Hospital baron to promote Trichy for medical tourism destination

Founder of Apollo Hospitals Dr Prathap C Reddy said he would take healthcare to the next level while exploring the potential of Trichy in international medical tourism. He was on a visit to Apollo Speciality Hospital in Trichy on Sunday.

The recognition that the Apollo Hospitals receive worldover encouraged us to expand our healthcare endeavour a step further by launching Apollo Specialty Hospitals in Trichy, Dr Reddy said. The facilities provided at Trichy Apollo are equivalent to the best available in the world. Continuing innovation by the Apollo team by leveraging modern technology has brought down the cost of medical expenditure significantly, he added.The 225-bed hospital in Trichy was unveiled on November 7 by chief minister J Jayalalithaa through videoconferencing from Chennai. The plan for the facility was finalised in February 2011.

Talking about the future, Dr Reddy said that the 21{+s}{+t} century’s medical challenges were more than the ones we had witnessed in the past. Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, cancer and infectious diseases are making India the capital of diseases in the world. By 2030, it was going to be a major disaster. But the IT industry will make a big difference to this challenge. The doctors at Apollo are using technology for transforming healthcare to reach more people and to bring personalized healthcare to everyone. “This was our biggest strength no hospital in the world could have,” Dr Reddy said.

There are only 10 hospitals in the world that has done 1,50,000 coronary bypass surgeries and Apollo has already done 1,53,000 coronary bypass surgeries, but not all of them in the world has 99% success rate like Apollo, he said, adding “this was possible because a team of doctors with extraordinary applications of skills brought best healthcare to our people”.

Answering a question, Dr Reddy said the Apollo Group has a 78,000-strong team including 7,800 doctors and 14,000 nurses across 90 clinics including 10 abroad.

Source: Times of India

1500 medical tourists seek treatment in Dubai every day


Emirates Airlines is said to fly in 1,500 medical tourists daily to Dubai airport before they take onward flights to destinations such as India, Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore. If Dubai can tap a share of such travellers, it has scope to be a destination for medical tourism, for which strategic initiatives have already been launched.

Emirates is easily the most impressive success story about Dubai; if there is anything more successful, it is perhaps Dubai itself. Or the equation could be one of symbiosis, where one contributes or even leads to the betterment of the other in a continuous process.

So, the role played by Emirates in making Dubai what it is today needs no further explanation. But an interesting part is that the airline has acted as a change agent in innumerable other ways and in other parts of the world. It has helped the world discover hitherto unknown destinations and also connect travellers from around the world to Dubai, either through direct connections or by virtue of the emirate’s hub status.

In its inevitable march towards becoming the world’s biggest airline by 2020, a landmark in the evolution of Dubai on account of the Expo, Emirates has most effectively utilised the emirate’s geographical advantage, which brings over a third of the world’s population within four hours’ flight and two-thirds within an eight-hour flight.

Emirates already operates over 3,200 flights per week to over 135 destinations in more than 75 countries and hopes to fly 70 million passengers in the year of the Expo, pressing into service more than 250 wide-body aircraft.

Emirates is already a major catalyst of globalisation in many ways. A top Indian healthcare industry official pointed out the other day that Emirates’ flights alone bring 100 medical tourists daily to the group’s hospitals in four metropolises.

A major one was announced last year to unify all related procedures in Dubai in collaboration with Dubai Health Authority, Dubai Healthcare City, General Directorate for Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) and Department of Tourism and Commercial Marketing (DTCM), among others. The Authority seeks to identify gaps in services, building capacity and raise the level of investments in the sector, including participation by the private sector.

The introduction of a three-month medical tourist visa was another important step. The visa, extendable twice, up to nine consecutive months, could be a major incentive for foreign patients to seek treatment in Dubai and other emirates. Similarly, the introduction of short-stay visas for specialist doctors for even a day has made it easier for hospitals to bring experts for consultations and special procedures.

The Dubai Health Strategy 2013-25 incorporates a masterplan aligned with the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015 to provide residents as well as visitors access to internationally recognised levels of healthcare and transform the emirate into a medical tourism hub

The head of Dubai Health Authority (DHA) believes that by the end of the decade the number of medical tourists receiving treatment here will be in the millions annually. It estimates that their numbers to increase 10-15 per cent each year. About 15 per cent of patients in Dubai Healthcare City are already medical tourists. The City is planning to create new specialist centres to enhance the city’s appeal, while DHA has announced plans to build additional hospitals and clinics to strengthen healthcare delivery.

Dubai’s medical tourism plans are now expected to be calibrated with the Dubai Expo 2020 infrastructure development, which will further help position it as a medical tourism destination of some standing.

Source: global travel industry news

Israel Tax Authority probes doctors accused of medical tourism corruption

Senior surgeons suspected of taking under-the-table payments from medical tourists. The Israel Tax Authority opened an investigation Tuesday into suspicions that senior doctors are taking under-the-table payments from medical tourists, while the Health Ministry asked the prosecution to consider ordering a police investigation into the issue.

Both moves came in response to a report aired by “Uvda” (Fact), Channel 2 television’s investigative journalism program, Monday night. The report showed three senior surgeons at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital – Prof. Shlomo Constantini, Prof. Zvi Ram and Dr. Yossi Paz – demanding large sums of money from a journalist posing as an agent for medical tourists. Paz even told the “agent” he would give her a receipt for the payment.

Tuesday morning, tax authority investigators asked the “Uvda” crew for any material that would assist their probe. Later in the day, the investigators went to Ichilov to search for information.

The Tax Authority said it doesn’t comment on investigations. Attorney Navot Tel-Zur, representing Constantini and Ram, said he doesn’t wish to comment at this stage.

The Health Ministry made its request for a criminal investigation in a letter to the brand-new state prosecutor, Shai Nitzan.

“Unfortunately, the [television] report doesn’t leave much room for doubt regarding the nature of the transactions,” wrote the ministry’s legal advisor, Mira Huebner-Harel. “The responses that were quoted, including those of the doctors themselves, don’t alter the picture or remove the burdensome impression that emerges from the investigative report, and the filmed evidence supports this impression to a large extent.”

Huebner-Harel said she wanted maximum coordination between her ministry and the prosecution in investigating the matter “at every appropriate level, including opening a police investigation if you see fit … This coordination is necessary so that the different layers of action don’t clash or disrupt each other.”

“It’s superfluous,” the letter continued, “to point out the great severity with which the health minister and the Health Ministry’s management view this affair, and their determination to do everything necessary to put an end to any manifestation of ‘black-market medicine’ in government hospitals, and in general, and to bring the full force of the law to bear against anyone involved in unacceptable acts of black-market medicine. As noted, we will assist in and get behind any necessary action.”

Health Minister Yael German said the goings-on revealed by the “Uvda” report must be dealt with “at both the personal and the systemic level. On the personal level, everything must be done to put an end to any manifestation of black-market medicine in the health system. Therefore, the Health Ministry’s legal advisor has asked the state prosecutor to examine all necessary modes of action, including opening a police investigation. On the systemic level, the entire issue of medical tourism must be dealt with and regulated, and guidelines to ensure public welfare must be set. This is being done by a public committee that has been considering the problem and studying the issue seriously for several months already. Shocking as the investigative report was, we must ascertain the facts before making decisions.”

On Monday night, shortly after the report was broadcast, Hatzlaha, an organization involved in medical tourism, wrote to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino and the tax authority to request that they open a criminal investigation into both the doctors featured in the report and Ichilov’s management. The letter was signed by the organization’s legal advisor, Elad Mann.

The Ometz organization, which promotes good governance, asked State Comptroller Joseph Shapira Tuesday to investigate the entire issue of medical tourism, charging that it “takes up a significant slice of Israel’s public hospitals, and the ones hurt by this are Israeli patients.”

Source: Haaretz

Iran aims to boost medical tourism

Iran wants to increase its number of medical tourists; the country already enjoys 85,000 patients yearly for medical tourism and wants to improve that.

One of the main focuses of medical tourism in Iran is eye surgeries. The country enjoys several facilities around the country that offer quality services for all and also offer services for free to the needy. The main eye hospitals in Tehran are the Noor and Negah facilities.

These hospitals are designed in a way to offer complete services to patients from examination to surgery, catering to all the needs of the patient.
At an inauguration ceremony for a new clinic at the Noor hospital Iran’s Vice President talked about the country’s plans to boost tourism in this sector and he also said visas are no longer an issue.

“A new workgroup will be formed to plan for increasing our potentials in medical tourism in the next few years. More effort should be done on the internet to make precise data about our facilities available for those who plan to come to Iran for treatment,” VP and Head of Cultural Heritage Organization, Mohammad Ali Najafi said.

The hospital itself is improving in quality and increasing in size, this is to remain attractive to patients and possibly gain more medical tourists.

Director of the Hospital, Dr. Khosro Heydari, “We perform all modern eye surgeries offered anywhere else in the world with more competitive prices usually several times less. We enjoy competent surgeons and up to date equipment. Some of our surgeons are renowned worldwide, we have enjoyed over 10,500 patients from outside of Iran coming to our hospital since its start.”

“The Noor hospital started work 20 years ago, now we felt the need to start a clinic to separate the surgeries from examinations as the hospital was becoming crowded. As we value the quality of services offered and waiting times,” Member of the board, Dr. Seyed Mohammad Miraftab added.

But this is not all this facility offers, it has made trailers that are complete mobile hospitals to offer services to patients in small towns around Iran, for free. Till now surgeons have traveled with these mobile centers to seven provinces offering free of charge services for the poor.

Source: Press TV

Phillippines urged to invest in new tech to boost medical tourism

The Philippines should continuously invest in new technologies, focus on niche treatment and medical products, and seize untapped markets to boost its medical tourism industry, an official of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. said.

MPIC operates the country’s largest hospital network with a total of 2,150 beds in its eight full-service hospitals.

Augie Palisoc Jr., MPIC executive director for the hospital group, said medical insurance portability is vital to attracting more patients, particularly retiring Filipino overseas workers who will be dependent on medical insurance for their hospitalization needs.

“The transferability of insurance will open the gates for more people to come to the Philippines,” Palisoc said.

OFWs whose insurance policies are not transferable could not retire in the Philippines because they could not reimburse medical expenses from their policies.

Health and wellness tourism in the Philippines in terms of value grew by 18 percent last year, largely due to the rise of medical tourism as more foreign tourists and Filipino expatriates flew to the country to avail themselves of medical treatments and procedures for a fraction of the cost in developed countries.

There are four hospitals in the country that that have been awarded Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation for quality and patient safety. These include St. Lukes Medical Center, The Medical City, Makati Medical Center, all located in Metro Manila; and Chong Hua Hospital in Cebu.

JCI is considered the authority in patient safety and quality improvement with a presence in more than 90 countries to date.

The accreditation means the services offered by a hospital is benchmarked with the highest standards of care and safety practiced by renowned hospitals around the world.

The most popular procedures sought in the Philippines are cosmetic surgery, diagnostic testing and imaging, elective surgeries, prostate surgery or coronary bypasses, and dermatology.

The Philippines, however, lags behind other countries in the region in drawing health tourists due to its restrictive policy and uncompetitive business environment, as well as lack of quality infrastructure.

The Philippines has well-trained doctors and nurses with high standards of English communication but they eventually migrate to other countries where salaries are significantly higher than in their home country.

To attract at least 175,000 foreign medical tourists annually, the government is ramping up spending on infrastructure by putting up new roads, bridges, and airports. It is also undertaking an intensified marketing campaign.

MPIC’s growing healthcare network includes the Makati Medical Center, Cardinal Santos Medical Center, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Asian Hospital and De Los Santos Medical Center in Metro Manila; Central Luzon Doctors Hospital in northern Luzon, Riverside Medical Center in Visayas and Davao Doctors Hospital in MIndanao.

The hospital group, which accounts for five percent of MPIC’s portfolio, saw a 24 percent jump in net profit in the nine months through September to P670 million. The increase was attributed to higher patient revenues, lower losses at the nursing schools and tighter expense controls.

Source: phil star

Medical Tourism Market is Expected to Reach USD 32.5 Billion Globally in 2019:

Transparency Market Research is Published new Market Report “Medical Tourism Market (India, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Mexico, Brazil, Taiwan, Turkey, South Korea, Costa Rica, Poland, Dubai and Philippines) – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast, 2013 – 2019” The global medical tourism market was valued at USD 10.5 billion in 2012 and is estimated to reach a market worth USD 32.5 billion in 2019 at a CAGR of 17.9% from 2013 to 2019.

Medical tourism is defined as an act of travel of patients from their home country to other destinations for availing medical services. Rise in healthcare costs in developed countries coupled with the availability of high quality medical services at a low cost in developing countries have given a boost to the medical tourism industry. These medical services range from elective procedures such as cosmetic surgeries to complicated surgeries such as cardiac, orthopedics, neurosurgery and others. Significant growth in this industry is due to economic developments in developing countries that in turn has led to the growth in the medical industry and quality of medical services.

Rise in the healthcare expenditure in developed countries coupled with in the growing elderly population has also contributed to the gowth of the medical tourism across the globe. Economic crisis in the U.S. increased the number of uninsured population, consequently further triggering the growth of this market. Recently, there are approximately 50 million uninsured Americans that are willing to travel abroad for affordable and quality medical care. Globalization and improved communication technology act as a catalyst to boost the growth of this industry.

The development of medical tourism industry is based on several factors such as reduced cost of procedures, long waiting time and high demand for cosmetic surgeries. Medical travel is not only witnessed for intricate procedures but is also expanding due to growing demand for cosmetic and dental procedures since these are usually not reimbursed under regular health insurance policies. Patients travelling abroad can save from 30% to 90% on a procedure, including their travel expenditures, as compared to the medical costs in their own countries. Long waiting time is another factor which has substantially boosted the growth of this industry. Patients based in Canada and U.K travel to low cost destinations for their treatments in order to avoid long waiting periods in their own countries and receive timely access to serious ailments.

Medical tourism industry is dominated by the Asian region that has captured the maximum share of the market. This region is highly competitive owing to the presence of technologically advanced medical specialties, less stringent government regulations and attractive locations. Thailand and India are recognized internationally for their high end medical services and receive patients from across the globe. Singapore is renowned for its healthcare infrastructure and receives patients primarily for complex medical procedures. Thailand, India and Singapore accounted for approximately 60% of the total revenue of the Asian region in 2012. The Latin American countries such as Brazil and Mexico attract maximum number of patients from the U.S owing to the geographic proximity and cultural similarities. Similarly, growth in Turkey is witnessed on account of growing demand of cosmetic surgeries.

However, a paradigm shift in the market is seen owing to strong competition among the players of this industry. Malaysia is poised to have a significant growth in this market and is likely to emerge as a fastest growing country in terms of medical tourism with a CAGR of over 25% from 2013 to 2019. This advent in Malaysian medical tourism market is due to cost advantage over Thailand and Singapore. Moreover, rise in popularity of Malaysian region is attributed to many factors such as advanced healthcare infrastructure, highly skilled professionals, visa benefits and others. Additionally, robust government support for promotion of Malaysian medical tourism has propelled the growth in this nation.

Moreover, increase in the government initiatives and growing inclination of private sector hospitals towards medical tourism is further supplanting the growth of this market. Key healthcare providers in this industry include Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd., Bumrumgrad International Hospital, Bangkok Medical Center, Prince Court Medical Center and others.

The Medical Tourism market is segmented as follows:

The global medical tourism market is segmented into the following categories:
Medical Tourism Market, by Geography
Cost Comparison of Procedures
SWOT Analysis
Government Support
India Inbound Medical Tourism (No. of patients)
India Medical Tourism: Top Revenue Contributing Country (%) (2012)
South Korea
Prospective Countries
Costa Rica

Source: Information Week

Nigeria Spends N150bn Yearly on Medical Tourism

The National President of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientist of Nigeria, AMLSN, Dr Godswill Okara has disclosed that Nigeria spends N 150 billion annually on medical tourism due to the fact that the larger proportion of Nigerians have lost confidence on the health sector in the country.
Speaking at the annual National Executive Council meeting of AMLSN convened in Yola, Adamawa state capital, the President of the association blamed the decline in the health sector on mismanagement of both human and economic resources.
Okara explained that according to reports at their disposal, Nigeria was ranked 4th among countries of the common wealth in 1960s to 70s stressing that some African countries were coming to Nigeria for health services because it had a vibrant health sector at that time. But he said the case today is the opposite due to the fact that since1985, the health sector was left in the hands of unprofessionals to manage .
Source: This day live


India’s absolete visa rules undermine medical tourism

India, long seen as a centre for cost-effective treatment by people around the world, is losing its competitive edge in the medical tourism space.

The strict visa regime is making people give the country a miss in favour of other Southeast Asian nations like Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia which, although costlier, are seen as more welcoming of medical tourists. While there are no studies to show how much business is being lost annually, experts say getting a medical visa to India is almost impossible without hassles.

“Stringent visa rules are really ruining our prospects of becoming a hub for medical tourism,” says Prathap C Reddy, founder and chairman of Apollo Hospitals. The medical tourism industry, valued at $10.5 billion globally in 2012, is estimated to reach a $32.5 billion by 2019. India was able to garner a chunk of this revenue initially, but despite its obvious advantages in terms of quality and costs, the country has been unable to grow the business, says Reddy.

“Our infection rate is only half of the best hospitals in the world. India not only has clinical excellence, but it also has cost benefits. Having got that brand, we would have expected that India would become a great attraction for people, but that has not happened,” he adds. The country attracted only 350,000 medical tourists in 2012 compared to 1.2 million by Thailand and 610,000 by Singapore, according to data from Patients Beyond Borders, a guidebook for medical tourism.

As things stand today, delays in visa processing are rampant, even in case of genuine medical emergencies, and the fee for visa processing is much higher when compared to Thailand or Malaysia.

Another visa-related hassle is the requirement for foreigners to periodically report to the police during their stay in India. “How can anyone ask a patient to go and report at a police station?” says Reddy.

Pradeep Thukral, chief executive officer of SafeMed, a medical travel facilitation agency and founder of the India Medical Tourism Association, says visa application process for medical tourists is cumbersome, to say the least: patients are asked to come to the Indian embassy which is not easy when they are sick, furnish a whole lot of documents like bank statements and medical reports and then referred to the embassy doctor for a second opinion. “It seems they try their best to dissuade the patient from going to India,” adds Thukral.

Experts says tweaking the visa rules will go a long way in making India, which currently attracts only 3 per cent of the global medical tourists, an attractive destination for patients.

“As we aspire to harness the true potential of this enormous market, particularly against the backdrop of an attractive dollar/rupee conversion rate, a liberal visa regime would be of great help. Speedier grant of visas and their easy availability would go further in enabling the Indian medical sector,” says Vishal Bali, group chief executive officer, Fortis Healthcare.

He says adequate public infrastructure outside the hospitals as in other countries would further strengthen India’s position. In Thailand, for instance, medical tourists are treated with tea on arrival while they wait for their visa and then are taken in a bus waiting outside the airport to the hospital. Thailand promoted medical tourism when its currency depreciated in the 1990s and today it is one of the largest medical tourism destinations in the world. Singapore, too, is fast catching up, even as treatment costs there are comparable to those in the US.

“The governments in these countries help the industry with incentives and other support. In India, the government should also do the same and remove the barriers,” says Reddy.

However, it is not just Southeast Asian countries which are becoming a competition for India. For the North American patients, destinations with improving healthcare infrastructure such as Mexico, Costa Rica and Colombia are fast emerging as attractive options, despite higher costs than India, say international healthcare experts.

Some experts even go to the extent of saying there is a case for abolishing medical visas altogether. Josef Woodman, chief executive officer, Patients Beyond Boarders, says medical visa ipso facto makes things more complicated and serves little purpose. “I see no reason not to abolish medical visas”.

There’s no doubt medical tourism’s potential in terms of job creation is huge. Reddy says the sector can create 8-10 million jobs. To add to this, unlike Indonesia or some other counties, which don’t offer liver or heart transplants, Indian hospitals can do everything which is done anywhere in the world. There success rates are impressive too. In Apollo for instance, the success rate for heart-related issues is around 99 per cent, and for liver transplants, it is about 90 per cent. To build on this advantage, Thukral says the government should look at issuing medical visas on arrival, provided the patient is carrying a minimum threshold of money for treatment. Among other suggestions, providing a multiple-entry visa for one year would help the medical tourism sector as well.

Source: Business Standard

Israel’s medical tourism at the crossroads

Income from medical tourism increased sharply in 2011 and 2012 to reach $140 million in 2012, according to data collected by the Health Ministry and the non-government organization Hatzlaha.  The Israeli government is exploring whether to curb or regulate medical tourism; despite the revenue it brings in-with worries that locals could suffer. The ministry has a dilemma that many hospitals have cited commercial issues for refusing to co-operate with official enquiries on how many medical tourists they actually get, as nobody has been able to find out the real numbers.

 The public hospitals took in NIS 291 million from medical tourism in 2012. Health maintenance organization Clalit reported that its 10 hospitals had revenues of NIS 70 million from medical tourism in 2012. Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem had revenues totaling NIS 108 million.

Private hospitals, including Assuta in north Tel Aviv, also had sizeable revenue from medical tourism but refused to provide numbers. One estimate indicates that Israel’s hospitals had revenues of more than half a billion shekels from medical tourism.

The public hospital with the highest medical tourism revenues was Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, with NIS 130 million a year – up nearly 70% since 2010. It was followed by Ichilov Hospital, Tel Aviv, which had revenues of NIS 99 million (up 44% since 2010), and Beilinson Hospital, Petah Tikva, at NIS 39 million – a 490% increase over the figure from 2010.Other public hospitals with medical tourism revenue were Rambam in Haifa, with NIS 36.4 million in revenues; Assaf Harofeh Hospital, Tzrifin, at NIS 15.9 million; and Schneider Children’s Medical Center, with NIS 13.6 million.

A subcommittee within the health ministry has been set up in an attempt to regulate medical tourism, which has no government oversight or standards. Many attempts have been made to set standards and regulations for medical tourism- all have failed to happen. In May 2013 the committee said that medical tourism should account for no more than 10% of a hospital’s revenues from operations. But it has yet to submit its recommendations, so this limit is not official, and it may be impossible to enforce.

Medical tourism is a very sensitive issue for Israel’s health system. Every medical tourist admitted raises the question of whether that person is taking the place of an Israeli patient, particularly given that the hospitals are very overcrowded and the wait for treatment is long.

Medical tourists come primarily from the former Soviet Union and from Mediterranean nations. They visit for a fixed duration, and may receive treatment ahead of Israelis.

For hospitals, medical tourists are very attractive and lucrative patients. Hospitals charge them much more than they receive from Israeli patients, and one of the reasons some hospitals refuse to co-operate with the ministry is a suspicion that they greatly increase the prices for medical tourists- so increased revenue may not equate with increases numbers- but be due to severe price increases and a concentration on more expensive surgery. Unlike insurers, the medical tourists pay the hospitals immediately, and in cash. The money goes into the hospitals’ parallel business operations, as opposed to the budget subject to government oversight, which means the hospital directors have more control over the money.

Source: IMTJ

Medical cosmetic tourism in Taiwan lures high-end mainland Chinese travelers

Winnie checked into a cosy Taipei clinic one recent afternoon for a full facial rejuvenation – a few Botox injections to tackle wrinkles and then filler gels to plump up folds and lips.

It took the 39-year-old business woman, just arrived that morning from Shanghai, slightly more than three hours to complete the treatment before she headed back to a five-star hotel, feeling radiant.

Winnie, who declined to give her full name during a telephone interview with the South China Morning Post, is typical of the mid- and-high-end mainland tourists that Taiwanese tour providers are targeting to cushion the drastic impact that a new travel law implemented on the mainland has had on their business.

The law, the first introduced by the mainland to address such issues as tourist safety, unfair competition and “forced shopping”, has certainly taken a rapid and heavy toll on Taiwan’s tourism industry – the number of mainland group visitors has slumped since the regulation came into force on October 1.

Soon after Taiwan began to allow mainland tourists to visit the island in groups in 2008, cut-throat competition broke out among local travel agencies to lure their business, mainly by offering dirt-cheap tours and then recouping the costs through commissions paid by partner shops to which the tour groups were shepherded.

Since 2008, more than 6.2 million mainland tourists have visited Taiwan, a huge new revenue source worth US$15.68 billion for the island, according to the Beijing-based Association for Tourism Exchange Across the Taiwan Strait.

But along with the new influx has come a wave of complaints from the tourists. Their grumbles include being forced to get up before dawn, eat food that even farm animals would refuse, and sleep in accommodation not fit for pigs.

They also lash out at the number of forced shopping tours, which cut into sightseeing.

Now, with the introduction of the travel law, group tour prices have increased by 20 to 50 per cent – and the number of mainland group visitors has dropped, totaling just 54,705 in the first 20 days of October, a drop of 35.7 per cent compared with the same period last year, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau said.

“To cope with the new situation, local operators are encouraged to find new revenue sources, and medical cosmetic tourism is seen as one of the sources with a promising outlook,” said Lai Cheng-yi, head of the Tourism and Hotel Business Association based in Taipei.

Walter Yeh, executive vice president of the Taiwan External Trade Development Council  , said that in addition to allowing mainland visitors to travel here in groups as well as individually, the island also eased regulations in January last year to permit them to visit Taiwan for medical treatment, including for cosmetic procedures.

“This is a good time for local operators to develop this field of tourism,” he said, adding that Taiwan’s medical care is noted for its good quality and relative cheapness.

Some 100,000 medical tourists visited the island last year, up 156 per cent from 39,000 in 2011, generating revenue of around NT$70 billion (HK$18.4 billion), of which at least 40 per cent came from mainland tourists, Yeh said.

The profitable business has prompted hospitals and medical cosmetic clinics to work with Taiwanese travel agencies to organize cosmetic tours.

Compared with South Korea, whose cosmetic surgery is rated among the best in the world, such procedures in Taiwan mainly involve gel injections and very limited invasive surgery, medical cosmetic operators said.

“But with mainland standards at least five years behind Taiwan, many mainland tourists are eager to have facial rejuvenation and skin tightening treatment here,” said Dr Chu Chih-kai, head of Taipei-based Beauty Plus, one of the island’s leading medical cosmetic clinics.

Dr Chu said Taiwan’s high efficiency, convenience, its adherence to international standards as well as transparency and safety were major reasons why mainlanders were keen to take advantage of the services available in Taiwan.

“Ten per cent of our clients come from the mainland,” Dr Chu said, adding they include men as well as women.

Several big travel agencies in Taiwan have worked with major hospitals and clinics to offer medical cosmetic services to mainlanders. Some agencies have offered packages ranging from NT$45,000 to NT$180,000 for trips that include stays at five-star hotels and sightseeing tours.

As part of marketing strategies to attract more mainlanders to take medical cosmetic tours, Kuan Chou Travel Service will hold a three-day seminar from December 8 in the southern city of Kaohsiung to discuss medical cosmetics and its trends on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

“Participants will include physicians, treatment operators and tour providers from Taiwan, the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau,” Silvia Hu, marketing and PR manager of Kuan Chou Travel Service.

To ensure quality and good service, the Health Ministry has approved 38 hospitals and clinics to treat mainland tourists, while the Taiwan Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation, a non-profit hospital accreditation agency, has certified 19 medical cosmetic clinics for their quality of treatment.

Winnie, who came on a five-day tour, certainly has no complaints about the quality of service. On the contrary, she declared herself “highly satisfied” with what she described as an “afternoon tea” treatment. It made her look great.

Source: South China Morning post