As part of a long term plan to be a medical tourism destination rather than just a source of patients, China's southernmost island of Hainan Province will set up a special zone where overseas medical institutions will enjoy preferential business policies for encouraging medical tourism.
The Boao Lecheng International Medical Travel Zone is on the east coast of the island and near the town of Boao. Hainan governor Jiang Dingzhi argues that the rising standard of living in China could encourage medical tourism, so it is clear that Hainan is mainly targeting Chinese from other regions.
The idea of using the expertise of foreign hospitals and clinics to promote medical tourism stems from the success of foreign owned private hospitals in major Chinese cities in changing the habits of overseas expatriates, so that they now get private treatment in China rather than going to Hong Kong.
The zone, already approved by the state council, will enjoy preferential policies that are seen nowhere else in China. Foreign medical institutions will be allowed to set up business within the zone, while medical joint ventures will not be forced to have a majority or substantial minority local partner. Even if foreign hospital groups are allowed to have full control, it is sensible to have Chinese partners who understand local politics and business problems.
Lower taxes will be granted to imported medical instruments and medicines in the zone, and untested unapproved medical care such as stem cell treatment will be allowed.
Jiang Dingzhi explains, "It is the only travel zone of its kind in the country and I am confident that it will be a success." The tropical island province is also striving to build itself into an international travel destination. According to official local statistics, in 2012 the island had 33 million visitors, with travel revenues of $6 billion.
The zone will be a large one with infrastructure investment from the local government. Timing is unclear, and it is rather ambitious to hope the zone will be operational within two or three years, although construction has already started.