In anticipation of the upcoming May Day Holiday, the Ciming Health Check Group received nearly 1000 phone calls, many from Chinese patients interested in anti-aging treatments near Lake Lucerne or face lifts in Seoul. Many of the company's advertised packages start at US$10,000 including treatment, travel, and accommodation and can run $30,000 or more.
For these companies, selling medical travel packages to growing numbers of Chinese customers wishing to receive treatment abroad is already big business. Now, Chinese firms want to promote their own facilities at home to growing numbers of foreign medical tourists.
China's major urban centers of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have already attracted growing numbers of medical tourists due to advanced technology, higher quality of service, and affordable prices. In addition, Hainan Island's natural beauty has been marketed as therapeutic for foreign patients receiving treatment there.
Medical tourism promoters like the Ciming Group and its partner, the China Medical Tourism Company, can no longer afford to ignore China as a medical tourism destination. Currently the world medical tourism market is estimated at US$100 billion, with the average foreign patient spending US$10,000 per trip.
Despite the ever-increasing quality of China's medical facilities, lack of awareness as well as language and cultural barriers remain a challenge to attracting more patients. In addition, China will have to compete with countries such as India, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines, many of which are already very popular destinations for medical tourism.
"Foreign patients are interested in coming to China, but they don't know who to get in touch with as there are no readily available numbers or names to contact," said Dr. John Yang, founder and CEO of China Medical Tourism Company.
To respond to some of these issues, the Shanghai government has launched the Shanghai Medical Tourism Products and Promotion Platform to promote China as a world-class medical tourism hub. The initiative includes an official portal site for China's medical tourism which links overseas patients to health care providers, hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and airline companies. In addition, a professional staff works with the government and local businesses to coordinate and market services to foreign customers.
As a result of the new initiative, local governments in China have rushed to compete for their share in this emerging market. During the 2011 Bo'ao Asian Forum, the Hainan provincial government announced plans to build an international Medical Zone in Bo'ao, Qionghai City. Beijing has also suggested building a Chinese Traditional Medicine Tourism Demonstration Zone in the capital's Dongcheng District.
On April 15-20, the China Medical Tourism Company and the Ciming Group invited Medical Tourism Association Founder and President Renee-Marie Stephano to inspect health centers catering to medical tourists in Beijing and Shanghai. The tour included visits to Shanghai's Dongfang Hospital, as well as the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ciming Health Check Group offices in Beijing. Officials said Stephano received a traditional Chinese medicine health check-up during her Beijing visit.
"I was very impressed by the Chinese medical facilities, not only the quality but also the combination of traditional Chinese and Western treatments available," Stephano said. "Traditional Chinese Medicine gives China a strategic position in the global market because it's unique."
"If China's private-sector health system develops sufficiently, China could become a key destination for medical tourism," Stephano said.