2020, tatnews.org.
The government subsidized a total of six million nights of hotel accommodation at 40 percent of normal room rates. The subsidy was capped at 3,000 baht ($100) per night for up to five nights. Subsidies for other services, including food, were capped at 600 baht ($20) per room per night. This subsidy was initially limited to facilities outside tourists’ home provinces, but that restriction was lifted in the second phase of the rollout in December 2020. In addition, domestic tourists traveling by air would qualify for a government refund of 40 percent of the ticket price. This was capped at 1,000 baht ($32) per seat, with a quota of 2 million seats.
The program reached its total quota of six million hotel-room nights in February 2021, seven months after its launch. 8 “FPO reveals the money we travel together, 20,000 million,” Bangkok Business News , January 4, 2021, bangkokbiznews.com; “‘We travel together’ the parade has already reserved 6 million rights. But there are still 1.35 million rights left!” Bangkok Business News , February 8, 2021, bangkokbiznews.com. During that time, at least $1 billion had been added to the Thai economy. 9 “NESDB-TAT has not yet knocked on ‘we travel together, phase 3,’” Thai PBS News , March 16, 2021, news.thaipbs.or.th.
Many operators grasped this opportunity, shifted their focus to the domestic market, and attracted local travelers by promoting flights and hotels in collaboration with the We Travel Together campaign. Destinations that once served mainly international visitors welcomed more local travelers, which has helped their economies wade through this difficult period. Many luxury hotels offered deep discounts and attractive promotions to capture the medium- to high-spend domestic-tourist segment.
These efforts to stimulate domestic travel were temporarily paused as COVID-19 cases reached a new high in July 2021. Domestic air travel in and out of red zones, including Bangkok, was banned during July to September 2021 in response to the nation’s effort to control the spread of the Delta variant. 10 “Domestic flight bans in force,” Bangkok Post , July 21, 2021, bangkokpost.com. Phase three of the We Travel Together campaign was paused during the same period, but resumed in October 2021.
Bringing back international travelers with the ‘sandbox’ approach
Despite promotional efforts for domestic travel, Thailand’s total revenue from domestic travel still saw a significant dip. The country’s revenue from domestic travel dropped from $34.5 billion to $15.4 billion in 2020. An increase in domestic spending alone would not compensate for the impact of the pandemic on the Thai economy. The country has largely been dependent on international markets, which represented about $62 billion or 60 percent of total tourism spend in 2019. 11 “Tourism statistics 2019,” Ministry of Tourism & Sports, accessed October 2021, mots.go.th.
In response, Thailand launched the “Phuket Sandbox” in July 2021, an effort to recapture demand from international travelers. The initiative offered fully vaccinated travelers (between 14 days and one year before their travel date) exemption from quarantine, provided they remain in Phuket for at least 14 days before traveling to other parts of Thailand. 12 “General information—Phuket Sandbox,” Tourism Authority of Thailand Newsroom, October 1, 2021, tatnews.org. Additionally, travelers’ stay in Phuket was restricted to accommodation establishments that have been certified by the Safety & Health Administration of the Thai government. Visitors staying in Phuket for less than 14 days were permitted to leave Phuket only if their destination was outside of Thailand.
The model hoped to draw visitors during the year-end season in Asia, Europe, and America—all key origin markets for Thailand. Several other reopening plans followed, including the “Samui Plus” and “Andaman Sandbox” plans. 13 “Samui Plus plan to generate B180m,” Bangkok Post , July 18, 2021, bangkokpost.com; “‘Adaman Sandbox’ next on govt agenda,” Bangkok Post , July 21, 2021, bangkokpost.com. Together, the schemes created a network of reopened destinations, which hoped to position Thailand as an attractive destination for international and domestic travelers alike.
The economic uplift from the Phuket Sandbox were moderate. In the period from July 1 to August 31, Phuket welcomed about 26,400 visitors, who were estimated to have spent at least $48.8 million while staying on the resort island (Exhibit 4). 14 “Phuket Sandbox generates B1,634m in two months,” Bangkok Post , September 5, 2021, bangkokpost.com.
A nationwide rise in COVID-19 infection rates in the same period meant that the government had to reconsider social distancing and other measures to minimize risk to visitors.
In any case, Thailand has gathered its learnings from the “sandbox” approach and proceeded to reopen the country to receive international travelers. As of November 1, 2021, the Thai government commenced a phased reopening of the country, allowing fully vaccinated tourists from 63 low-risk countries to visit with one day of quarantine, provided they pass a COVID-19 test upon arrival. The government has also replaced the slow-paced Certificate of Entry (COE) system with the Thailand Pass System, in an effort to make the documentation process of travelers entering Thailand more efficient than the COE application. 15 “Thailand pass,” ThaiEmbassy.com, accessed on November 1, 2021, thaiembassy.com.
The program also expanded the number of provinces open to international visitors to 17, including major tourism destinations such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Subject to readiness, additional major provinces are expected to reopen from December 2021 onwards. To ensure visitor safety, some COVID-19 measures remain in place, although most businesses have been allowed to reopen and nighttime curfews have been lifted in almost every province. The reopening has welcomed tourists globally, with top visitors coming from Thailand’s key source markets—the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom (Exhibit 5).
Attracting ‘quality’ travelers, with an eye on new markets
Pre-COVID-19, China was one of the main contributors to Thailand’s tourism income, accounting for more than 27 percent of 2019 tourism receipts. 16 “Tourism statistics 2019,” Ministry of Tourism & Sports, accessed October 2021, mots.go.th. Given the current prudent approach of the Chinese government toward international travel, the road of return for Chinese visitors to Thailand will be a long one. China’s international-flight seat capacity and passenger numbers remain down by 95 percent compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, and stringent public-health measures for international travel remain in place. Thailand, therefore, needs to reimagine its strategy and try to capture new sources of international travelers in markets where there are more rapid recoveries of international travel demand.
The situation may change rapidly, particularly in these volatile times; closely monitoring the revival of these top source markets, particularly around the country’s stance towards viral control measures, will help industry players plan their recovery efforts and capture untapped value.
Recognizing these shifting traveler trends, and the resilient nature of premium traveler groups, the Thai government is striving to attract “quality” travelers from these source countries. Measures include revisiting and relaxing certain regulations—such as yachting regulations and taxes on personal belongings and luxury goods—to improve and stimulate the premium travel experience.
Taking this a step further, the Thai government is preparing to launch a long-term residence program to attract foreigners to the country through new Long-Term Resident (LTR) visas (up to ten years), tax and investment incentives, foreigners’ residential property ownership relaxations, and more. The program will target four key personas: the wealthy global citizen, the wealthy retiree, the work-from-Thailand professional, and the high-skilled professional. The country’s ambition is to welcome over one million of these target personas and generate over 1 trillion baht in domestic spending in the next five years, beginning in 2022.
Emerging from the storm: Actions for travel and tourism
Thailand has put innovative measures in place to help its vitally important travel and tourism sector wade through the COVID-19 crisis. As new variants of the coronavirus emerge, health and safety should remain the foremost priority as countries contemplate their travel programs. Once it is safe to do so, there are actions that stakeholders can take to steer into and thrive within the next normal.
Adjust offerings and pricing strategy to meet market needs. Hotels, tour operators, restaurants, and transport providers could look to explore opportunities to offer services and products that meet new travel demands.
Bundle products, such as hotel and flights, offer upselling and cross-selling opportunities as well as a diversified revenue stream.
Travel companies could also devise and deploy targeted pricing strategies to drive long-term loyalty and stickiness for when international travel fully returns. Given the phased reopening of popular provinces in Thailand, and the inclusion of more visitors from select countries on a quarantine-exemption list, travel companies can leverage data on traveler behaviors to set the right prices and conduct targeted campaigns by country of origin and destination.
Explore opportunities within the mass-affluent traveler segment. Focusing on premium travel experiences may be a viable strategy in some markets, but it may have limited impact in Thailand. Given that the top three inbound visitor-spending categories in 2019 were shopping, accommodations, and food, targeting the high-end market would only benefit a small segment of travel companies and would not contribute to the country’s economic recovery across all relevant sectors.
By promoting more differentiated travel experiences and attractions such as ecotourism and cultural tourism, which are naturally location based and sought after by younger mass-affluent travelers, operators could contribute to greater aviation and transportation use in Thailand.
Form partnerships across the travel ecosystem. As a result of the government’s We Travel Together program, which subsidizes travel through a digital redemption mechanism (the Pao Tang app), the country has seen an estimated 30 to 40 million users join and use the platform. 17 Krung Thai Bank equity research, April 2021. This has created an opportunity for domestic consumer data to be collected and analyzed to provide more personalized tourism offerings that consumers are more likely to consider spending on.
Taking this a step further, tour operators, restaurants, and shopping malls might link up, creating a connected ecosystem where a traveler could be strategically engaged through multiple personalized services, products, and loyalty programs along their journeys.
Expand the network of destinations. There is an opportunity to offer travelers a wider variety of destinations in first- and second-tier cities, such as Nakhon Si Thammarat, Chiang Rai, Nakhon Nayok, Ratchaburi, and Loei. These locations have been able to sustain visitor numbers at a relatively low rate of decline, largely due to domestic travelers looking for new places to visit during international travel restrictions.
With a boost in promotion and appropriate infrastructure investment, tourism will not only contribute to the survival of the industry in these cities, but it could also lead to enduring tourist appeal that extends beyond domestic traveler groups, especially with the gradual return of international visitors. For example, the Tourism Authority of Thailand is collaborating with airlines to offer direct flights to alternative second-tier tourism destinations.
Leverage digital to connect, attract, and retain travelers. Travel companies can digitalize the customer journey from check-in through payment, including the provision of maps and information. Traveler preferences can be tracked in real time to design better and more relevant offerings, while digital booking channels can target different customer segments. Digital marketing can also entice visitors to return and to share their experiences on social media.
For instance, the Tourism Council of Thailand is working with Singapore-based IsWhere to deploy a digital-marketing platform for tourism business operators to better connect and engage with a potentially sizeable number of domestic and international travelers; the platform’s prior partnership with a major tech company has enabled it to reach 600 million digital customers worldwide.
Reimagine support needed by industry players. In the short term, industry players would need stimulus, support, and guidance on health and safety policies from the government. In the medium term, small and medium-size players would benefit from the government’s support in adjusting to online travel services and digital marketing, such as a one-stop digital platform to connect industry players with international travelers.
As such, the Tourism Authority of Thailand announced its plan to establish a private digital firm to work on creating a digital infrastructure for tourism, utilize big data in the industry, and potentially introduce blockchain-based e-vouchers and nonfungible tokens to provide tourism operators with more options for reaching travelers online and offline.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism recovery in Thailand will be gradual and complex and requires varied strategies from both industry and government. As the world eagerly prepares for the eventual revival of international travel, Thailand and other countries can draw important lessons from its experience during this difficult interim period.
Steve Saxon is a partner in McKinsey’s Shenzhen office; Jan Sodprasert is a partner in the Bangkok office, where Voramon Sucharitakul is an associate partner.
The authors wish to thank Margaux Constantin , Kamila Dolinska, Steffen Köpke, Alan Laichareonsup, Jason Li, Georgie Songsantiphap, and Jackey Yu for their contributions to this article.
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