For years Taiwan's citizens and tourists alike have been bemused by the tourism bureau's motto -- 'Taiwan, Touch Your Heart.' But with the island's government pushing to attract a new class of tourists, the phrase may soon start to seem more apt.
Speaking to reporters over the weekend, President Ma Ying-jeou said the government planned to get serious about drawing visitors to the island, not for its night market eats or museums, but to undergo medical procedures like heart surgery or fertility treatment. The announcement represents a potential turning point in Taiwan's efforts to grab a slice of the US$40 billion medical tourism market.
Around 90,000 people flew to Taiwan last year for medical reasons, which was about only 1% of the island's medical revenue. But a look at some of the island's more aggressive neighbors shows there's plenty of room for growth: Singapore hosted 410,000 'medical travelers' in 2009, while Bumrungrad in Thailand also received 400,000 foreign patients that year, according to Patients Without Borders, a Boston-based agency advocating global medical tourism.
Taiwan has been slow to take advantage of growth in medical tourism thanks largely to a combination of poor promotion and planning with fears of inviting contagious diseases from abroad.
In an effort to make Taiwan more competitive in the market, Mr. Ma said, medical tourism would soon be handled by a new committee at the legislature level--much higher than the department of health, which had previously been responsible for the sector but isn't powerful enough to coordinate international policy-making within the government.
Ma also pledged to increase funding for international marketing, although he didn't say by how much.
Taiwan's government has pumped around NT$15 million, or roughly US$493,830, into a government-backed taskforce on medical tourism every year since its inception in 2007. That funding -- which is intended to cover all international marketing activities in addition to the taskforce's daily operating expenses â ' is piddling compared to Singapore, whose government earmarks around US$100 million for the management and promotion of medical tourism every year.
With restrictions on mainland Chinese tourists fast diminishing, the island could see a surge in medical tourists. Given growing wealth in Chinaâ 'and, since mainland Chinese pay in yuan, the potential for foreign-exchange gains--the windfall for Taiwan could be huge.
'When people talk about Taiwan, they think of its food, but not its healthcare services,' Patients Without Borders' chairman Josef Woodman told China Real Time. 'What you need to do is to promote, promote and promote.'
Wu Ming-yeh, a physician who is also secretary of the taskforce on medical tourism, said: 'Hopefully, with the increased funding, we can put ads in newspapers overseas, which will certainly help promote us.'
Taiwan has the attributes of a good medical tourism destination -- it is safe, located a few hours by plane from other major Asian cities, and boasts a number of western-trained doctors who speak English. In an effort to leverage Taiwan's easy accessibility by air, the government has announced plans to build a NT$2 billion medical facility near the Taoyuan international airport, although investors have yet to be found for the project.
First, though, the island has a more basic change to make: 'They could put up more signs in English inside the hospitals and launch English Web sites detailing their services and pricing.'
台湾观光局打出的“台湾，触动你心”(Taiwan, Touch Your Heart)的口号多年来一直让本地人和游客有些不知所云。不过随着政府采取措施吸引一类特殊游客前来台湾，这句话或许很快就会显得恰当起来。
Associated Press台湾领导人马英九(Ma Ying-jeou)上周末对记者说，台湾政府准备认真思考如何吸引游客一事，此处的游客并非指那些来台湾逛夜市或博物馆的人，而是指专门到台湾接受心脏手术或生育治疗等医疗服务的人。马英九的此番讲话或许会为台湾在争夺规模400亿美元的全球医疗旅游市场份额方面带来转机。
去年约有9万人因医疗原因前往台湾，而这部分收入仅占台湾医疗收入总额的1%。不过纵观台湾周边一些国家和地区对医疗旅游业更加积极的投入就可发现，台湾在这方面还有很大的增长空间。据总部位于美国波士顿的一家提倡全球医疗旅游的机构“患者无国界”(Patients Without Borders)的数据显示，2009年前往新加坡的“医疗游客”人数达41万，而同年泰国康民医院(Bumrungrad)收治的外籍病人也多达40万。
关键词：医疗旅游 台湾 旅游
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