Tapping into medical tourism to nurse back hospitality sector

GEORGE TOWN: Medical tourism has become the shining light, helping to fuel the resurgence of hospitality as the country slowly recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic amid an uncertain global outlook.

Tourism players in Penang are betting on it to banish any risk of inflation.

Instead of a leisurely agenda, health travelers — particularly from Indonesia — come to Penang to soothe their ailments.

Tony Goh, chairman of the Malaysia Hotel Association (MAH) in Penang, said this has contributed greatly to hotel occupancy, particularly city hotels.

Goh hoped Penang’s strong hospitality restart would offset any recession risk over the next year.

He said the first quarter of the year was slow and revenue for hotels rose from May to July.

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“Overall things have been going very well now and the last quarter should be better.

“We do receive some tourists from the UK and Middle East countries, but the majority of our guests are now locals and healthcare travellers,” he said.

MAH national vice-president Datuk Khoo Boo Lim said the flow of tourists from China during the pre-pandemic period is still lacking.

“We sense their absence. Travelers from China flock to Penang for the food and to experience the contrasts in Chinese cultural practices here.

“We hope that the Chinese government will relax its rules soon because Malaysians also like to travel to China, so there are two advantages,” Khoo said.

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China has a zero Covid-19 policy and still has strict rules on cross-border travel.

As a further buffer against the risk of recession, the state government is aiming to publish a Penang edition of the Michelin Guide to give Penang’s gastro-tourism scene a global glow.

“Michelin recognition will bring more visitors to Penang to try the culinary experience,” said State Tourism Committee Chairman Yeoh Soon Hin after Greece recently signed an agreement with the Michelin Guide.

With such a prospect, undercover Michelin inspectors would visit Penang’s food and drink establishments, from street vendors to fancy restaurants.

These inspectors maintain such a high level of anonymity that they are barred from revealing their work to family and friends, speaking to journalists, and barred from revealing their identities to the media.

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In meetings, they distill their reports and award various rankings – one to three stars, the Bib Gourmand rating for “particularly good food at moderate prices”, the plate symbol for restaurants that “simply eat well” and the green star for sustainable Gastronomy.

Since 1900 there have been editions of the Michelin Guide for countries, regions and cities around the world.

The Singapore edition, published in 2017, lists 30 one-star, seven two-star, and one three-star food establishments.

Yeoh said more and more tourists are looking for destinations with a strong gastronomic presence.


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