Taipei, Feb. 8 (CNA) Medical tourism providers are pushing for a more integrated strategy to lure potential customers from China as the effect of a policy allowing independent Chinese travelers to visit the country has been limited.
Sammy Yen, general manager of Lion Travel Co.’s medical tourism unit, said the travel industry has been trying to develop more comprehensive medical tourism packages through closer cooperation to win over high-end consumers because a business model relying on quantity is not likely to work.
“We used to have high hopes for the Free Independent Traveler (FIT) program,” he said. “But we have so far overestimated its benefits.”
Yen was referring to the policy that kicked off last June, when Taiwan opened its doors to tourists from certain Chinese cities to visit Taiwan without having to be part of a tour group or accompanied by a tour guide.
While some health care institutions that provide comprehensive physical checkups expected the FIT program to bring them at least 3,000 Chinese visitors seeking medical services last year, Yen said the actual number fell somewhere around 1,500.
According to statistics from the National Immigration Agency (NIA), a total of 30,281 Chinese visitors came to Taiwan through the program from June-December, 2011, far short of the industry’s expectations since the quota was set to allow 500 visitors per day.
As a result, Yen and fellow medical tourism providers said they will have to launch even more upscale services to establish the brand and spread the word.
Liu I-hsiu, general manager of Formosa International Hotels Corporation, said, for example, that it will work with Lion Travel to provide three-day itineraries that could cost around NT$122,000 (US$4,100) or higher.
Liu said the package, which includes health checks, beauty treatments, shopping and even golf, can fulfill customers’ visions of a healthy lifestyle.
“Services offered by one single travel agency or one single hotel is not enough,” she said. “All major players must get involved.”
Meanwhile, Yen said the industry has also been working much more closely with government agencies, discussing with them ways to better improve Taiwan’s competitiveness in the field.
“We don’t want to see the Council of Agriculture promoting their organic food here and the Tourism Bureau celebrating a hot spring festival there,” Yen said.
“We want the government to send an integrated message that Taiwan is one of the best travel destinations to heal your body and soul.”
(By Lee Hsin-Yin)