12% fewer medical tourists to South Korea in 2017

The number of medical tourists visiting Korea fell in 2017 for the first time, mainly due to weak inbound traffic from China.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 2017 saw 321,574 medical tourists, a 12% drop on 364,189 in 2016. Medical tourism revenue was US$806.2 million in 2017, a drop of 26% from 2016.

The largest country provider with over 30% of the total was China with 99,837 patients in 2017, 22 % down from 127,000 in 2016.

The number of Chinese tourists visiting South Korea declined in 2017 due to diplomatic and trade tensions between the two countries. In March 2017, Beijing banned travel agencies in the country from selling package tours bound for South Korea as economic retaliation against the deployment of a US missile defence system in Korea, casting a pall over South Korea’s tourism industry that depends heavily on Chinese tourists.

Patient numbers in 2017 from Uzbekistan fell by 21% and from Kazakhstan fell by 16% compared to 2016. But patient numbers from Thailand rose 56% in 2017, with two out of three seeking cosmetic surgery.

The most popular treatment was internal treatment that accounted for 20% of the total, the same as in 2017. The second most popular was cosmetic surgery with 12%, up from 11% in 2016. The third most popular was skin care with 11% in both 2017 and in 2016.

View IMTJ’s recent article on the impact of global political risk and volatility on medical tourism.