Thailand’s Arab district now a wasteland amid Covid-19 downturn leaving medical tourism struggling


The once-bustling Arab district of Bangkok has become a wasteland after Covid-19 killed tourism – with the downturn also hurting medical tourism.

Hundreds of visitors from the Middle East would arrive every hour before the pandemic, many of them staying in the lower Sukhumvit Road area of the Thai capital for low-price medical tourism.

Nearby private hospitals benefited from the medical tourism arrivals and profits soared. However, restrictions imposed in March last year early on in the pandemic prevented tourists from visiting the South East Asian country.

The ‘Little Arabia’ area of Bangkok, also known as ‘Soi Arab’, is now deserted with hotels closed, restaurants closed, shops empty and rubbish strewn across the narrow streets.

Bumrungrad Hospital, one of the country’s top hospitals for international tourists, is now quieter than it has ever been. The company reported that patient numbers had plunged, resulting in a 67.9 per cent drop in profits in 2020 compared with the previous year.

Medical tourism bookings dropped by 89 per cent around the world last April following the covid-19 outbreak rising, according to travel agency Medical Departures.

Thailand’s Krungsri Bank forecasts that it will be up to three years before tourism returns to its pre-pandemic levels. The country has recorded a relatively low 24,961 Covid-19 infections and 82 deaths as of February 18 but the impact on the tourism-dependent economy has been devastating.