High costs dampen HK's cosmetic surgery appeal

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 August, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong's cosmetic surgery industry could soon find itself in need of a facelift, as services in other Asian countries prove more affordable.

High rental costs and wages have severely limited so-called medical tourism in the city, while regional rivals such as Taiwan and South Korea attract droves of newly rich mainlanders seeking treatments.

The term medical tourism was coined by travel agencies and the media to describe the rapidly growing trend for travelling overseas for health care. Cosmetic surgery at Hong Kong's private hospitals and clinics has proved to be more expensive than in other countries, so locals and others are now looking to go under the scalpel elsewhere.

Dr Ying Shun-yeun, of The Ying Clinic in Central, said: 'Medical tourism is a hot topic across the whole world. Generally speaking, India gets most of the Western patients; Thailand gets most Middle-Eastern tycoons post-September 11; Singapore catches a lot of the Southeast Asian rich; and Korea gets the [mainland] Chinese clients.

'Hong Kong and Taiwan want a share of the growing China market, but here we are not well-prepared for this: our private hospitals are limited by bed numbers and high costs.'

Ying said only about 3 to 5 per cent of his monthly business revenue was from mainland patients. He still thought there might be hope if the Hong Kong dollar continued to be pegged to the weak US dollar as it may 'earn some cost advantage over regional competitors'.

As people shop around for value, the likes of Taiwan and South Korea are proving much more popular destinations for plastic surgery, particularly for patients from the mainland.

According to Taiwan's Health Department, about 5,000 visitors came to Taiwan in 2008 for health check-ups and cosmetic surgery, creating an industry worth between US$40 million and US$50 million.

Today, the potential mainland clientele is huge and medical tourism in Taiwan is expected to grow by 20 per cent a year. There are now around 100 million mainlanders who can boast spending power equivalent to the average consumer in Hong Kong.

Seoul's Dong Yang Plastic Surgery Hospital is the largest of its kind in South Korea. Julie Lee, a hospital spokesman, said: 'About 70 per cent of our international patients are from China. We therefore have a customised system for Chinese patients.'

Simple procedures are all the rage, such as Botox injections to smooth wrinkles. However, the most popular procedure in the region is to remove bags under the eyes or create double eyelids, an operation intended to make the eyes look bigger.


The figure, in US dollars, it is estimated that the medical tourism industry will be worth by 2012