INTHEBLACK December 2020 - Magazine - Page 42
F E AT U R E
// T O U R I S M I N D U S T RY
Left: Tourists take a
selfie at Erawan Shrine, a
popular spiritual landmark
in Bangkok, Thailand,
in early 2020.
Hosier Lane, which is
usually bustling with
graffiti by local artists, has
remained largely empty
amid prolonged lockdown
restrictions in the city.
Marsh’s clients include Great Barrier Reef
tour operators, accommodation sites and car
hire businesses. She says tourism numbers lifted
from close to zero in April to about 10 per cent
of normal figures in June. When the second
wave of infections hit the state of Victoria, the
Queensland border was swiftly slammed shut,
and Marsh’s clients experienced another
overnight decrease in business.
“Shutting the border pretty much cut the
tourism numbers back to nothing,” she says.
Along with assisting clients with compliance
obligations and providing a sounding board
for their business concerns, Marsh has been
helping them navigate the federal government’s
JobKeeper stimulus package, with Cairns
recording the highest number of JobKeeper
recipients in Queensland.
“Most of my clients are holding out to see what
happens when the stimulus package stops,” she
says. “Things are changing from month to month,
and the uncertainty is making it so tough.”
PULSE CHECK FOR MEDICAL TOURISM
The pandemic has also put the breaks on a
promising emerging branch of tourism, important
to developing countries such as Malaysia.
Prior to the pandemic, the global medical
tourism sector was predicted to generate
42 ITB December 2020
“AS AN INDUSTRY,
WE CAN’T BE
IGNORANT OF THE
THAT IS NOW ON
AND THAT’S NOT
A GOOD DRIVER
US$28 billion (A$38 billion) by 2024, as people
travelled to undergo treatment in locations where
medical procedures were more affordable or of a
In Malaysia, the medical tourism sector
recorded a compound annual growth rate of
16 per cent to 17 per cent over the past five
years. This is well ahead of the global average
of 10 per cent to 12 per cent and Asia-Pacific’s
average of 12 per cent to 14 per cent.
Its growth has been fuelled by the relative
affordability of medical procedures and the high
quality of healthcare facilities and services in
the multilingual nation. There has also been a
government policy push to promote the country as
a medical tourism destination under the “Malaysia
In 2018, Malaysia attracted 1.2 million medical
tourists, who underwent procedures ranging from
knee reconstructions to heart surgery. Indonesia,
the UK, India, the Philippines, China, Singapore,
Australia, Japan and the US were among the main
sources of medical tourism arrivals in the country,
generating revenue of approximately US$362
million (A$495 million).
Peter Hong FCPA, managing director of
Ramsay Sime Darby Healthcare, which operates
six hospitals in Malaysia and Indonesia, says
that the Malaysian Government is aiming
to, where possible, boost medical tourism
during the pandemic.
“As of 1 July, we started to open a small door
for people with a chronic condition who could fly
into Malaysia,” he says. “But, even still, they will be
quarantined for 14 days. Even local patients must
do a COVID-19 test, primarily because we want to
protect our doctors. If a doctor gets sick, the whole
team is down and, in smaller hospitals, we don’t
have that many teams.”
With only a slim opportunity for international
medical tourists to get into the country, Hong
says that Malaysian hospitals are focusing on local
“Our flagship hospital, Subang Jaya Medical Centre,
for example, has pretty much recovered to where
we were a year ago, because it is known for treating
chronic illness,” he says.
“While people will wait for elective surgeries,
they won’t wait if it’s life-saving.”
HOPE ON THE HORIZON?
With no vaccine yet available for COVID-19, and
second and third waves of the virus emerging in
to this story as
countries across the globe, the travel industry may
never be the same again. However, Simon Westaway,
executive director of the Australian Tourism Industry
Council, says “green shoots are emerging”, which
presents hope for the industry’s long-term viability.
“Parts of the country that have lower restrictions are
seeing some opportunities for bounce-back, although
it’s probably about 50 per cent, at the most, off what it
was like before COVID-19,” he says.
“Daytrip travel has increased where restrictions
have been eased, and that was certainly the case
in Victoria before it was locked down for the
“The challenge is that Victorians are overrepresented in most [domestic] travel markets,”
adds Westaway. “If you start locking Melbourne –
and Sydney – out of your market, it’s going to make
a significant impact over time.”
Westaway is confident, however, that as restrictions
ease, people will travel.
“There is no question about it,” he says. “We’ve
all been cooped up – psychologically and physically.
“Having said that, as an industry, we can’t be
ignorant of the financial impost that is now on
households. Australians are struggling financially,
and that’s not a good driver for travel.”