Malaysia Healthcare Chronicles

Commentary on Healthcare Travel

For over a year, the pandemic has seen adverse effects on tourism – be it for leisure, business, or healthcare. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reported that global tourism suffered its worst year on record in 2020, with international arrivals dropping by 74% and an estimated loss of USD 1.3 trillion in export revenues – more than 11 times the loss recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis.

With over 44 per cent of the world population having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and over 6.13 billion doses administered globally (as of 30 September according to Our World in Data), several countries have begun to ease travel restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals. Among the regional tourism recovery plans include the Phuket Sandbox, the anticipated reopening of Phu Quoc and Bali Islands, and India’s announcement of giving away 500,000 free tourist visas.

On the local front, Malaysia has allowed for a controlled domestic travel bubble for fully vaccinated individuals to spur its tourism recovery plan, with Langkawi Island as the pilot destination. The Langkawi Travel Bubble came into effect on 16 September, recording over 9,500 tourist arrivals. The success has given hope for a domestic tourism rebound and a boost to the economy, with similar reopenings of other tourism sites anticipated in October, such as Tioman Island and Genting Highlands, said the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Datuk Seri Nancy Shukry recently.

Other than the Langkawi Travel Bubble, Malaysia’s borders remain closed and inter-state travel is not yet allowed for tourism purposes. In the state of Melaka, industry players are urging for a healthcare travel bubble to be given focus as a potential lifeline for the state. The implementation of a healthcare travel bubble, they opinionated, can help revive and boost the tourism and health sectors in Melaka. This opportunity could provide main tourism states that have been hit hard by the pandemic, such as Melaka and Penang, a steppingstone for boosting healthcare travel, especially as the nation progresses towards fully inoculating the population and living in an endemic.

With the tourism industry slowly showing signs of recovery, stakeholders in the healthcare travel industry will need to arm themselves in preparation for the return of healthcare travellers (both domestically and internationally) to ensure that patient safety is continuously upheld. In a recent interview with BERNAMA, Mohd Daud Mohd Arif (Chief Executive Officer of Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council) stressed that cross collaboration with tourism stakeholders and our industry networks abroad is crucial in accelerating not only industry recovery, but also the nation’s healthcare landscape to move forward.

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