Aussie Tourism Should Tap Into Medical Market

Cairns September 4, 2009

Australia should capitalize on the multi-billion dollar South-East Asian and American health tourism markets and open up the country to a new, big-spending type of traveler, a conference has been told.

Thursday’s Australian Export Council’s (ATEC) conference heard from international medical tourism entrepreneurs who said Australia could easily become the largest destination for medical tourists out of South-East Asia and a beacon for sick Americans thanks to its top health care, Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported Friday.
Medical tourism guru Wei Siang Yu, from Fly Free for Health, said people often sought up to six medical opinions in person and online ahead of treatment for diseases like cancer and pediatric services in South-East Asian countries, where residents did not trust their country’s health care.

Dr Wei said countries like India, Singapore and Thailand had spawned lucrative health tourism industries to service an estimated $180 billion worldwide market – US$12 billion of which made up the largest market of South-East Asia.

But tourists would choose Australia over others in the region if given the chance, opening up the country to a whole new tourism market, he said. “Doctor shopping is a very normal phenomenon in Asia,” he told attendees in Cairns.

“Their whole psyche is, ‘I want the best, money is not a problem’.” “In Vietnam people will sell their house then go to Singapore for a cancer treatment, so money is not really an issue.”

Springboard Vacation president Ruth Grau, whose company provides medical travel for Americans into New Zealand and soon into Australia, said the US market, was desperate for good health care and Australia was perfectly placed to capitalize. She said medical bills in the US were astronomical, with 50 million people uninsured and 62 per cent of bankruptcies due to medical debt. “These are people desperate for good health care,” she said. “So the potential is huge out of the United States.”

Australia also had medical indemnity and consumer protection that was “sorely lacking” in other major players in health tourism, the medical entrepreneur and Matrix Health managing director Pramodh Nathaniel said.

“The integrity of what we do separates us,” Dr Nathaniel said. He said many worried about Australia’s capacity to cope with such an industry. “And I can unequivocally say we have plenty of surplus capacity in our system,” he said. “… We’re not looking at bringing five million new people into Australia tomorrow and capacity will increase with the success of the programme.”

Attendees heard “medical butlers” such as nurses could be trained to coordinate patients, picking them up from their airport, checking them into clinics, keeping tabs on their recovery and booking hotels and tours. Speakers said medical tourists did not travel alone so the key was to take a multi-faceted approach to customers who may come with a wife who wanted to shop for jewelry, or a child who wanted to go scuba diving while here.

ATEC managing director Matt Hingerty said health and wellness tourism was an untapped sector, not a niche, and the tourism industry “desperately” needed this visionary thinking.