The 10-year-old free independent city of Jeju is preparing for the groundbreaking of its new Healthcare Town at the end of March. The idea is to harness the already booming medical tourism waves that flow through Korea and channel them into what is hoped to become northern Asia’s medical hub.
Korea’s medical tourism market is booming. In 2009, 60,201 travelers visited Korea for medical treatments in dermatology, plastic surgery and gynecology, bringing in KRW54.7 billion (Korean Won). The number of medical tourists increased by 36 percent to 81,789 in 2010, raising profits to KRW103.2 billion. Of these tourists, 32.4 percent were Americans, 19.4 percent were Chinese and 16.8 percent were Japanese.
This is just a sliver of the 7 million people around the world who are crossing borders for lower-priced quality medical care. International consultant group McKinsey estimates that the global medical tourism market has grown at an annual rate of 25 percent since 2000 and is expected to be worth $100 billion, or KRW150 trillion, this year.
Already a tourist hub, Jeju offers visitors the world’s largest botanical garden Bunjae Artpia, the country’s tallest mountain Halla-San, Dragon’s Head Rock along the coast, the Samseonghyeol holes downtown and the Hallasan National Park in the interior.
Additionally, there are 18 cities within a two-hour flight to Jeju, most of which have more than five million residents. This includes cities like Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, all of which have populations higher than 10 million. Even though Jeju is larger than other free cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, it has a smaller population and less developed economy.
The state-owned company Jeju Free International City Development Center (JDC) is hoping the Jeju Healthcare Town will expand and develop its medical tourism market while developing the city on an international level and boosting the local economy. JDC, established under the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, is creating six projects: Jeju Global Education City, Jeju Science Park, Resort-type Residential Complex, Myths and History Theme Park, SeogwipoTourism Port and, of course, Jeju Healthcare Town.
“We will work to attract leading domestic and overseas medical institutions to Jeju and create a special medical zone on the island as part of our efforts to establish an advanced healthcare infrastructure befitting an international free city,” JDC Chairman Byon Jong-il said while announcing JDC’s 2012 business plans in celebration of its 10th anniversary.
The Healthcare Town will have its groundbreaking ceremony at the end of March and is expected to be completed in 2015. It will be built on a 1,539,013-square-meter site in Donghong-dong and Topyeong-dong, Seogwipo City, Jeju. This resort and medical service complex will consist of a Medical Park, Wellness Park and R&D Park to provide a wide range of healthcare services. Major facilities will include a medical check-up center and clinic, rehabilitation center, sanatorium, health community and international resort. The desire is to create a world-class healthcare resort that offers quality medical service and top-notch resort and tourism amenities.
The Medical Park will be a center that provides treatment for specialties like cancer, cardiovascular issues, vascular disease and spine problems. The Wellness Park will provide general health improvement services including check-ups, beauty treatments and oriental medicine as well as various lodging facilities. The R&D Park will focus on research, particularly in geriatrics. There will also be a retirement community with advanced medical agencies and a long-term care facility to provide for seniors and chronically ill patients.
The cost is about KRW784.5 billion, or US$701.3 million. Of that total, the Seowoo-Zong Da Real Estate consortium will invest about KRW467 billion to build a site area of 449,490 square meters. Seowoo, which consists of Neulproon Medical Foundation (Bobath Memorial Hospital), Seowoo Co. Ltd., Zhong Da Real Estate and ADI Health Care Co., was picked as the preferred bidder on Dec. 7, 2011.
Zhong Da Real Estate, a real estate firm in Kunshan, Jiangsu, China, is responsible for overseas marketing, while Neulproon Medical Foundation will become the main operator of healthcare facilities. ADI Health Care Co., Ltd., a total healthcare company, will provide solutions necessary for building and operating healthcare facilities. Greenland Group, based in Shanghai, China, will exclusively build facilities at the Wellness Park and R&D Park, while JDC will provide administrative, PR and marketing support in moving the project forward.
Two notable financiers are China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A number of Chinese real estate firms have invested in the healthcare project, which should help elevate the city as a regional medical hub. There is an old legend that connects China to Jeju’s land. It says that Seobok sailed off Jeju’s shore close to Jeongbang Waterfall and collected magical herbs of eternal youth from Mount Halla-San to fulfill the wish of Emperor Qin Shi Huang of China’s Qin Dynasty who feared death and sought a way to live forever without aging. This connection could be one of the reasons China voted Jeju the best tourist attraction.
Additionally, the Ministry of Health and Welfare signed an agreement with the Abu Dhabi Health Authority in the UAE in November 2011 to help Korea’s four medical institutions attract patients. This alliance is expected to fuel an increase in Korea’s medical services in the Middle East, especially because Abu Dhabi provides public funds to 3,000 patients every year to seek treatment overseas.
JDC has also struck up a partnership with Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada. Through a memorandum of understanding, the two will work closely together on exchanges, and JDC will adapt the hospital’s operating system and know-how with respect to pediatric hospitals.
The future for Jeju and its Healthcare Town is looking bright. Though medical tourists will have to wait until 2015 to benefit from its facilities, they can always travel to a number of Korea’s other renowned and accredited facilities.
Renée-Marie Stephano is the President of the Medical Tourism Association™. Ms. Stephano is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Medical Tourism Magazine, Health Tourism Magazine and Healthcare Development Magazine. Having a background in international marketing and relations, health law and litigation, she provides a valuable service to the Medical Tourism Association™ in these fields. She may be reached at: Renee@MedicalTourismAssociation.com.
Daniela Abratt is completing a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and minor in International Development and Humanitarian Assistance at the University of Florida in Gainesville and will graduate in May 2012. She has previously interned at The Miami Herald and is planning on attending law school in Fall 2012. She writes for the Medical Tourism Association’s Medical Tourism Magazine and Health Tourism Magazine.