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Bangkok’s ‘Doctor Love’ wants to help Chinese couples make babies

UPDATED: Sun., Oct. 21, 2018

Wei Siang Yu, founder and executive chairman of Borderless Healthcare Group, at the TRIA Medical Wellness Center in Bangkok, Thailand, on Oct. 9, 2018. (Brent Lewin / Bloomberg)
Wei Siang Yu, founder and executive chairman of Borderless Healthcare Group, at the TRIA Medical Wellness Center in Bangkok, Thailand, on Oct. 9, 2018. (Brent Lewin / Bloomberg)
By Michelle Jamrisko Bloomberg

From a luxury spa in central Bangkok, Wei Siang Yu hopes to lure Thailand’s latest tourist target: couples needing a bit of extra magic to make babies.

Billed as “second-honeymoon” breaks, Wei provides wellness treatments in tranquil surroundings designed to boost the chances of naturally conceiving and bearing a healthy child. The Singaporean national has ambitions of hosting thousands of couples next year paying $4,325 each for a three-day program, and reckons around half of them will travel from China.

“We see a huge market in this new topic of lifestyle modification, which requires a balance of body, mind and soul,” said Wei, a trained doctor who fronted TV programs in Singapore last decade such as ‘Dr. Love’s Super Baby Making Show.’

Thailand’s fertility industry is chasing a new client: Chinese couples finally free to have more than one child. The nation is already Asia’s top destination for medical tourism thanks to quality treatments at reasonable prices combined with access to sun-soaked beach resorts. Chinese travelers are an obvious target for new business as they make up the bulk of overall visitors to Thailand, where tourism underpins a fifth of the economy.

Having already ditched its one-child policy, China is planning to scrap all limits on the number of children a family can have in order to slow the pace of its aging population. Wei is targeting the nation’s women, who he says have endured out-of-reach quality healthcare and an education system that insufficiently tackles reproductive health.

“Most healthcare operators are rushing to tap this vast market,” said Tanatip Suppradit, acting chief executive officer of Thonburi Healthcare Group, which is this month opening a $93 million fertility center in Bangkok. “The reasonable costs, good service and beautiful nature will definitely make Thailand the top destination for Chinese couples seeking these services.”

Bangkok Dusit Medical Services’s shares have climbed about 20 percent this year thanks partly to medical tourism, helping it become the most valuable hospital operator in the developing world. Foreign patients accounted for almost a third of sales and jumped 10 percent in the first half of 2018 from a year earlier. Growth from China was 30 percent.

Wei, who is also the founder of the Borderless Healthcare Group, offers his pre-pregnancy package in contracted day spa facilities and is planning a formal launch by year-end. Initial social media promotion fronted by Wei has already helped attract couples seeking the second-honeymoon experience, he said. The facilities may eventually expand to include overnight accommodation — guests currently stay offsite.

“The couples are highly stressed because they have limited time” to have a child before aging complications set in, said Wei. “The gene pool needs to be maintained,” he said, adding that many couples just lack the knowledge when it comes to doing the groundwork for a healthy birth.

Wei and his rivals face a tough challenge. History shows that increased wealth and education gained as economies develop make it near impossible to stop birth rates from falling — regardless of government policies. Singapore’s 1980s campaign to incentivize families to have three or more children spurred a brief uptick in births before they declined further.

China’s decision three years ago to allow two-child families hasn’t managed to boost baby numbers. Births fell 3.5 percent to 17.2 million nationwide last year, according to the Bureau of National Statistics. And divorces are showing more momentum than marriages.

China’s campaign to encourage couples to have more babies “probably gives them more stress, because their peers and the whole society is expecting some outcome,” said Wei. “So all this hasn’t been easy.”

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