China’s strict family planning laws ban unmarried women from using fertility treatment. This rule became the subject of heated discussion in 2015 after actress and director Xu Jinglei said she had travelled to America to have her eggs frozen (see WiC297).
The 43 year-old Xu is far from alone. Ctrip has even launched a series of “US cryopreservation tour” packages on its travel site, costing over Rmb200,000 ($30,000).
In fact, the Chinese are travelling abroad in greater numbers for all sorts of medical tests and operations. According to Ctrip, the number of outbound tourists who received medical treatment increased five-fold last year, with the average patient spending Rmb50,000.
Cosmetic procedures are at the forefront of these medical missions and South Korea remains a favoured destination for its expertise in plastic surgery. “These package tours typically involve visiting some tourist sites upon arrival, [then] the members receive double-eyelid surgery in the morning at a hospital, and go shopping or sightseeing in the afternoon,” Jin, a tour guide, told CBN.
“Beauty tours” to Europe are popular too although they cost twice as much as a trip without the vanity treatments. Ctrip’s product manager Zhang Jun claims that tours like these used to be the preserve of the wealthy, living in Tier-1 cities, but bookings are now increasing from Tier-2 cities. Zhang estimates there will be “several hundreds of thousands” of beauty tourists a year by 2025.
Some travellers are looking for life-saving treatments. In recent years Japan has become a favoured location for Chinese patients seeking treatment for cancer and heart conditions. Japanese airline ANA even launched its own healthcare packages this year, partnering with a medical centre outside Tokyo to provide full body check-ups.
Hoping to attract some of this spending, China’s Hainan province has been promoting itself as a “hotspot” for medical tourism too. In 2013 the local government allocated over 1,600 mu of land for the construction of health centres and claims businesses have pledged Rmb23 billion ($3.3 billion) for 27 projects covering healthcare and plastic surgery.
The tropical island has also received permission from the central government to import certain medicines that have been approved overseas but not yet licenced in China, thus establishing a “healthcare pilot zone”.
Bloomberg reports the scheme faces challenges – for instance, there is a quota on the quantity of such drugs that can be imported. Additionally the central government is attempting to overhaul its system for drugs approvals, seeking to streamline the process. If it achieves this aim Hainan could lose a primary competitive edge.
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