Top Thai hospital bets on tourists to counter Covid-19 revenue dip

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) – Bangkok Dusit Medical Services, Thailand’s biggest private hospital operator, expects a rebound in international patient arrivals to make up for an expected decline in revenue from Covid-19 treatment and services.

Foreign patients seeking treatment at Bangkok Dusit’s 53 hospitals in the Thai capital and other tourist hotspots have reached about 90 per cent of the pre-pandemic level, chief executive Officer Poramaporn Prasarttong-Osoth said.

The recovery in fly-in patients are led by those from the Middle East, Australia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. But a slower-than-expected return of European tourists may still weigh on earnings in the second half, especially of hospitals in places such as Phuket, Koh Samui and Pattaya, as they serve visitors from the region, she said.

Thailand aims to attract more foreign visitors in the post-Covid era by positioning itself as a medical tourism hub by showcasing its relative success in handling the pandemic.

The country has seen a better-than-expected recovery in tourist arrivals after the government last month scrapped most of the restrictions on travel and businesses. “The return of overseas patients has provided some support to our earnings, even as the improving outbreak cuts Covid-related service revenue,” Dr Poramaporn said in an interview last week. “Still, we are cautious about the outlook with the global economic slowdown especially in Europe from where travellers are returning much slower than other regions.”

Bangkok Dusit reported a 23 per cent decline in second-quarter net income from the previous quarter after the government suspended Covid-19 service payment to private hospitals, with most patients resorting to home isolation.

But the share of revenue from foreign patients rose to 24 per cent, up from 22 per cent in the January-March period and 19 per cent a year earlier, according to a company statement.

Thailand will downgrade Covid-19 from a “dangerous” communicable disease to one that only “needs monitoring” starting September, as the severity of infections and deaths ease. It will also permit an extended length of stay for foreign tourists between October and March to bolster an economic recovery.

Bangkok Dusit is betting big on wellness tourism. In May, it unveiled a plan to set up a wellness centre in central Bangkok at an estimated investment of 23.5 billion baht (S$900 million).

Wellness services will be the main revenue growth driver over the next decade, Dr Poramaporn said.