Health and Beauty Tourism Overseas Lures Chinese in Droves
Le Yan
/SOURCE : Yicai
Health and Beauty Tourism Overseas Lures Chinese in Droves

(Yicai Global) May 8 -- The health and beauty market has maintained a 15-percent annual growth rate in recent years, a market insider told Yicai Global, citing statistics published by China Health and Beauty Association.

The market's total value will be close to CNY500 billion (USD72 billion) by 2020, and the rapid development of the health and beauty industry has had a spillover effect on tourism and many other related businesses, he said.

"[They can] turn single eyelids into double ones in a day, and you can go shopping and sightseeing right after the surgery," a veteran South Korea tour guide, known as 'sister Jin,' told her customers.

Many Chinese tourists seeking the more developed health and beauty services of foreign countries have gone to Europe, the US, Japan, and South Korea these years, hence the increasing popularity of beauty tourism products.

"Japan and South Korea have remained very popular destinations for Chinese tourists, and some of them went there to receive cosmetic surgery," sister Jin said. "These package tours typically involve visiting some tourist sites upon arrival in South Korea, and the members receive double eyelid surgery in the morning at a hospital, and go shopping or sightseeing in the afternoon."

Miss Wu joined one of these tours. Cosmetic surgery has become too routine in South Korea, she said. Surgeons there have good skills, but the double eyelids that they create all look exactly the same, she complained. She and her friends prefer Japanese health and beauty services that make double eyelids look more natural and unique.

"You're wrong if you think that only women want health and beauty services," said a roughly 30-year-old male who got a facelift. "Many men that I know have also received cosmetic surgery."

A travel agency can label a package tour a beauty tourism product, and mark up the price substantially. A one-week tour to Europe or America costs about CNY20,000 (USD2,900) per head. A beauty tour of the same length is double the cost. A luxury beauty tour -- such as a placental injection tour to Switzerland -- can cost over CNY1 million (USD145,00).

The number of outbound tourists receiving medical examination and other health services abroad increased five-fold last year, with per capita spending exceeding CNY50,000, per a research report released by Chinese travel service company Ctrip [NASDAQ:CTRP]. The report projected that the total number of outbound Chinese tourists would be over 500,000 last year.

Health and beauty tourism has evolved over the years, and its scope has expanded to include Japanese medical checkups, European oxygen therapy, and genetic diagnosis in the US, in addition to cosmetic surgery in Japan and South Korea.

"Most consumers of health and beauty tourism are from first-tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, but market penetration has been on the rise in second-tier cities too," Ctrip's product manager Zhang Jun said. "We estimate that the number of outbound health and beauty tourists will increase to several hundreds of thousands in the next five years."

A new health tourism product, cryopreservation, has emerged amid the market boom. Ctrip recently launched the "US cryopreservation tour" priced at above CNY200,000. It covers single-cycle egg freezing, initial consultation, pre-cycle infectious disease screening, egg retrieval, laboratory and operating room charges, and one-year egg storage costs.

"Women's fertility deteriorates rapidly after 35, and 30 to 35 is the best time for egg freezing." said Zhang Xin, an advocate of 'egg freezing' tourism and founder of Shanghai-based cryopreservation service provider Ivfusa.com. "In principle, egg freezing should be completed before 38."

These health tourism products all sound very promising, but they involve inherent risks, said Wei Changren, chief analyst at Jinlv Consulting. "If an accident occurs, should the travel agency and the medical institutions held liable? Is 'egg freezing' legal and ethical for single women? Market participants should find the answers to these questions first."

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Keywords: TOURISM , Medical Service , New Products , Middle Class Demands , Cosmetology Surgery