In our previous post we took a look at the Chinese luxury traveler: their tendencies, their behaviors, and their enormous potential as medical tourists, and our observation was that the health tourism industry should prepare for what could be a massive influx of high-dollar health-seeking travelers from China; today, let’s look at their preferences when they do go abroad for treatment and where they’re going.
At this point it’s a story of growth. In 2010, roughly 10,000 affluent Chinese went overseas for healthcare, but by the end of last year that number had jumped to 60,000. That’s a six-fold increase which, if the trend continues, will result in over 2 million luxury Chinese health travelers by 2016.
It’s also a story of indulgence: Chinese medical tourists want high-end treatments like stem cell procedures, detoxification programs, and spa therapies; they head to high-end places like Switzerland where they stay in high-end hotels and spend lots of money on shopping; and all told, they’re dropping nearly $100K USD on their trips, which makes them the top-spending medical tourism market.
They’re also seeking better facilities in which to give birth, more advanced hospitals and doctors to treat their chronic diseases, improved cardiovascular care, or just a better overall understanding of their health and wellness; and, with their rapid rise in wealth and mobility they have the means to escape the problems they encounter at home and simply head overseas wherever and whenever they like for higher-quality care.
One such problem is long waiting times at many top hospitals in China; another, reminiscent of American HMOs, is that you cannot usually choose your preferred doctor or surgeon. As a result, the Chinese luxury market is turning to the excellent medical tourism in Singapore, for example, heading there for laser eye surgeries, a long weekend in a fine hotel, and of course a bit of shopping.
There are also advancements in oncology available overseas that may not be standard yet in Chinese hospitals. Many patients head to Japan for cancer screenings because the procedures there are state-of-the-art. The owner of a successful Chinese travel agency that specializes in private medical tourism trips for the rich, L’Avion, underwent a gastroscopy there which is usually performed through the mouth in China, but is performed nasally in Japan, significantly reducing patient discomfort. Traveling to Japan for health check-ups is now part of his company’s offerings.
And what would medical tourism be without trips overseas for more beautiful faces? The Chinese are jumping over to South Korea for cosmetic/plastic surgeries due to the expert surgeons and advanced surgical techniques. This is the trend for the 20-35 year old age group who are interested in nose job (rhinoplasty), eye surgery, chin augmentation, and jaw surgery.
The other main group of Chinese luxury health travelers is the 40+ set who are splurging on anti-aging procedures and cutting-edge wellness therapies in places like Switzerland and Germany, getting injections of serum made from sheep placenta to treat fatigue and other problems associated to aging, and an immune system boost. Most of this group are entrepreneurs willing to pay large sums for overseas consultations and surgeries, and they spare no expense, often employing the services of interpreters, tour guides, first-class flights, private drivers, and specially-prepared meals, amenities that can be arranged by a company like L’Avion whose most popular packages happen to be anti-aging treatment in Switzerland and cancer screening in Japan.
So, this is an affluent market that loves to travel and now they’ve mixed in the medical tourism angle, so the real question is how high will the numbers go? There are 60,000 Chinese luxury health tourists now, but imagine once it becomes streamlined, trendy, and is marketed properly? With 2.8 million millionaires (USD) who perceive medical care outside their country as better, the potential is huge.