South Korea targets Middle East patients

South Korea aims to attract more medical tourists by targeting Middle Eastern patients.

With business from China stable or falling, South Korea is seeking new markets and is actively promoting its services to Gulf states.

But with more MENA countries seeking to cut down on outbound medical tourism, seeking inbound medical tourists, building more hospitals and bringing in compulsory health insurance both for locals and expatriates, the opportunity may have been missed.

The Korea National Tourism Organization, the state-run tourism organization, launched a medical tourism exhibition aimed at attracting Middle East patients in need of advanced treatment, in November, at the Intercontinental Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

16 Korean health establishments, government departments and medical agencies, sought to promote attractive and reasonable medical and travel packages for patients wishing to seek medical treatment in healthcare facilities in South Korea. The slogan for the event was the rather clumsy, ‘Care by Heart, Visit Medical Korea!’

The Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI) Annual Report 2015 claims that 6,101 patients from the Middle East visited South Korea in 2015, an 11% increase on 2014.

Out of the 6,101 patients, 2,946 came from the UAE, 1,215 from Saudi Arabia and 411 from Egypt.

But the figures may not tell the whole story as the figures are for international patients, not medical tourists. With a thriving and increasing trade between South Korea and the Middle East, those numbers would include MENA expatriates working and living in South Korea plus visiting business travellers.

Korea offers high-quality care at low prices. The country can offer liver transplants and cancer treatment. But every month sees more hospitals and clinics in the Middle East able to offer those services without the cost and hassle of travel – and increasingly paid for by insurance