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Taiwan’s cosmetic surgery entices Chinese tourists

When visiting Taiwan, wives of China’s provincial governors take in the must-sees – the night markets, Ali Mountain, and Sun Moon Lake. Of late, the list now includes a visit to the Taiwan’s cosmetic surgery clinics as well. Business Weekly reported that the wives of Chinese high-ranking officials like to accompany their husbands to Taiwan so they can take advantage of the cosmetic enhancements available there.

Chinese movie stars also look toward the promotional packages in Taiwan and seek some “cosmetic nutrition.” They stay in Taiwan for up to a week for laser whitening, facial skin tightening, fat removal under baggy eyes, minor cosmetic procedures, and physical examinations, often costing them NT$1 million (US$33,800).

The big business of small injections

According to a report by American Medical Insight Inc., the market for aesthetic plastic surgery products and equipment in Asia last year reached US$586 million, an annual growth rate of 13.3 percent. The top three countries with the highest growth were India, China and Taiwan in descending order.

There are about 1,200 plastic surgery clinics in Taiwan, said Jen Chung-chieh, president of Dynamic Medical Technologies, a provider of 50 percent of the aesthetic lasers and light-based equipment to hospitals and clinics in Taiwan. Based on monthly business revenues of NT$3 million (US$100,000) per clinic, the annual production value is around NT$43 billion (US$1.4 billion) in Taiwan, equivalent to that of the industrial machine tool industry, which is ranked among the top five in the world.

Take hyaluronic acid for example, the Restylane brand has taken 90 percent of Taiwan’s market since it was first imported and introduced in 2003. There were 45,000 Taiwanese having hyaluronan injections temporarily smoothing their wrinkles in 2010, increasing to 50,000 injections in 2011. With other brands entering the market, this is estimated to increase to about 70,000 injections in 2012. On average, 193 Taiwanese receive injections daily.

For international brands, they treat Taiwan as a testing ground with an eye on expanding to other markets in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Business Weekly reported that there are three million people who undergo plastic surgery in China every year. The Chinese cosmetic surgery market is expected to grow to US$33.5 billion by 2015, making it a very attractive market.

Local ‘beauty belts’

In South Korea, there is a “beauty belt,” where 650 plastic surgery clinics are clustered around Apgujeong-dong, a string of subway stations in the districts of southern Seoul. In order to serve the Chinese customers, almost all of them hire Chinese interpreters.

Similarly in Taiwan, there are over 200 cosmetic surgery clinics clustered in the district of Zhongxiao East Road in Taipei. Based on the estimation of monthly revenues of NT$6 million (US$203,000) per clinic, the annual revenue generated within this 1.5 kilometer area is about NT$14 billion (US$470 million), accounting for a third of the total Taiwanese cosmetic surgery market. Taipei City is the center of Taiwan’s plastic surgery market, accounting for 60 percent of the total market value.

Taipei City has been coordinating with the hospitals and hot spring hotels to promote cross-strait medical and cosmetic tourism since 2007. In the last five years, there were 2,263 Chinese people following this promotion to Taiwan for physical examinations, bringing in about NT$320 million (US$10.8 million) worth of income.

Plenty of room for growth

According to the statistics of the Taiwan Trade Center, in 2010 there were 15,000 foreigners who visited Taiwan for medical and cosmetic visits.  The figure increased to 39,000 in 2011, among them, 30 percent sought minor plastic surgery procedures. Compared with South Korea, Taiwan has plenty of room for growth.

However, Taiwan is poised to make the medical and cosmetic industry a driving factor in its GDP growth, according to Business Weekly. As Taiwanese and Chinese share the same language, doctors and patients can communicate directly without the need of interpreters so that patients can easily receive a satisfactory service. Plus, the opening of direct flights between Taiwan and China makes traveling easier and more time efficient. It takes only 110 minutes to fly from Shanghai to Taipei, compared with 2.5 hours between Shanghai and Japan.

Although South Korea is considered a cosmetic surgery powerhouse, about a third of Korean cosmetic surgeons have studied in Taiwan. According to Business Weekly, they often go to the Chang Gung Memorial Hospital to learn cosmetic surgery skills, said Su Gong-min, educational supervisor of Dynamic Medical Technologies. The good reputation and high standards of Taiwan’s medical system can even rival those offered at the world’s top cosmetic surgery destination – the United States.