Malaysia will promote its medical services in Cambodia competing head-on with Thailand’s top hospitals.

Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council chief executive, Mary Wong Lai Lin, said Malaysia has identified Cambodia as an emerging market for medical tourism.

“The council will build awareness and showcase Malaysia to Cambodians to increase medical tourism visits.”

She added: “Singapore and Thailand are conduction promotional activities in Cambodia. We only go to Cambodia once a year so that is not sufficient to create awareness in Cambodia.”

Malaysian hospital fees are 25% below the United States, although Thailand is slightly lower at 30% off the same benchmark, Singapore 35% and India 20%, she cited.

“Malaysia is not the cheapest in the world, but it is very affordable when compared with the US benchmark.”

Malaysia received about 392,00 healthcare travellers in 2010 and that has grown since to 671,000 in 2012.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents president, Ang Kim Eang, said Malaysia was becoming a popular tourism destination for Cambodian people. The nearest tourism office is in Bangkok, but promotions in Cambodia are conducted directly by the Malaysia Tourism head office in Kuala Lumpur.

“Actually, about 50,000 Cambodians visit Malaysia annually and some of them go for a medical check-ups,” the CATA president explained.

“Now, the Malaysian government sees the need to promote this travel segment, I definitely think more people will go there for medical treatment as it competitive with price in Singapore and Thailand.”

Thailand is a leader in medical tourism based on an early entry into the Middle East market. It was ahead of its ASEAN competitors and has developed a lucrative medical tourism business that originates from within the region. For example, Myanmar is the second largest supplier of medical tourism to Thailand after the Gulf (GCC) countries. Nepal is another strong supplier for Thailand hospitals.

Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health wants to increase the business by 10% per year. The government also aims to generate revenue of Bt121,658 million and expand on the existing 2 million foreign patients who were treated at Thailand’s hospitals in 2012. Approximately, 60% were pre-arranged medical trips.

To boost business, a medical visa for tourists will be extended from 30 days to 90 days and will allow four accompanying persons to travel with the patient under the same visa conditions. The visa is being issued only to citizens of the six of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. However, it will also be extended to Scandinavians shortly.

According to the ministry, there were over 2 million medical tourists who sought treatment in Thailand during 2012.