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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Business

Medical Tourism

Taiwan doctors, tourism sector eye China boost

Employees are seen at a desk in a beauty clinic in Taipei on June 6, 2008. Taiwanese ophthalmologist Lin Pi-jung is eagerly anticipating a flood of new patients to his already busy clinics, after the recent historic talks between the island and mainland China.Photo: AFP

Taiwanese ophthalmologist Lin Pi-jung is eagerly anticipating a flood of new patients to his already busy clinics, after the recent historic talks between the island and mainland China.

The talks in Beijing, the first direct dialogue between the two rivals in over a decade, are set to focus on establishing direct flights between China and Taiwan and allowing more mainland tourists to visit the island.

Lin is predicting an influx of Chinese visitors who choose to have treatment on the island rather than at home -- a boost in the so-called medical tourism industry that he gladly welcomes.

"Certainly, I would be more busy if the cross-strait tensions are further eased," said Lin, chief executive officer of Universal Vision Biotechnology Co, which runs a string of clinics across the island.

"There are growing signs that Taipei-Beijing ties are moving in this positive direction," he said.

Taiwanese authorities are expected to strike a deal with China to launch weekend charter flights, and officials expect up to 3,000 Chinese tourists will be allowed to visit the island daily.

The move is a big step for Taiwan, which banned direct trade and transport exchanges with the mainland after they split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

It has severely restricted visits to the island ever since.

The island's more mainstream tourism industry, from restaurants to hotels and bus companies, is also expected to benefit, with extra business estimated to be worth at least 60 billion Taiwan dollars (1.98 billion US) annually.

The thawing of ties comes after Taiwan's President, Ma Ying-jeou, took office last month, following a landslide election which he won by campaigning to boost the island's sluggish economy and improve cross-strait relations.

"We're ready for the business potential (of closer ties)," Lin said.

In 2007, his company set up an arm specialising in medical tourism, and raised convertible company bonds worth 500 million Taiwan dollars (16.5 million US) for the new venture.

Universal Vision, which operates 15 clinics providing laser surgery, has also opened eight cosmetic surgery clinics, and runs 39 eye glasses stores.

Lianan Wellness Centre, a leading health clinic, said it too expected a wave of Chinese tourists. "There must be business opportunities," a manager of the centre said on condition of anonymity, declining to provide details.

Taiwan's photo studios, which have earned a strong reputation in the region especially in Hong Kong and Singapore, said they have been given strong hints that more business is in the pipeline.

"We recently were approached by a local tour agent asking us to quote a price for taking special photos for a Beijing group of up to 30 couples," said Chu Ai-hua of Sofia Photo Wedding Studio in Taipei.

"We have no idea if they want wedding photos or not. The tour agent said this group may come here some time between October and November, and they would visit the National Palace Museum" in Taipei, she said.

The famed museum, normally a must-see for foreign tourists, houses more than 655,000 Chinese artifacts spanning some 7,000 years, from the prehistoric Neolithic period to the last imperial Qing dynasty (1644-1912).

"The so-called 'theme travels' may be put on the market to attract mainland tourists," said Webby Yang, advertising director of Phoenix Tours International.

Taiwan local media have reported that 15,000 residents in southern Guangdong province in China registered with two tour agencies to come to the island -- just two days after they were allowed to start taking bookings.

In preparation for the influx, Taiwan's Tourism Bureau is running seminars for up to 500 local tour guides to familiarise them with issues that may be important for new Chinese clients.

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