Medical tourism operators push for integrated approach

Staff Writer, with CNA

Thu, Feb 09, 2012 - Page 2

Medical tourism providers are pushing for a more integrated strategy to lure potential customers from China as the effect of a policy that allows independent Chinese travelers to visit the country has so far been limited.

Sammy Yen, general manager of Lion Travel’s medical tourism unit, said the travel industry has been trying to develop more comprehensive medical tourism packages through closer cooperation to win over high-end customers because a business model based on quantity is not likely to work.

“We used to have high hopes for the free independent traveler [FIT] program,” he said. “But we have overestimated its benefits.”

Yen was referring to a policy that began in June last year, when Taiwan opened its doors to tourists from certain Chinese cities to visit Taiwan without having to join a tour group or be accompanied by a tour guide.

While some healthcare institutions that provide comprehensive physical checkups had expected the FIT program to bring them at least 3,000 Chinese visitors seeking medical services last year, Yen said the actual number was about 1,500.

According to statistics from the National Immigration Agency, 30,281 Chinese visitors came through the program from June to December last year, far short of the industry’s expectations, since the quota was set to allow up to 500 visitors per day. As a result, Yen and fellow medical tourism providers said they would have to launch more upscale services to establish the brand and publicize what they have on offer.

Meanwhile, Yen said the industry has also been working much more closely with government agencies, discussing ways to improve Taiwan’s competitiveness in the field.

“We don’t want to see the Council of Agriculture promoting their organic food here and the Tourism Bureau celebrating a hot spring festival there,” Yen said. “We want the government to send an integrated message that Taiwan is one of the best travel destinations to heal your body and soul.”