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Radical surgery turning Thai travel sector into medical tourism hub

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No industry crashed harder than tourism during the Covid-19 pandemic when the engine powering about 12 percent of Thai GDP was shut down by travel bans and lockdowns.

Now, the government has turned to medical tourism to lure back international tourists and spark another travel boom that lifts the Kingdom into post-Covid prosperity.

Thailand abandoned its Test & Go" quarantine protocol on May 1, enabling vaccinated travelers to enter freely and opening the door for a travel-starved world. Tourism officials expect to see 7-10 million international foreign arrivals in total this year as restrictions ease.

However, that figure is still only a quarter of the 40 million tourists Thailand received before the pandemic in 2019. With the economy desperately in need of a booster shot, authorities are gambling on medical tourism – powered by blockchain – to restore Thailand’s battered travel-and-hospitality industry to health.

Leading this effort is the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), whose graduate schools serve economic and social development.

On May 27, NIDA’s Graduate School of Management laid out the opportunities and obstacles to building a medical tourism blockchain platform in Thailand.

NIDA is convinced that fast-advancing blockchain technology is the key to rapid tourism recovery and turning the country into medical treatment destination.

“Thailand's long tradition of hospitality, gorgeous scenery and rich cultural history all contribute to the country's appeal,” noted Assoc Professor Danuvasin Charoen, Director of NIDA’s Centre for Business Innovation. “In the healthcare industry, we have tremendous potential. As a result, we should work to establish ourselves as a medical tourism hub,” he added.

NIDA is spearheading development of the hub by building an online platform that offers tourists easy-to-access medical and travel information.

Thai tourism chiefs have welcomed the focus on technology as a way of boosting the Kingdom’s post-Covid tourism appeal.

"Tourist behaviour has changed recently due to Covid, so businesses must adapt to the post-pandemic market by using technology to meet the wide variety of demands,” according to Association of Thai Tourism Marketing president Kitti Pornsiwakit.

Assoc Professor Danuvasin Charoen, director of NIDA’s Centre for Business Innovation

The challenge now is to create a platform with travel operators that answers both the tourism and medical needs of international travellers.

This is where blockchain will play a crucial role.

“Blockchain-powered platforms allow doctors to create profiles of international patients without the help of major hospitals,” said Dr Akkawit Hannawachok, a specialist in travel medicine. Medical tourists can use these platforms to consult doctors directly. “These channels will be used in the future to collect [patient] information and track their treatment,” Dr Akkawit added.

Blockchain technology can provide centralised data on each patient’s treatment in the past, present, and future, he added.

Dr Akkawit Hannawachok, a specialist in travel medicine

Published : June 13, 2022

By : Varunsuda Karunayadhaj