Taiwan targets medical tourism

A seven-day package features a combination of Western-style physical checkups and clinical cosmetology, as well as Chinese preventive medicine. A 14-day package features an even higher-end health promotion and anti-aging treatment for double the price, according to a county international medical tourism association established by the local government.

Buddhist Tzu Chi General Hospital in Hualien is famous for making people’s legs slimmer through a calf muscle-trimming procedure, which has been drawing tourists from as far as Brazil. Since 2001, the hospital has conducted procedures on 500 pairs of legs. 20% of medical tourists coming to the Hualien hospital are from China, Hong Kong, Macau, the United States, Canada and Japan.

What is happening in Hualien is mirrored both nationally and locally, with an increased number of local governments, tourist boards, hotels, hospitals and clinics in Taiwan attaching more importance to medical tourism as a new niche market and a way to boost the country’s economy.

According to the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA), Taiwan recorded the arrival of 81,462 medical tourists as of the end of the third quarter of 2012, more than double the 39,428 visitors in 2011.

Among those treated in 2012, 60% went to Taiwan to get treatment for their illnesses, 27% for health check-ups, while 13 % for cosmetic surgery, according to TAITRA.

The government plans to set up a service industry experimental zone next to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, the country’s main international gateway. It will offer services to international visitors including help to arrange travel, shopping, clinical cosmetology and financial services. The zone is part of the efforts to boost Taiwan’s employment by cultivating the service industry, with high paying service jobs.

The government’s Council for Economic Planning and Development is considering the idea of regional free economic zones to foster the development of Taiwan by providing medical care, medical tourism, industrial innovation, international logistics, training and product sales.

Taiwan’s main target market is China, due to the two countries’ linguistic and cultural similarities. Taiwan launched a 15-day medical tourism visa to cater to Chinese tourists and an e-visa service that will help make things easier for Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan for physical checkups, cosmetic surgery or anti-aging treatments.

Taiwan drew a total of 50,376 medical tourists from China in 2012, says TAITRA, more than half the total; but these are still estimates and final 2013 figures are awaited.