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Chiang Mai to target Healthcare Tourism

Travel News Asia 15 June 2004

Thailands northern province of Chiang Mai is stepping up efforts to get its fair share of the market in the booming travel healthcare industry.

Promotional plans now being formulated stress drawing upon the strong traditions of North Thailands unique culture, local wisdom and knowledge to bolster the spas and health treatments which are estimated to have a total business potential of 2.4 billion baht a year.

In order to capitalise on the trend for more prevention and less cure, the plan stresses greater use of non-chemical herbal products and supplementary food made by local people, all certified by experts to ensure that they meet international standards.

The promotion plan is in line with the governments policy to boost Chiang Mai as a centre for travel and tourism and aviation throughout North Thailand and the Greater Mekong Subregion.

In addition to its high-quality, low cost medical, dental and therapeutic services, Chiang Mai is becoming increasingly well known for its medical check-up and spa facilities.

Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Deputy Governor for International Marketing, Mrs. Phornsiri Manoharn said, Healthcare tourism is an important aspect of the TATs international marketing plan which has a significant focus on niche markets like medical check-ups and spa.

She said TAT is assisting the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Commerce to implement a national strategy to develop Thailand's strong potential in the field of health and wellness. Destinations targeted for the 'blitz' plan are Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Samui.

As the Thai Spa concept takes root worldwide, it is anticipated to lead to an increase in demand for Thai herbal products like herbal teas, food supplements, cosmetics and beauty products as well, added Mrs. Phornsiri.

Chiang Mai has about 10 private hospitals with a total of 2,250 beds and 700 doctors. The hospitals are estimated to be operating at only 50% capacity overall. The city has 77 dental clinics which in 2003 had combined revenues of about 420 million baht.

Chiang Mai also has more than 30 spas which generate an estimated annual revenue of about 300 million baht. It is also becoming a centre for traditional massage, with more than 100 massage centres employing more than 1,000 workers and a combined annual revenue estimated at 500-600 million baht.

According to Chiang Mai Provincial Public Health Department Deputy Chief, Dr. Paisarn Thanyawinitkul, We are working with the private sector and TAT to come up with packages offering health check-up programmes, spa treatment, and Thai massage.

He said that as these products develop, the Ministry of Public Health will have a critical role to play in ensuring delivery of high standards of service and care.

We have set up guidelines and measures for the private sector in order to build these standards, create new business for the province, generate income, develop human resources and add value to local herbal products, Dr. Paisan said.

Manufacturers of herbal medicine in Chiang Mai and the surrounding region also have set up a group to raise the quality of locally-made products to global standards.

The health office is planning to establish the strengths of each of the Chiang Mai hospitals, and then develop them to attract target markets from the neighbouring  countries and South Asia, as part of the short-term promotion plan. This will later be expanded to include more international markets as the facilities and human resources capabilities improve.

Dr. Paisan said the public health office also has announced new measures for standard spas, to be effective July 11, 2004. The measures are divided into five categories and designed to regulate the location, operator, service provider, service and safety.

Spa operators in Chiang Mai are being encouraged to register at the Chiang Mai Provincial Public Health Office, or contact Tel. 0 5389 4792-19 Ext. 125, 225, during office hours, or the Thai Lanna Spa Association at Tel. 0 5385 4778, for further information.

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