Demand for retirement homes is on the rise in Southeast Asia where population ageing is becoming a harsh reality requiring new solutions. Thailand, in particular, has drawn interest from senior citizens not only in ASEAN but also those flying from other regions in search of an attractive place to settle. The number of senior citizens has soared in recent years in most countries and will increase steadily in the coming decades. As Southeast Asia’s baby boomers reach their 60s, the United Nations projects that the region will have 57 million people aged 65 and above by 2025, an increase of 430% from 2000.
At the same time, family life is changing, and not all seniors are being taken care of by their children. More of them are opening up to the idea of retirement villages or residences and elderly care centres where medical and nursing services are available around the clock. Realising the opportunities in this sector, private developers are flocking to ASEAN to tap demand from seniors who want to live independently in their own homes regardless of age. “There is no question that Thailand has one of the most rapidly ageing populations in Asia. There are a number of reasons why senior living will have great potential in Thailand,” said Robert McMillen, chairman and CEO of the international consultancy MAC Capital Advisors. For instance, Thailand is a medical tourism hub and each year attracts hundreds of thousands of patients from the Middle East, Australia, India and Europe to take advantage of its renowned services, which often are half the cost of comparable offerings in some countries.
“Thailand’s government has recognised that the warm culture of its people, tropical environment, relatively low living costs, access to world-class healthcare and ease of travel, make the country an attractive destination for international retirees,” McMillen told Asia Focus. Regulations in Thailand are also favourable for retirement home developers. For example, retirement visas are easy to obtain and thus encourage expatriates to settle in Thailand. The Board of Investment (BoI) has also introduced incentives including tax breaks and 100% foreign ownership to encourage the establishment of aged-care facilities, he added. “Thailand also offers a variety of options to acquire properties,” he said, noting that foreigners can own up to 49% of the saleable area of any condominium property, while options are available for longer-term leases on houses and other properties.
“The governments of Thailand and Malaysia are both trying to encourage senior living in their countries. Forbes rates Thailand the ninth best retirement location in the world, followed by Malaysia in 10th place,” McMillen noted. According to a research by the Department of Tourism, demand for long-stay tourism in Thailand has been growing, especially among foreign retirees. In Asia Pacific, Thailand ranked 16th in terms of natural resources in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2015, and 17th in tourist service infrastructure. Overall, it placed 35th out of 141 countries in last year’s survey, and 10th in the region.
Factors that attract foreign retirees include a good location and weather; a low cost of living (as compared to the standard of living); friendliness and generosity of local people; safety and security; attractiveness of tourist attractions. Weaknesses for Thai tourism were health and hygiene (89th) and safety and security (132nd). The department has developed a set of guidelines called Accommodation Standards for Long Stay Tourism, aiming to encourage operators to make sure their services meet customers’ expectations and assure tourists of quality. The government, through the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, has provided support in terms of training in standard practices for operators and staff of such accommodation, along with advertising and business management.