'Medical tourism is next big thing'
Korea Tourism Organization (KTO)’s chief Lee Charm sees medical tourism as the next big thing for the nation’s tourism industry.
“The prospect for medical tourism is fantastic. The area of medical service has unlimited growth potential.” Lee said in a recent interview with The Korea Times.
“Korea’s medical services are at a high level not only for Western medicine but also for traditional Korean medicine. We are very strong with spinal and disc problems and have very high success rate with treatment,” he said.
“We now even have a medical tourism center. It’s quite a substantial team and we’re constantly doing overseas events to promote it,” he added.
The strength of Korean medical tourism lies in the nation’s high quality healthcare service with price competiveness.
“The level of our service and technology is very high but the price is low compared to Europe. We’re a bit more expensive than Thailand but our environment is much better and safer,” said Lee.
With such strengths, the number of medical tourists seeking services in Korea has risen over the years.
The number in 2007 was a low 7,900 but jumped to 60,201 in 2009, and climbed further to 81,789 in 2010 and 110,000 in 2011.
Russia is especially a big market with visitors surging from 1,758 in 2009 to 5,089 in 2010 and 9,000 in 2011.
“About 30,000 from Vladivostok go abroad every year for medical treatment. Three years ago, we only had a few hundred come from Vladivostok but last year we had 9,000. But we can get the rest of the tourists who go elsewhere. We need to target the rest of Russia, the Middle East, and all South East Asian countries where there’s a huge need for high level medical services,” said Lee.
The tourism organization is doing its best to attract more Russian tourists.
“From three years ago, we actually hired local doctors and a guy with a background in medicine at our Vladivostok office. It’s basically a medical consulting office,” said the KTO head.
“Last year, we opened a U-health care center, a ubiquitous center where overseas patients can have Internet connections with Korea. People can have video conference with Korean hospitals and after consulting with the doctors, they can make an appointment and come to Korea.” The role of the KTO is big, according to Lee, as much of the promotion is done by the organization.
“Medical tourism is promoted by the KTO and the Ministry of Health and Welfare. But the ministry doesn’t have an international network or marketing capability. They provide the legal background ― the actual promotion and marketing, that’s what we do,” he said.