South Korea targets Russian medical tourists.


South Korea aims to attract 350,000 tourists a year from Russia by 2017 by developing tourism programmes including medical services tailored to Russian customers. This will mean more work for medical and other translators, plus some hospitals may hire Russian-speaking doctors.

The number of Russians visiting Korea has been steadily rising. In 2013, the number of Russian travelers reached 175,000, up 5% from 2012; but it is not known how many of these travelled for health or medical reasons.

South Korea is just one of many countries all seeking to target the increasing numbers of medical tourists from Russia. The competition is fierce, and many places struggle with language capability.

The regional government in Incheon, which has a modern international airport and is scheduled to host the Asian Games this year, sees medical tourism as a major potential earner.

The Incheon Medical Tourism Foundation (IMTF) was founded in 2011 with the ambition of making Incheon Northeast Asia’s leading medical tourism city. It has been accredited by the Ministry of Health and Welfare as an approved regional medical tourism association.

According to IMTF, the number of medical tourists in the region rose from 2,898 in 2010 to 4,400 in 2011, and from 6,317 in 2012 to over 10,000 in 2013.The target for 2014 is 14,000 medical tourists.

The IMTF is targeting patients from Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, after a deal in January 2014 between Korea and Russia that allows travellers to visit in either direction for up to 60 days without a visa.

New plans for 2014 include a one-hour medical service at Incheon Airport, targeting transfer passengers so that they can receive fast and accurate medical checkups, skin care, and teeth cleaning, while waiting for their plane. The service will ensure that patients get to the hospital within one hour after their arrival at the airport; targeting 500,000 passengers with more than a four-hour layover at the airport, out of 6.5 million Incheon airport transfer passengers.

A medical information centre will be set up within Incheon Airport’s Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine area and transfer desk areas so people can experience medical services, get medical tourism information, and meet potential doctors.

Incheon sees the main target areas as China, Russia, Central Asia, Vietnam, Canada and US military personnel based in the region. In 2012, international patients (not necessarily medical tourists) were: 28 % Chinese, 8.9 % Americans, 7.6 % Russians, and 4.0 % Mongolians. Russia is showing a high annual growth rate of 88.1 % in the last four years.

To take advantage of Incheon airport, the aim is to create the image of “Incheon Healthcare City” by naming Incheon Airport as the “Medical Hub Airport.” Within this, is a new group, the Incheon Cerebral & Cardiovascular Cluster (ICC). Within the ICC are Incheon City, Incheon Medical Tourism Foundation, Catholic University, Gacheon Gil Hospital, Inha University Hospital, and other smaller hospitals and clinics. The point of ICC is to jointly target cerebral and cardiovascular disease medical tourists as a group.



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