▲ Chief Director Dr. Cho Hong Chun. Photo by Angela Kim
In May of 2009, the Korean Medical Law was reformed to allow for companies to attract medical tourists. Shortly after, in December of that year, the Yonsei Roseelle Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Clinic established a branch on Jeju to take advantage of this Korean breakthrough for medical tourism.
Medical tourism has been on the provincial government’s agenda since 2008 when the Jeju Free International City Development Center (JDC) pushed forward with its 315 billion won (US$253.5 million) Healthcare Town Project in Seogwipo City, set to be completed by 2015. According to Bank of Korea statistics on the balance of payments, medical tourism profits sharply increased from $59 million (67.4 billion won) in 2006 to $115 million (131 billion won) in 2011.
Located near Tapdong E-Mart in Jeju City, the clinic, with its team of skillful specialists who relocated to the island from Apgujeongdong, Seoul (the most popular plastic surgery district in the country), was the first plastic surgery and dermatology clinic to be appointed by the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province as a Leading Medical Tourism Clinic.
Though it has now made a solid reputation for itself, the Jeju Roseelle Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Clinic did not become an overnight success.
“We had undergone trial and error numerous of times,” Chief Director Cho Hong Chun, M.D. told The Weekly from the island’s Yonsei Roseelle Clinic.
During the clinic’s initial stages, the cost of investment was greater than profits generated resulting in a team of specialists having to fly to China, as well as to other countries, to try and attract more patients. Though times were bleak, they did not give up.
Through the efforts of Dr. Cho and his team, more and more tourists are now showing interest in receiving treatments as a part of their island tour packages.
“The rough part is trying to satisfy every clients’ needs,” said Dr. Cho. “I believe we’re still at the beginning stage, but the number of medical tourists will gradually increase.”
To address the problem of having to tailor to each individual’s tourism desires, Yonsei Roseelle created Gorilla Smartway in 2009. In essence Gorilla Smartway is a one-stop medical tourism agency that provides package programs that includes plastic surgery or dermatology treatments as well hotels, casinos, sightseeing, and shopping. It is a more systematic approach to medical tourism on Jeju.
"We cannot manage the clinic properly solely based on foreign clientele,” he said, adding, “We prepared to accommodate everyone."
With its various up-to-date medical equipment, three operating rooms, on-call doctors in Seoul who can fly down for surgeries, and a flexible staff that accommodate to the trip schedules of foreign clients, even operating nights and weekends if necessary, the clinic does seem fully prepared.
All of this — the amenities of the clinic and Gorilla Smartway — is important especially considering the cost and duration of a trip to Jeju can differ from three days to weeks depending on the procedure. According to Dr. Cho, while many clients previously prefered invasive procedures, more and more of his patients are now asking for non-invasive procedures, with golf tourists particularly interested in skin care treatments.
Dr. Cho also believes that the island’s combination of its beautiful nature and its abundance of activities like golfing and gambling means Jeju has more to offer than other tourist destinations in Korea.
Currently, most of the clinic’s foreign clients come from China, followed by Japan. Also, he said that those who are Korean with dual citizenship come back to Korea to have surgery at his clinic, and this is also classified as medical tourism.
As a marketing plan, Dr. Cho thinks targeting the Chinese market has great potential due to the size of the country’s population. Compared to the rest of Korea, Jeju offers Chinese tourists visa free entry to the island which is definitely another selling point.
He also expects the number of tourists from Mongolia, Russia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong to increase.
“Also, I see potential to attract clients from Western countries coming to Jeju or Korea, due to relatively expensive medical cost in Western countries like America,” said Dr. Cho. “Most importantly, Korea is one of the leading countries in the world in plastic surgery techniques,” he emphasized.
Even though the New7Wonders of Nature campaign has been considered to be very controversial, Dr. Cho believes that it can be a critical marketing advantage for the island. On top of utilizing Jeju’s recent acclaim, the clinic is advertising through word of mouth to increase its brand image.
“For example, if someone told a Korean to go get surgery in the Philippines, he or she would worry about so many factors, like how reliable the staff is, cost, and more. But if he or she knew someone who’s been to the country and had successful surgery, his or her chance of going to the Philippines will increase.”
Though the island has much to offer medical tourism, Dr. Cho also pointed out some of the island’s weakness, such as its lack of infrastructure. He emphasized the need for bigger clinics with larger patient capacities.
The lack of direct flights to Jeju is another issue, he said. Since Jeju currently only has direct international flights from Beijing and Shanghai, tourists in other Chinese cities cannot take advantage of the island’s visa-free regulation, and must travel to Seoul first before coming to Jeju.
Yet, Dr. Cho hopes that Jeju’s strength of having more casinos, hotels, and tourists sites than any other city in the country will overcome all of the island’s weaknesses. Even more, some of the casinos on the island have already contacted the clinic to be included in its VIP marketing strategy.
Dermatology and plastic surgery treatments are generally not covered by insurance. For most foreign tourists, only basic skin diseases like rashes and allergies are covered. In most cases, aesthetic treatments and plastic surgery are not.
Yonsei Roseelle Clinic branches are also located in Jeonju and Cheongju, and was a sponsor for the 47th Daejong Film Festival. On its Web site, all information is in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. The clinic offers brochures in English, Chinese, and Japanese.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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