The Korea Herald


Health care key driver of tourism

Fourth-largest medical tourism market in Asia aims to move beyond cosmetic surgery to multi-health care provider

By Lee Woo-young

Published : Jan. 16, 2014 - 20:48

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The government has set an ambitious medical tourism goal of attracting 250,000 foreign patients and posting 450 billion won ($422 million) in revenue this year.

Riding the rising popularity of Korean culture across Asia, the government will combine medical services with diverse tourism programs and products such as temple stays, traditional Korean medicines, skin care and K-pop concerts. It also will open a website as an online gateway to medical services available in Korean hospitals and clinics. The portal will also enable potential foreign tourists to consult with Korean doctors one on one.

“Medical tourism is expected to emerge as a new driver of growth in the inbound tourism market,” Kim Se-mann, executive director of the medical tourism department of the Korea Tourism Organization, said at the press conference Thursday. “We are a bit behind Thailand and Singapore in light of medical tourism promotion, but under the new initiatives focused on publicity of Korean medical tourism, we expect 1 million foreign patients to come to Korea by 2020,” he added.

Korea is the fourth-largest medical tourism market behind Thailand, Singapore and India with revenue of $193 million in 2010, according to the 2013 McKinsey report on Korea. Chinese patients, who take the lion’s share in the local market, surged in number from 12,789 in 2010 to 31,471 in 2012. Cosmetic surgery has been foreign tourists’ most sought-after service.

“We will seek to increase medical tourists through various events along with medical services. For example, we could draw MICE travelers, those on cruises or visitors to major sports events such as the 2014 Incheon Asian Games with customized services that meet their needs,” Kim said.

The authorities will push new policies to respond to complaints more effectively and remove foreign tourists’ potential dissatisfaction by ensuring they contact certified medical institutions and brokers.

More complaints have been reported by Chinese patients regarding prices and side effects of plastic surgery, mainly due to illegal brokers pocketing excessive commission fees, forcing plastic surgeons to overcharge foreign patients up to 10 times more than normal or recommending unnecessary procedures.

“We have received reports of negative side effects from cosmetic surgeries and overcharging by illegal brokers based in China,” said Kim Kyoung-joo, deputy director of the medical tourism department of the KTO.

The medical tourism department has sought to increase awareness of this among Chinese patients seeking cosmetic surgeries in Korea by holding consultations and forums in China last year. The KTO has been asking the Chinese patients to make sure they visit certified clinics or deal with legal brokers that connect them to Korean surgeons. Chinese patients should also make sure clinics have Chinese coordinators and whether the cost written on a receipt matches the cost they were told at the beginning of the consultation.

By Lee Woo-young (