Hallyu is going viral worldwide, and Korean medical technology is also gaining popularity overseas. More and more foreigners from all over the world are flocking to Korea to take advantage of Korean medical services, renowned for their superior technology and reasonable cost.
The Korean government is also trying to make use of this positive trend by taking a few steps to support Korean medical tourism and to fuel its growth. One of the most prominent regional governments in this effort is Incheon, which also happens to boast a world-class international airport and is scheduled to host the Asian Games this year.
BusinessKorea interviewed Kim Bong-ki, CEO of the Incheon Medical Tourism Foundation (IMTF) to ask him about the organization’s mission, performance, medical products, and other topics, especially those in connection with opening the Asian Games in Incheon this year.
Here are some excerpts from the interview with him.
Could you summarize the foundation’s mission and performance so far since its kickoff in 2011?
The IMTF was founded in August 2011 with the mission of grooming Incheon to become Northeast Asia’s top medical tourism city, by harnessing top-notch medical services, a well-developed transportation network, attractive tourism resources, and unsparing support from the municipality. It was the first medical tourism organization to be accredited by the Ministry of Health and Welfare among nationwide municipalities.
The foundation is endeavoring to support Incheon’s medical institutions and relevant organizations, to establish the basis of Incheon’s medical tourism business, and to build a collaborative network among medical-related organizations inside and outside of Korea.
As a result, the number of medical tourists soared from 2,898 in 2010 to 4,400 in 2011 after the birth of the foundation. The number grew to 6,317 in 2012, and over 10,000 in 2013. The goal for this year is to attract 14,000 medical patients.
Based on statistical data, it is estimated that 2013’s 10,000 patients helped to generate some 19.1 billion won [US$17.8 million] in medical revenues and 6.326 billion won [US$5.902 million] in tourism profits, totaling over 25.4 billion won [US$23.7 million] in medical and tourism profits.
Would you mind introducing your flagship business or specialized products on the back of this year’s opening of the Asian Games?
First of all, we are trying to reinforce activities to penetrate markets in Far Eastern Asian cities such as Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, on the heels of the Korea-Russia 60 day non-visa pact coming into effect since January 1, 2014, to expand into the Russian market. Market research is underway for Russian market exploration together with signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Korea Tourism Organization at the beginning of 2014.
We are also exerting ourselves to attract medical tourists as well as to promote Incheon’s medical infrastructure by setting up and operating a public relations hall within the Asian Games athletes’ village to be open from September to October 2014.
This year we are planning to introduce a One Hour Medical Service at Incheon Airport, targeting transfer passengers so that they can receive fast and accurate medical services. The main services to be provided are medical checkups, skin care, and teeth cleaning.
The One Hour Medical Service program ensures that patients will get to the hospital within one hour after their arrival at the airport, targeting 500,000 passengers with more than a four hour layover at the airport, out of 6.5 million total Incheon airport transfer passengers. Currently, 17,000, only slightly over 3 percent of the total transfer passengers, are opting for transfer tours. The foundation will make full use of the logo that was chosen through last year’s public contest to actively promote the One Hour Medical Service.
Furthermore, by aggressively raising governmental policy funds, we will set up a “Medical PR Zone” within Incheon Airport’s Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine area and transfer desk areas to run a hands-on corner where people can experience medical service samples, get medical tourism information, and meet potential doctors.
How can we break down medical tourists to Incheon medical institutions by nationality, and is there any country particularly interested?
This year, the foundation is eyeing China, Russia, Central Asia, and Vietnam, and as for North America, we are zeroing in on Canada and the military market.
As of 2012, foreign patients can be broken down by nationality as follows: 28 percent Chinese, 8.9 percent Americans, 7.6 percent Russians, and 4.0 percent Mongolians. Russia in particular is showing a high annual growth rate of 88.1 percent in the last four years.
Could you compare the competitiveness of Incheon’s medical tourism infrastructure with those of other municipalities?
We have the huge advantage of the world-class Incheon airport, so we are trying to create the image of “Incheon Healthcare City” by promoting Incheon Airport as the “Medical Hub Airport.”
We are especially spearheading the Incheon Cerebral & Cardiovascular Cluster (ICC) to treat cerebral and cardiovascular diseases. It is jointly operated by Incheon City, Incheon Medical Tourism Foundation, and 3 general hospitals in Incheon, which are Catholic University, Gacheon Gil Hospital, and Inha University Hospital. In 2013, the ICC treated 564 cerebral and cardiovascular patients, 156% of the year’s goal.
Moreover, since the foundation is entering into its third year of business, we are trying to go beyond the simple offering of medical services to shopping, culture, and other services.
|Accredited by Ministry of Health and Welfare||
|Designated by Ministry of Health and Welfare||
The organizations participating in the ICC place a focus on attracting overseas patients, and as a result, a brisk overseas network has been created in Incheon. The network has already been very active in establishing connections with locations in Uzbekistan, Tenji in China, and Hanoi in Vietnam, where we have been engaged in vigorous PR and communication through video conference systems. In 2013, we also formed a network with Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia and Shenyang in China in our efforts to invigorate our medical tourism.
Incheon also has 20 hospitals that are accredited domestically and internationally, more than any other municipality. Inha University Hospital obtained Joint Commission International’s (JCI) accreditation, while 12 hospitals are registered as being accredited by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and 7 are picked as the Ministry’s designated hospitals.
Related with the above, for three consecutive years Incheon City and the Incheon Medical Tourism Foundation were selected as “2014’s leading business entity in nurturing medical technology and attracting overseas patients” organized by the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Incheon City, in the wake of this selection, secured 150 million won [US$139,950], procuring a total of 400 million won [US$373,200] between 2012 and 2014 from the state coffers. The funds will help to speed up its endeavors in grooming the city as the medical hub for treating cerebral and cardiovascular diseases to attract foreign patients to Incheon, which is our goal.
It has been noted that your organization is also involved in charitable medical services shared overseas. Could we know more about your overseas activities?
To maximize the effects of charitable medical operations that used to center around the city and medical organizations, we are expanding our collaboration with major companies that are running social work.
In particular, what we call the “Nanum Medical Operation” is receiving a lot of positive press after treating Vietnamese burn victims, in link with Korea GM’s Hanmaeum Foundation. For example, through the program, 15-year-old Vietnamese burn victim Nguyen Thanh Huyen will visit Korea in September this year to get a free four-week treatment. Vietnamese state-run Hanoi broadcasting is scheduled to make a documentary about that and to air it in November.