HEALTHY GROWTH

Malaysia 2017 | HEALTH | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sherene Azli, CEO of the Malaysia Health Travel Council (MHTC), on tapping into growing markets from around the world, creating medical hubs across the country, and goals for the future.

Sherene Azli
BIOGRAPHY
Sherene Azli spearheads the MHTC, an agency under the Ministry of Health Malaysia, as its CEO. She has been entrusted with the task of leading the agency in its mission to coordinate and facilitate the development of healthcare travel within the country, to promote global awareness of the Malaysian healthcare industry, and to position Malaysia as the preferred destination for world-class healthcare services. She holds an MBA from the University of Durham in the UK and a bachelor’s of business studies in accounting and finance from the University of Limerick in Ireland.

Do you anticipate growth to continue to come from Indonesia or do you also tap into new markets?

In becoming a regional destination, we cannot rely on just one country, despite the fact that typically about 60% of all medical travelers come from Indonesia. Indonesia has itself embarked on a path for national health insurance and we should therefore grow other markets such as the Middle East and CIS countries, as well as China, Bangladesh, Australia, and New Zealand. In each of these countries, we focus on offering niche treatments whereas in Indonesia we offer all treatments. Singapore is another country where we believe we can grow, as medical costs there are sky high. On top of that we have medical travelers from the UK, Japan, Korea, India, and the US; however, these are often expats working in the region. We have offices abroad in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Dhaka, Jakarta, Hong Kong, and Yangon and also look to set up in the Middle East, most likely in Saudi Arabia or the UAE. In healthcare, trust is important and therefore our physical presence overseas is necessary. In terms of numbers, we had 850,000 medical travelers in 2015, and we target 1 million for 2016. Total revenue in 2015 was more than MYR900 million, and for 2016, we target MYR1.3 billion. We want to drive the industry forward and aim high to push our boundaries.

How will the medical corridors of Penang, Johor, and Malacca drive the industry forward?

Penang has been a destination for medical travelers for many decades and is ahead in terms of promotion. The state is responsible for 50% to 60% of the total number of medical travelers coming into Malaysia; half of the patients in Penang hospitals are medical tourists. Penang has the whole ecosystem in place: excellent hospitals, an end-to-end service, and an active medical tourism association. We can learn from Penang and want to create similar hubs in other states. Malacca has experience with tourism influx. There is the Mahkota Medical Centre, which has been attracting medical travelers for some years. Malacca also has The Orchard, a unique hotel that provides preventive and recuperative healthcare and wellness treatments. These elements together give Malacca a strong value proposition for medical tourism. Johor Bahru is also a natural destination because of its proximity to Singapore and Indonesia. Our challenge in Johor was that we did not have hospitals with capacity previously. In the recent years, we have seen significant developments there, particularly with the opening of Gleneagles Medini and the growth of the Regency and KPJ hospitals. In general, when we choose areas to promote, we look at availability, existing hospitals and their capacity, and the overall tourism infrastructure. Our next destination would be Sabah and Sarawak, starting with Kota Kinabalu, where there is a strong appeal from China, Australia, and New Zealand.

What is your opinion of the growth of the medical equipment industry?

Medical equipment is indeed one of the fastest growing industries in Malaysia. Both medical devices and consumables, such as rubber gloves, are major contributors to the sustainability of the health sector at large. The fact that these goods are produced locally has a spillover effect in that our medical centers do not need to import them, which supports affordability factor. The industry is not under our mandate; however, when we travel abroad to promote our healthcare, we often discover potential new markets and collaborations for this industry.

What are your goals for this year?

We continue to drive promotion to become the number one medical travel destination in the region. The immediate objective here is to create awareness. We want to become the top-of-mind medical travel destination by 2020. We also want to increase our global presence in all of our target markets. By 2020, we want total revenues of MYR4 billion in the sector as a whole, including the wellness and preventative healthcare, alternative healthcare, and traditional Chinese medicine.