The South Korean government announced medical tourism as one of its 17 next-generation growth engines. It set the goal to create a medical tourism boom following countries such as Thailand, Singapore and India. Following suit, local governments including Jeju Island plan to build health care clusters for medical tourism to attract foreign patients. Last year, South Korea earned about US$48 million from medical tourism, attracting 40,000 foreign patients.
This year, Daegu has launched Medi Citi as its own brand, arranging 40 hospitals to prepare English, Japanese and Chinese brochures, opening websites in foreign languages and participating in international conferences and exhibitions. Along with Osong in North Chungcheong Province, Daegu recently won US$5 billion in bids to build medical complexes.
Busan is already a popular medical tourism destination among the Japanese for weekend aesthetic and plastic surgery. It runs a call center for translation services for foreign patients.
Recently, Gangwon-do signed an MOU with the Korean Tourism Organization (KNTO) to develop medical tourism in Gangwon province, targeting the attraction of 10,000 foreign patients. KNTO will utilize its 27 overseas branches to promote sales and marketing of medical tourism and educate skilled manpower in medical tourism for Gangwon-do.
One of the most appealing and promising provinces in South Korea for medical tourism is Jeju Island. The island is one of the most beautiful islands in East Asia, and is located just one hour by air from Seoul, capital of the Republic of Korea. It has gained added fame after the island's dormant volcano Mount Halla, its lava tubes and the 182-meter-high coastal crater Seongsan Ilchulbong, or Sunrise Peak, were designated as World Natural Heritage sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in June 2008.
The Jeju Healthcare Town is a joint project undertaken by the South Korean Government and the private sector. Jeju Free International City Development Center (JDC), which is also implementing five other core projects besides Jeju Healthcare Town, hopes to attract medical travelers to Jeju island's clean and beautiful natural environment combined with cutting-edge health care. Jeju Healthcare Town will hold a groundbreaking ceremony around the year's end and plans to open in early 2011. It will offer not only health care but leisure, entertainment, recreation, rest, education, culture, medical treatment and rehabilitation. It is being developed in three phases - Wellness Park, a medical relaxation complex for beauty, prevention, health and relaxation; Medical Park, a high-tech medical complex for various high-quality specialized treatments; and R&D Park for a medical R&D complex. International companies desiring to invest in related fields will receive strengthened support, such as local tax exemption, provisions for housing, special employment benefits such as support of approximately US$783 for newly hired employees for up to six months, corporate tax incentives, registration tax incentives, and property tax incentives for customs duties. The planned investment scale so far US$614.3 million, with the public sector providing US$122.6 million, while the rest will come from the private sector with a total worth US$ 492.5 million.
The island is located at the center of Northeast Asia, embracing an enormous potential market of approximately 750 million people including five cities each with a population of over 10 million within a two-hour flight.
The Jeju Healthcare Town plans to open in early 2011.