South Korea - Medical tourism income


South Korea has seen a growing number of foreigners visiting the country for medical treatment in the first half of 2009 due to the weak Korean won and eased regulations. Local hospitals have raised medical services fees for foreign patients, as they had to spend more on marketing and translation services.

According to the Bank of Korea (BOK), foreigners' payment for medical services were $40.5 million in the first half, up 31.1 percent from $30.9 million recorded during the same period last year. The first-half payment by medical tourists stood at $23.9 million in 2006 and $31.5 million in 2007. By month, the figures came to $7.2 million in January, $6.9 million in February, $7.4 million in March, $7.3 million in April, $6.2 million in May and $5.5 million in June.

According to the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs, the number of foreign patients receiving treatment at 21 major hospitals and medical institutes reached 9075 between January and April, up 32.1 percent from the same period last year. By region, the number of patients from the Middle East posted the highest growth rate of 167.9 percent, followed by Russia with 96 percent and Japan with 82.6 percent. In an absolute number, the US was the highest at 3043.By subject; obstetrics and gynaecology attracted 559 foreign tourists.

Medical tourism is also outbound as Koreans' spending on medical services abroad reached $43.3 million for the first six months, down 39.9 percent from the same period last year. The drop was due to rising overseas treatment costs caused by the weak won and falling income.

The government has begun piloting information centres on skincare, beauty treatment and health check-up packages, to provide a one-stop service for medical tourists coming into Incheon International Airport. There are plans to build an air city at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport. The complex will include a clinic designed for medical tourists. It will provide commonly sought treatments and services that don't require long hospitalization, such as lasik operations, Asian herbal medicine and eyelid surgery. The facilities and the airport terminal will be connected by a new magnetic levitation train system. The air city project is scheduled for completion in 2020.Incheon International, one of the world's largest airports, has a huge amount of spare land, about the size of Manhattan.

Korea is now looking beyond Asia and into untapped markets such as Europe. Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) recently hosted a seminar in London to introduce a package, together with Hanatour, Hanyang University Hospital, Wooridul Hospital and Hanshin Medipia. The package offers a seven-day program to experience the medical service through receiving health checkups to be followed by a tour around the metropolitan and Jeju regions. The KTO has prepared 14 other such packages targeting Japan, China, USA and Russia.

A manual has been produced by KTO with help from medical consulting firm Medi Members and Cheongshim International Medical Center to provide basic guidelines for medical-related businesses seeking to offer medical tourism. KTO has established an English service on their website and plans to add the additional languages of Japanese, Chinese and Russian.



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