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Culture, medical sector to help boost Taiwan tourism

Thousands of Chinese tourists are visiting Taiwan this weekend for the traditional Dragon Boat Festival holiday, one of the most important days in the ethnic Chinese world.

Although this increase of mainland visitors is driven by the soaring number of direct flights between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and the launch of self-guided tours to Chinese tourists, the government should continue its efforts to highlight both the nation's traditional culture and high-tech medical sector.

With regard to the available medical facilities, hotels and transportation, a growing number of Chinese tourists are already seeking health and wellness in Taiwan. By promoting medical tourism during traditional holidays, Taiwan's top medical centers could successfully attract more visitors.

If you have made use of local medical facilities, you can also attest to Taiwanese hospitals' commitment to quality and affordable medical care. The U.S.-based Joint Commission International (JCI) has even accredited several local centers as having international-level medical facilities.

The JCI accreditation indicates a visible commitment to top-quality medical care; it ensures a safe environment and demonstrates the hospitals' continuous efforts to reduce risks to patients and staff.

Taiwanese hospitals are indeed at the forefront of the health care industry. Both the private sector and the government devote billions of New Taiwan dollars each year to developing one of the world's most comprehensive health care systems.

Considering the high standard and cost effectiveness of Taiwan's medical care available for foreigners, it is little wonder that Chinese patients travel across the Strait for surgical and other forms of specialized treatment.

In recent years, mainlanders' perception of medical services has been changing, though the quality of such services in China has yet to reach the level seen in Taiwan. At the same time, the continuous rise of health care costs in China and around the globe is putting larger financial burdens on patients, sparking demand for less expensive alternatives. The resulting change from a patient-centered system to a consumer-centered one is creating new opportunities for local medical centers.

Many Taiwanese believe that medical care is a service industry, like the catering and hotel industries. This makes local hospitals even more attractive than their rival medical institutions in China.

Tourism officials and travel agents recently said that the number of cross-strait visitors going both ways between Taiwan and mainland China could reach 10 million by 2014, mainly thanks to the soaring number of mainland tourists visiting the island.

With the support of the government, Taiwan could further be known in the ethnic Chinese community for its world-renowned medical and health care sector; by granting more medical visas to Chinese citizens, there would a great potential in appealing to high-end Chinese tourists to visit to the island for medical purposes.

As the country looks forward to the arrival of an estimated 6.8 million tourists from all over the world next year, a new policy that went into effect in January 2012 allows hospitals to apply for visas for groups of up to 30 mainlanders seeking medical treatment, health care services and cosmetic procedures.

Accordingly, there is no doubt that Taiwan will soon become one of the biggest attractions for mid- to high-income Chinese tourists. Even though other countries such as India, Thailand and Japan are all targeting China for medical tourism, Taiwan is the best choice for Chinese tourists because — aside from the absence of a language barrier — the cost is reasonable and there is a sense of warmth and brotherly familiarity between Chinese and Taiwanese people.

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