China contributed 20 percent to the gross revenue of the entire Malo Clinic Group in 2016, second only to Portugal (57 percent).
The founder and president of the group, Paulo Malo, is adamant about Macau’s role in developing his greater China and Asian empire: “To be honest, I would never ever in my wildest dreams think that such a clinic in Macau would bring me so much credibility and so much influence in the Asia Pacific region.”
It was literally word of mouth.
“A guy from China came here to have his teeth treated. ‘Hey, this is good. Wow, what is this here?’ ‘This is how we do it.’ ‘Can you do this in China?’ ‘Yes, find me the right partners.’”
Fifteen clinics have been opened in China in the past two years and the group has footholds in Japan, Singapore, Thailand and Australia. Currently, it is negotiating deals in South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. The strategy is focused on finding local partners in the industry because “we want the medical network, not only the money.”
That is what happened this year with the clinic at The Venetian. “Now we have a new shareholder, which is a pharmaceutical company from Tianjin.” There, at the giant Cotai casino, Malo also plans to reopen the medical spa facility – the largest of its kind in the world – and bring it back to full operation.
The Macau expansion is forging ahead through other types of collaboration. Just this month, Malo Clinic signed a partnership agreement with Data Pacific Medical Group that will result in the opening of two dental clinics in the short- to medium-term. The first one will open this year in downtown Macau, at Centro Médico Pedder, and a larger one will open next year in the islands. The investment will amount to over two million patacas for the operation at Pedder and MOP17.5 million for the large clinic in Taipa.
A famous dental surgeon and health guru, Paulo Malo, at 54, continues to dream big. Besides expanding the core business, his interests are vast and diversified – from wine, breeding pigs, and frozen food to his most recent passion, aquaculture.
“I recently bought a property in Algarve to breed ‘free-range’ fish, where it feels like Africa,” he says, reminiscing about his childhood in Angola.
There was much to talk about, his new ventures and dreams, but the interview focused on Macau and the need to recover from the initial inertia of the plan to transform the city into a medical tourist destination – that is, “if the government really wants it.” He wishes to engage all stakeholders in the city to devise a roadmap to reinvent Macau as a health destination.
“Gambling will definitely always be the biggest. There’s no way you’re going to take the ‘pole position’ from gambling, but health can be as big, or bigger, than shopping.”
In the interview with the Times, Dr Paulo Malo started by recalling that “diversification” from gambling was what initially brought him to Macau in 2009.
Macau Daily Times (MDT) – The Macau clinic opened in Macau with high expectations. Did it meet your expectations?
Paulo Malo (PM) – We built a clinic in Macau, not to serve Macau, but to serve this region of the world. That is why we invested so much money, over USD15 million, and we constructed the biggest medical spa in the world. This clinic was made to be focused on medical tourism. Macau is one of the places in the world, if not ‘the’ place in the world that receives the most tourists per square meter. It’s bigger than Las Vegas. It is a huge concentration of tourists in this area and these tourists are not backpacking tourists, these tourists come with money for the casinos, shows, and shopping. So this is the perfect place in the world to have a high quality clinic in selected [medical] specialties: full health-checks, dental, ophthalmology, cancer, hair transplant check-up, anti-aging therapies, plastic surgery, and IVF. Those are some of the most important specialties for medical tourism because people come for the shopping, for the casinos, this and that and they [can] have a medical check-up. Everybody above 50 years old has dental problems, everybody above 50 years old has hearing problems, everybody above 50 years old has sight problems. Everybody is losing hair, everybody wants to look younger. Now, what happened was that as you know, politics in Macau are not geared towards bringing medical tourism to Macau. Macau concentrates on marketing casinos. This is a casino town.
MDT – Yet politicians are saying – again and again – they want to diversify…
PM – Yes, that’s what brought me here. What brought me to the city was that the politicians were saying that Macau cannot be casinos-only. There was even some pressure from the Central Government that they would not like to have just casinos, so they would like to develop the shopping experience and they would like to develop medical tourism because, you see, the clients are already here. We don’t need to bring them, we just need to add on [services].That’s what brought me here; but as you know that is not true. There is absolutely nothing done in terms of the government promoting medical tourism, and of course, medical care in Macau is not really to international standards.
MDT – Do you still hope that we can get there?
PM – Yes, because this cannot go on and sooner or later the government will understand that Macau needs more than just casinos. I understand that medical tourism will never be as strong as the casinos in terms of revenue. But you know, this town cannot just survive on casinos. It needs to have a little bit more and that’s why we came to Macau. And where did we start our activity? We started inside a casino exactly because first, we were invited by the casino, the biggest casino, and they helped us to build this clinic and the reason we were inside the casino was exactly to benefit from this particular situation, which is [that] the tourists were already there…
Coming back to your question about how do I judge the experience? This experience [in the region] was very important for us because of Macau. Because of Macau, we are now the biggest dental service providers in all of Asia. Because of Macau, we have nine clinics in Thailand, six clinics in Singapore, five clinics in Australia, and two in Japan.
MDT – It was because of the Macau clinic that your brand expanded into Asia?
PM – Yes, of course. People came here and they started to ask and they started seeing things. 18 clinics opened in China. Another 42 are opening in Japan during this year.
MDT – So the government did you a favor actually.
PM – [Smiles] Well the government did nothing. What happened actually was that people from Asia came to the clinic here. A guy from China came here to have his teeth treated. “Hey, this is good. Wow, what is this here?” “This is how we do it.” “Can you do this in China?” “Yes, find me the right partners.” [This also happened] with a guy from Japan. This is how we grew in Asia.
Macau was the seed. It is amazing what Macau did to us. Even people from Las Vegas came to Macau and after seeing, they wanted to do it in Las Vegas… If you look at the particular economics of the Macau clinic, it was not a huge success. It was okay. But, if you look at the region as a whole, Macau was a huge success. Without Macau, we would never ever have been able to do what we did.
MDT – So moving forward, what is your responsibility as a shareholder, as a manager and as a practitioner?
PM – Now we have a partner, which is a pharmaceutical company from Tianjin [Tianjing Chase Pharmaceutical Sun Co Ltd]. They just came in this year. Finally we have a good partner because we were not happy with the partners we had. Malo Clinic was made for the region and we always looked for a partner that was not the person with the money, but the person with the network. I did not want [just] anybody to come only with the money, I wanted somebody to come with the medical network. For instance, I always looked for partnerships with some top Thai hospitals and some top South Korean hospitals and even some top Hong Kong hospitals. If we had this partnership [I believed] that this would just [explode], but we never made it. So today, we have a clinic that is taking its first steps on the medical side due to this pharmaceutical company [shareholder] and we are now engaging in finding collaborations with top medical destination hospitals in the region because that’s the way to go.
MDT – You do the check-ups…
PM – We focus on full health checks. Anti-aging. Malo Clinic is pretty good in anti-aging. We are also strong in fertility [treatment]. We are one of the biggest clinics in the world for IVF and this is something we want here, but fertilization, no, we can’t [pursue it here], because the Macau government does not promote that law. We are stuck, so if you want [fertilization treatment] you have to go out of Macau, you have to go to the country next-door.
Yet, I believe we are starting to reach out, after all these years, we’re starting to understand the network in Macau, the people. So I believe that this year we will promote a meeting amongst top medical service providers, so that we could approach the government and ask for help. We cannot do anything without the help of the government. First of all, [we need] to get some hurdles out of the way, things like labor [import restrictions]. You can import a doctor, but if you cannot import a nurse you’re stuck. We do not have [sufficiently] specialized people in Macau in medical services.
I don’t believe that Macau will carry on being just a casino city. We have to evolve, we have to look for other things that bring advantages. It will always be a casino city, there’s no way around it. Las Vegas has been like this for a long time, but Las Vegas is also an entertainment city and also a medical city and also a pensioners’ residential city.
MDT –You signed a partnership with a local medical service provider this month. What are we going to see in the near future?
PM – In the very near future, meaning within months, you will see a dental clinic in Macau because we have this inside The Venetian. You will see a small dental clinic on the peninsula and in the mid-term, you will see a big dental clinic integrated in a larger medical facility.
MDT – Will this partnership help you grow in China? Is that on the table?
PM – The partnership will not influence China. The partnership will definitely influence medical tourism in Macau and it might influence Hong Kong because the partner has some partnerships in Hong Kong that we can benefit from, but definitely, the idea is to move forward into a dental tourism group. Serious dental tourism like we have in Europe here in Macau, for the [Asia Pacific] region because dental [health service] in the region is very poor and I’ll give you some numbers. At the Malo Clinic in Bangkok, 60 percent of the patients come from Australia [where they have good dental care but it is expensive].
MDT – Much like the idea behind the casinos’ expansion, Macau has 350 million people within a five-hour flight radius…
PM – Yes, it is amazing. And the lack of understanding of that we can piggy back on what already exists in Macau is shocking. We have millions of people coming to Macau [every month], millions.
MDT – We are not taking advantage of that?
PM – We are not taking advantage of that. Who are these people? If you look at these people, these are people coming to Macau specifically for two things. Shopping and gambling, which means that these are not poor people. You don’t come to Macau if you’re poor because when you come to Macau you have to stay in a hotel. Hotels are not cheap in Macau.
MDT – We don’t see a lot of backpackers around…
PM – Of course not. If you go to Europe, if you go to Barcelona for instance, you see a lot of people sleeping on the beach and in small hotels of 20 euro per night, but not here. So these people come here for that [gambling and shopping]. Now, what is the age range of these people? Most of them are above 45, 50 years old, because those are the guys who have the money. These people have bad teeth, they have bad eye sight. They have no hair, some of them are fat; some of them have other health problems from lack of exercise.
MDT – So the next thing after gambling and shopping can be health, buying health?
PM – Gambling will definitely always be the biggest. There’s no way you’re going to take the ‘pole position’ from gambling, but health can be as big or bigger than shopping because in Thailand that’s how it is. So health can surely be number two here. Macau can be a health destination. South Korea has all these problems now with the threat of North Korea. Thailand is a mess. So all of a sudden we have China and we have Macau, and Macau is right next to Hong Kong. I don’t see any big thing going on in Hong Kong – there’s no space and it’s too expensive. Macau is next to China. You literally walk into Macau from China. Then we’ll have a bridge linking to Hong Kong. We have an airport that when you land in Macau, in less than ten minutes you are in the clinic or in a hospital. To me, this is obviously [a great asset] as a businessman and specialist in the health business.