June 4, 2008

South Korea going big on its 'Nip & Tuck' Industry

Fancy looking like one of the hottest Korean stars currently gracing your TV sets now? All you need to do is fly to South Korea and have a stay there as a medical tourist. Yup, Korea is going all out to woo the medical tourists with their famed nip and tuck procedures.

I am preparing my eyes to spot Yoon Eun Hye, Song Hye Gyo, Lee Ji Ah and Sung Yu Ri look-a-likes strutting down Orchard Road soon.

Here's the Straits Times article on this news.

June 4, 2008
South Korea targets 'nip and tuck' tourist
By Lee Tee Jong

SEOUL - A LIMOUSINE pulls up at the airport and whisks you to a hospital for a nip and tuck. You recuperate in a ward resembling a five-star hotel, then you tour the theme parks of popular Korean dramas such as Jewel In The Palace before flying home.

It is part of the facelift package offered by some Seoul plastic surgeons.

Already a destination for medical tourists, South Korea is eyeing a bigger slice of the growing global pie, seeing potential in attracting patients from neighbours China and Japan, and well beyond.

In 2006, medical tourism grossed about US$60 billion (S$82 billion) worldwide. Management consulting firm McKinsey and Company estimates that the sum will rise to US$100 billion by 2012.

Competition for the medical tourist dollar is stiff, stretching worldwide from Argentina and Poland to India, Malaysia and Singapore.

In Asia, the health-care industry is estimated to be worth S$7 billion a year and the key draw is the lower price compared with the United States or Western Europe.

Hospitals in Singapore charge up to US$12,000 for a partial hip replacement, half of what it costs in the US. A nose reconstruction that costs US$850 in India runs up to US$4,500 in the US. Singapore and Thailand are already leading players in Asia with more than 400,000 and 1.4 million foreign patients respectively last year.

Singapore plans to boost that to one million medical tourists by 2012, and they are expected to spend S$2.4 billion. Likewise, foreign patients in Thailand spent around S$1.5 billion there in 2006.

Now Seoul is playing catch-up, hoping to draw 100,000 medical tourists by 2012. The government hopes this will yield 6,000 new jobs and contribute US$900 million to the economy. President Lee
Myung Bak said earlier this year the country had too many unfriendly regulations in the way of growing the business.

'We must do away with unnecessary rules to turn this sector into a new national growth engine,' he said.

For a start, hospitals will be allowed to market themselves to foreign patients as soon as Parliament approves the revised laws.

Previously, hospitals were considered non-profit organisations and could not advertise their services.
Now, the ministry will allow medical institutions to engage the services of travel agencies and provide transportation for foreign patients.

In another important move, family members of foreign patients can get long-term visas to take care of their loved ones.

South Korean doctors are confident that their medical skills surpass that of their rivals elsewhere.

'Our medical technology is better than that of Singapore, Thailand and India,' declared Dr Jang Kyung Won, the secretary-general of the Council for Korean Medicine Overseas Promotion. 'We
offer high-quality services for plastic surgery, spinal diseases, stomach cancer
surgery, Oriental medicine and laser treatment to correct myopia.'

Thirty-six hospitals came together in March last year to set up the promotion council.

It has held overseas expositions and worked with travel agencies to develop medical tourism packages that target mainly patients from neighbouring China and Japan.

Several member hospitals are currently working with travel agencies in the US, Japan and China to roll out packages for different budgets.

The package includes air fare, medical treatment, hotel accommodation and visits to tourist attractions.

Some hospitals have an international department where doctors and nurses can communicate with patients in English, Chinese or Japanese.

The popularity of Korean pop culture such as dramas has been cited as a marketing advantage for their medical services especially in the field of aesthetic treatment.

'I have Japanese and Chinese patients coming to me with pictures of Korean celebrities whose features they want to replicate,' said plastic surgeon Kim Sung Byeon, who treats about 10 foreigners a month.

Despite the optimism, there is one key factor keeping foreign patients from coming: pricey food and accommodation, and that matters because patients often arrive with accompanying family members.
Seoul is the most expensive Asian city for expatriates who live here, according to the latest survey by human resources firm ECA International. Singapore was No. 9 on that list.

Still, South Korea has lined up a series of projects aimed at attracting medical tourists.

The Health Ministry is planning to set up a high-tech medical park by the end of 2010 to develop new treatments and medical devices.

Jeju, the tourist island, is in a partnership with Malaysia's Berjaya Corporation to build a US$2 billion integrated resort which will include medical facilities over the next eight years.

By 2010, the island will have Healthcare Town, a complex of hospitals and rehabilitation facilities offering comprehensive medical treatment.

In November, Seoul will host the third International Medical Travel Conference for participants to share information on medical travel trends and new markets.

Singapore held the first conference in 2006 and the Philippines hosted the second last year. For those seeking to enhance their looks, the skilled Korean surgeon's scalpel can yield unexpected problems.

Dr Kim said: 'Last year, I operated on a Singaporean to give her double eyelids.
'On her way home, she was held up at the airport immigration because they did not recognise her from the photograph
in her passport.'

She was allowed to leave, but only after an hour of interrogation.

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