May 12, 2016 08:16
The plastic-surgery tourism boom in Korea appears to be waning with the number of Chinese customers shrinking from its peak of over 79,000 in 2014.
Official figures are not yet out, but a look at the preliminary tally revealed by the 10 most popular cosmetic hospitals among Chinese visitors shows a 20-percent drop from 13,500 customers in 2014 to 10,000 last year.
Despite the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome last year, the number of foreign patients in Korea edged up from 266,501 in 2014 to 280,000 last year. But Chinese customers dwindled, chiefly because their satisfaction rating is plunging.
The streets of the affluent Gangnam area where the plastic surgery clinics cluster are virtually empty these days. Until early last year, they teemed with Chinese women wearing the characteristic casts protecting their brand-new noses, but no longer.
Clinics are worried but have only themselves to blame for their greed. A staffer at one plastic surgery clinic said it now treats only about half of the Chinese patients it saw early last year. But the head of another plastic surgery clinic claimed these days Korean plastic surgeons are flying to China to conduct operations.
Chinese people are losing interest in getting plastic surgery in Korea because of a series of reports of malpractice and price gouging of foreigners.
In March of this year, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV broadcast a report exposing overcharging by Korean hospitals, and the Beijing News daily highlighted the side effects customers suffered from conveyor-belt practices.
Medical industry insiders here said there was plenty of publicity in China for cases of plastic surgery performed by unqualified doctors.
The government wanted to attract a million foreign patients by 2020 and generate W2.9 trillion in medical revenues, but that now looks like a distant dream (US$1=W1,171). The Ministry of Health and Welfare took steps in April to enable foreign patients to check what procedures they receive and how much they should be paying. Foreign patients can also reclaim 10-percent VAT, and the government has capped the commissions agents can charge.
Jin Ki-nam at Yonsei University said, "We should consider the decline in Chinese medical tourists an opportunity to improve treatments offered here rather than focus simply on attracting huge numbers."
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