S'pore pricing itself out of retail, medical tourism

The problems facing the retail sector and the dearth of foreign patients for certain complex operations ("Making Singapore a great retail destination again" and "Why we must have foreign patients"; both published on July 22) share a common factor: costs.

In the 70s and 80s, Singapore had regular double-digit annual tourist growth because we were unique, cheap and safe, offering an eclectic mix of the exotic and the esoteric, facilitated by our good location.

Similarly,we attracted foreign medical tourists with a winning combination of excellent medical care at bargain rates compared to established institutes in the West.

Our advantages evanesced as soon as we moved the shopping experience into vast and faceless malls and mall operators started to charge exorbitant rents, which only big chains with their global franchises could afford.

There is a market for this for sure, but the vitality and the vim is gone - shoppers now gravitate towards Bangkok and Hong Kong where the high couture inclined can find satisfaction while others can still revel in sweaty shopping at street markets for far more captivating and pocket-friendly local products.

Similarly, in the medical arena, our quest to be the best in the last 30 years has led to astronomical costs for medical tourists.

Where there is some compromise in investigative, operative and therapeutic regimes (indiscernible to the patient), the savings are very substantial for patients who opt for treatment at other cheaper medical centres in the region.

The less discriminating patient cannot appreciate the marginally better morbidity and mortality statistics our institutions offer, not when we cost multiples of what others charge and the finished product looks the same superficially.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore pricing itself out of retail, medical tourism'. Print Edition | Subscribe