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TAIWAN: Private partnerships seen as key in promoting medical tourism to Taiwan

Taiwan's private sector is trying to involve more industries in its effort to promote medical tourism, with the latest trial drawing interest from a local airline, according to a local travel agency. Sammy Yen, of Lion Travel's medical tourism unit, says the company has partnered with Taiwan's second largest carrier, EVA Airways in an experimental campaign that began April 1 to provide medical package tours for travellers from Hong Kong and Macau. He believes that only through similar cooperative strategies among different sectors will medical tourism in Taiwan thrive,” By working with airline companies or hospitals, we can establish a network instead of relying on random points of business."

Yen also hopes that independent medical tourists from China will soon be allowed to visit Taiwan, as they would also provide a boost to the sector, "Individual trips offer visitors more flexibility and privacy in their tours, which will help contribute to medical tourism." Chinese travelers are currently only allowed to visit Taiwan as members of tour groups rather than on their own. Alex Hung of Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital, a proponent of medical tourism, who works with Lion Travel, believes the government has to do more to expand Taiwan's medical tourism, "We need to promote medical tourism more actively to international travelers and tell them what Taiwan's strengths are."

Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou expects the arrival of individual Chinese tourists for self-guided tours in Taiwan by the middle of the year, but will not give any dates. Tourism industry representatives from Taiwan and China have held a new round of talks in Hong Kong to remove obstacles for the plan. Taiwan now has to compete with Japan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, India, and Mainland China for medical tourism. The self-guided trips by Mainland Chinese to Taiwan will generate business for the hospitals and hotels.

President Ma Ying-jeou says Taiwan must quickly work to relax rules to remain competitive in medical tourism. He believes that while Mainland China is unable to attract Taiwanese hospitals to set up base there, it is possible to woo Taiwanese doctors. Now the government has plans to set up an international medical service area in Taoyuan County, northern Taiwan. A government official said that it would take at least six months to revise related rules for the area. He said that it would be at least two and a half years before the area would yield results.

A record number of people visited Taiwan in the first two months of this year, while the number of Taiwanese travelers to Hong Kong and Macau has fallen, according to the latest government statistics. Tourist arrivals reached 850,000 between January and February, representing a daily average of 14,476, both of which were new records for this period. China provided, by far, the largest source of tourists, with Chinese citizens making 220,000 visits, accounting for a quarter of all total visitors. Japan followed; contributing 200,000 visitors, while Hong Kong and Macau came in third, at 110,000 visits.

Source IMTJ