The government has high hopes for a trial program that promotes Taiwan as a medical tourism destination for residents of several Southeast Asian countries, although one travel agent warned stiff regional competition might limit its effectiveness.
Wu Ming-yen (吳明彥), an official with the Department of Health, said the six-month trial program, which began on Thursday, is aimed at citizens from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar who plan to visit Taiwan.
Since it is somewhat difficult for nationals from those three countries to obtain Taiwan visas, Wu said the program would allow easier access when applicants travel in tour groups that include visits to medical facilities on the itinerary.
According to Jack Tsai (蔡家煌), president of Hongyi Travel Service, which specializes in trips to Laos and Myanmar, stricter criteria are applied when immigration officials issue visas to visitors from the three countries because of concerns they might come to Taiwan to work illegally.
However, Wu said the improving political situation in the region, as evidenced by the recent democratic elections in Myanmar, would help boost local tourism and benefit Taiwan.
Wu expects the program to attract three to four tour groups with between 15 and 20 visitors a month from the three countries.
However, Tsai warned on Thursday when the program was announced that Taiwan faces stiff competition from Singapore and Thailand, which have been promoting medical tourism for a long time and are less strict when issuing visas.
“People from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos can just visit Thailand and Singapore for medical purposes at will. There is no need to go through the [same] trouble as applying for a Taiwan visa,” Tsai said.
There are other constraints, Tsai added. The program requires visitors who plan to travel to Taiwan for medical treatment, health checks or cosmetic procedures, to make appointments with Taiwanese hospitals two months prior to their journey and pay the hospital a US$200 deposit.
Tsai said the program’s complicated review procedures would likely make potential visitors choose Thailand or Singapore over Taiwan.