Medical tourism helping to drive Singapore’s retail growth

Singapore attracts premium regional medical tourists with high spending power, boding well for the retail real estate market.

September 09, 2022

The long-awaited return of medical tourists provides another source of external demand, alongside leisure and business travellers, driving Singapore’s retail market recovery.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 500,000 foreign patients visited Singapore annually for medical treatment, according to Yusof Ishak Institute Singapore. They largely stopped entering Singapore when the borders were closed to short-term visitors effective 23 March 2020 due to the pandemic.

With the reopening of many international borders, medical tourists are again seeking treatment overseas due to a disparity in healthcare quality or limited healthcare capacity in their home countries, where healthcare resources may have been prioritised to contain the pandemic over the treatment of other health conditions.

Singapore’s retail market will benefit from renewed medical tourism, considering foreign patients are often accompanied by family members, and their pent-up demand for travel and spending.

The high spending power of premium regional medical tourists

Singapore is well known in Asia for its premium, high-quality, comprehensive healthcare services, ranging from health screenings to surgery, with well-trained medical specialists and cutting-edge facilities. The Medical Tourism Association ranked Singapore second place overall in the 2020-2021 Medical Tourism Index and first for the quality of healthcare facilities and services. 

Singapore attracts premium regional medical tourists prioritising high-quality healthcare treatment services over costs. Additionally, these visitors’ high disposable income and spending power bode well for Singapore’s upper-end retail market recovery.

Travel-friendly protocols and perceptions of safety make Singapore an easy choice

The introduction of quarantine-free and test-free entry into Singapore for all fully vaccinated travellers and the introduction of quarantine-free entry into Singapore for non-fully vaccinated travellers reduce the friction in travelling here for medical treatment.

Singapore enhanced its global reputation by handling the pandemic especially well compared to most developed economies. Subsequently, Singapore’s pragmatic, cautious and effective approach to living with the pandemic offers patients assurance of low infection risks and makes it an easy choice for travellers’ first post-pandemic overseas vacations.

Indeed, healthcare providers are seeing notably more foreign patients (from Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, India, Vietnam and Laos) coming to Singapore for treatment following the introduction of travel-friendly protocols on 1 April 2022[1]. The pent-up demand of returning foreign patients already familiar with Singapore, accompanied by family members, will support retail sales growth.

New tourism offerings to extend the length of stay and increase spending

The availability of premium shopping destinations alongside new and refreshed tourist attractions that offer unique experiences for patients and/or accompanying family members should extend the length of their stay and increase spending in Singapore. These offerings include fitness and wellness packages to promote holistic wellbeing in urban living, the upcoming indoor setting at Somerset offering live performances in the Orchard Road shopping belt, and an action sports facility in Somerset (2023).

The return of medical tourists should support not only the recovery of the tourism and retail industries in Singapore but also the recovery of the retail real estate market.