Halal Industry

Healthy growth of Muslim-friendly medical tourism

| 13 July, 2016 | General
 Reem El Shafaki, Senior Associate, DinarStandard
Healthy growth of Muslim-friendly medical tourism
Photo: Bangkok Hospital, Thailand. The hospital opened its Arabic Medical Services (AMS) in 2006 / By <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4653388" target="_blank">BDMS - Own work, Public Domain</a>

Countries such as India, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand now offer healthcare facilities that accommodate the needs of Muslim guests. How can new destinations follow suit?


Scenario: You head the DMO for a country that offers high quality affordable healthcare.

Are there opportunities in medical tourism targeting Muslims?

What is the size and growth of the global medical tourism market?
What are some examples of medical tourism offerings?
What is required to succeed in offering Muslim-friendly medical tourism?


Put simply, medical tourism is when individuals travel to another country for medical treatment. Health tourism is a broader term that also covers wellness, and includes spa treatments and yoga retreats.

The global medical tourism market was worth between $50 billion to $65 billion in 2014, according to researchers Frost & Sullivan, and is growing at approximately 20 percent per annum, which implies upwards of a $60 billion market in 2015.

The top five global medical tourist destinations based on the Frost & Sullivan report are Thailand, Hungary, India, Singapore, and Malaysia. Some of these destinations also specifically target Muslim medical tourists.


Tourism service providers worldwide are actively seeking to address Muslim tourist needs, given that Muslims accounted for 11 percent of global outbound tourism spend in 2014, according to the State of the Global Islamic Economy 2015/16 report.

In terms of Muslim-friendly destinations, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are among the leaders. “Both Thailand and Singapore had a good headstart over Malaysia. They have been promoting medical tourism some good 15 – 18 years whilst Malaysia only started promoting our medical tourism with the set-up of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) since 2011,” Rafeah Ariffin, Senior General Manager at KPJ Healthcare in Malaysia, told Salaam Gateway.


Over the last few years, medical tourism has been one of Malaysia’s fastest growing industries, recording an average year-on-year growth of around 15 percent over the last five years, according to Sherine Azli, CEO of the MHTC.

“Malaysia saw over 850,000 health travelers arrive on our shores seeking healthcare services in 2015,” said Azli.

KPJ Healthcare Berhad is a private healthcare service provider in Malaysia that offers treatment and surgeries in different areas such as cardiac, orthopaedic, oncology, cosmetic and reconstructive.

The hospital provides a full range of Muslim-friendly services including a prayer room, and broadcasting the call to prayer, funeral preparation if required, and halal food is served to patients and is available in the cafeteria. The hospital also accommodates requests for female doctors and caregivers to attend to female patients.


Thailand is popular with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) visitors for its medical services, and many hospitals strive to accommodate the religious and cultural needs of Arab patients.

Bangkok Hospital launched an Arabic Medical Services wing n 2006. They provide Arabic-speaking staff in addition to halal food and prayer facilities.

Thai Halal Tour is a Muslim-focused tour operator based in Bangkok that offers health check-up packaged tours. Their tours combine sightseeing, shopping trips and health check-ups at one of three hospitals in the capital city. As part of the package, the company provides halal meals and can arrange for Arabic-speaking tour guides.


According to a report by the Delhi Chamber of Commerce, India’s medical tourism market is expected to reach $6 billion by 2018.

75 percent of India’s medical tourists are from Muslim countries, according to Halal India, one of the country's main halal certifiers, on its website. It is therefore no surprise that there is a high number of halal-certified hospitals in the country that accommodate the needs of Muslim patients.

Global Health City Chennai is the first hospital in India to receive a halal certification. They provide halal food for their patients, have a dedicated prayer hall and indicate the qibla direction in the hospital rooms, as well as broadcast the call to prayers. They are also respectful of the privacy of female patients. The hospital provides Arabic television channels and Arabic-speaking staff for the convenience of their Arab patients.  


The following are important factors for a destination to consider when offering medical tourism:

  1. Provide the basic needs of Muslim patients
  2. The core Muslim-friendly services required from hospitals are as follows:
  3. Halal food
  4. Qibla direction and Quran in rooms
  5. Prayer room for visitors
  6. Provide doctors and nurses that are the same gender as the patient
  7. Provide halal medications when available ( such as porcine-free gelatine capsules for medication, non-porcine insulin)
  8. Provide funeral services according to Islamic requirements (if required)

Accommodate accompanying family members

Muslim medical patients usually travel with family members so it is important to offer accommodation that is suitable for families.

“(Muslim travellers) prefer to locate themselves in an apartment rather than a hotel, so they can continue with their daily rituals such as cooking, cleaning and Muslim lifestyle and religious practices. This way they will have some savings in their expenses as they prefer to also tour and go for holidays after the treatment is completed,” said KPJ Healthcare’s Ariffin..

Incorporate tours as part of the package

Travel companies could partner with hospitals to provide tourism packages that include a basic medical procedure or check-up, along with sightseeing and shopping tours.

Develop a unique medical tourism brand

The success of any destination in medical tourism is not only dependent on the perception of the quality of medical care in the country, but also builds on the general perception of the destination from a tourism perspective.

“Thailand has branded itself as a service-oriented holiday destination of fun, sun and great food. Medical tourism is just another extension to the great holiday with great service. India branded itself as affordable/cheap medical tourism.Singapore branded its medical tourism as expensive [and addressing] hard cases,” said Ariffin.

Encourage hospitals to become halal-certified and ensure they accommodate the core needs of Muslim patients and their families: Hospitals should follow clearly-defined guidelines that accommodate the religious needs of Muslim patients and accompanying family members.
Combine healthcare services and sightseeing in medical tourism packages: Encourage travel companies to provide packages that include both healthcare and tourism-related features.
Develop a unique brand: Identify your destination’s unique positioning in terms of its healthcare services, how it accommodates Muslim needs, and what it has to offer as a tourist destination, and build a clear brand identity.

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