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Posted : 2011-06-12 17:47
Updated : 2011-06-12 17:47

Korea sees money in beauty


Korea's cosmetic surgery industry has been booming in recent years, with demand generated from both domestic customers and inbound travelers. / Korea Times file
Cosmetic surgery industry claimed as next growth engine

By Kim Tae-gyu

Korea is eager to identify its next-generation growth engines to succeed previous breadwinners of electronics, automobiles and shipbuilding. The candidate ― with the frenzy on nuclear power generation fizzling, cosmetic surgery has been emerging as a potential winner.

And this time around, such efforts are conducted directly by plastic surgeons instead of the government. Observers hope that such initiative will help the country garner new cash cows for the export-driven country.

More than 50 local plastic surgeons will convene at Dongyang Art Hall in southern Seoul on Monday to set up the nation’s first association aimed at drawing foreigners who are interested in receiving cosmetic surgery.

``The previous medical tourism agencies here have been inefficient, while failing to represent the interests of the aesthetic surgery industry,’’ said Kim Young-jin who has taken charge of establishing the association.

``Under the stewardship of the new association, we are poised to avoid the existing framework so as to create the market independently in a proactive manner. We will carry out a flurry of activities.’’

The Korea Medical Tourism Association was founded midway through 2008 but some cosmetic surgeons, particularly those in Gangnam, are seemingly unhappy with the organization.

Gangnam is an affluent residential area situated south of the Han River. Recognized as the fashion and beauty center of the capital, Gangnam houses a bevy of famous plastic surgery clinics.

Kim, who operates a plastic surgery himself in Gangnam, said that he aims to introduce a program of inviting overseas experts to Seoul so that they can share the advancement of Korean technologies.

``Up until now, the market has been disrupted due to some domestic or overseas agencies, which brokered medical tourism in Korea in inappropriate ways,’’ Kim said. ``We will make efforts to grapple with such problems.’’

Market watchers see a precedence that may act as a model for other businesses to tap into global markets.

``Plastic surgeons may get together to increase their own profits. Yet, as they successfully attract foreign patients, they also benefit the whole country,’’ said a Seoul analyst who asked not to be named.

``No matter if it is a white cat or a black cat, one that can catch mice is a good cat. Like the famous quote, any experts in the services industry need be proactive in case the government is lackluster.’’

Korea attracted up to 81,789 patients from abroad last year and a substantial proportion of them are estimated to have visited the country for cosmetic surgery. Asia’s No. 4 economy aims to jack up the figure to 300,000 by 2015.

However, the amount is still relatively small compared to the 1.56 million visiting Thailand and the 720,000 choosing to go to Singapore.