April 27, 2015 13:20
Prosecutors searched the offices of plastic surgery clinics in Gangnam that used agents to attract patients from China and slapped a travel ban on illegal brokers. The investigation was triggered by Chinese media reports that focused on a growing number of botched surgeries on patients from China here.
With the number of Chinese tourists here surpassing 6 million last year, the cosmetic surgery industry is busy targeting this lucrative group of clients. Plastic surgery patients from China multiplied 20-fold from just 791 in 2009 to 16,282 in 2013.
According to official Chinese data, 56,000 Chinese people went to Korea last year to go under the knife. But some plastic surgery clinics here overcharge massively, pocketing W5 million for a double eye-lid surgery that costs Koreans only W1.5 million (US$1=W1,080). This was because they had to pay brokers 50 to 90 percent of their fees. Industry sources say more than half of the Chinese patients are lured here by agents.
Malpractice is also getting more frequent. In late January, a Chinese woman who had double plastic surgery at a clinic in Gangnam fell into a coma and eventually died. And last month, a Chinese patient in her 20s fell into a coma while getting breast implants. There have been almost 100 Chinese media reports this year alone focusing on medical malpractice by Korean plastic surgery clinics.
A recent study by the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute found that only 25.7 percent of Chinese tourists want to return to Korea. The number of Chinese visitors grew 40 percent last year overall, but growth fell to 22 percent in March this year and is likely to drop even further to 10-15 percent this month.
During China's biggest Lunar New Year holidays in February, only 120,000 Chinese tourists came to Korea compared to 450,000 who headed to Japan.
This may be partially due to a lack of tourism infrastructure here, but greed and neglect may also be to blame.
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