A recent expo in Beijing saw foreign travel firms flock to tap China’s health tourism market, providing the industry with an extra shot in the arm, Yang Feiyue reports.
A recent expo in Beijing saw foreign travel firms flock to tap China’s health tourism market, providing the industry with an extra shot in the arm.
Mahender Thakur is rather enjoying his time on an automatic massage bed at a medical expo in Beijing. “The rolling and pushing motion really relaxes my back,” says Thakur, a deputy general manager at Cox & Kings, an Indiabased provider of luxury holidays and tailor-made tours.
After the massage session, Thakur moves on to the other booths at the second Beijing International Health Tourism Expo, which ran from Sept 7 to 9.
These booths showcase a variety of health tourism products and resources from more than 20 provinces and regions around China.
“I want to have a look around and then make some purchases,” Thakur says.
His company currently brings around 5,000 Indian health tour visitors to China every year, and is looking to identify more health tourism resources at the expo and show them to potential customers in his home country.
Thakur is one of many foreign travel specialists who are looking to develop their Chinese health tourism resources through the Beijing expo.
“We’ve seen 70 international buyers from 17 countries, including the United States, Britain, France and Spain, at the expo,” says Wu Dan, a manager with Sunny International Communications, the organizer behind the expo.
“Compared with other countries, China has a special advantage in health tourism, as it’s rich in traditional Chinese medicine resources,” Wu says.
Exhibitors at the expo range from government-accredited health tourism demonstration facilities, to tourism management organizations and medical institutes.
“A considerable number of them have already developed mature health tourism products, and are ready to take in foreign guests,” Wu adds.
The increasing public health awareness at home and favorable government guidelines on health tourism have given the domestic health tourism development a shot in the arm.
In 2016, five national government bodies, including the National Tourism Administration (now part of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism), the National Health Commission and the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine issued guidelines on how health tourism should be promoted.
These guidelines call for health tourism facilities with distinctive elements to be developed by 2020. The government has pledged to support medical, health management and leisure facilities to develop health products. Policies have been put in place to boost investment in infrastructure, promote marketing and create insurance products to develop China’s health tourism industry.
The Sanya Traditional Chinese Medicine Retreat Center has been drawing an increasing number of foreign customers over the years.
The center offers various TCM and related skin care experiences and has received around 60 tourists from abroad on a daily basis.
“Our guests come from various parts of the world, including Russia and Kazakhstan,” says Tang Yi, a senior therapist with the center, which sits at the foot of a mountain.
“They’ve come to enjoy the beach, sea and sunshine, while having their health problems treated,” says Tang. Acupuncture, TCM massage and fire therapies have become a hit with them, Tang adds.
A customer usually receives a whole body checkup upon their arrival at the center, which will then come up with a pertinent health tour package plan.
TCM diets, tai chi and hot spring experiences, as well as visits to neighboring scenic spots, are arranged for clients.
“For example, if we find problems with their spine, we would recommend our bone-setting and massage products,” Tang says.
At the moment, a five-day TCM treatment at the center is priced at 1,180 yuan ($172), while some immersion therapy packages can cost up to over 15,000 yuan per person.
Another TCM destination is the Yiling Health Center in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, which is growing increasingly popular with travelers from Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Switzerland.
“We usually take in three to four groups of foreign visitors each month,” says Zhang Qiaopan, an employee at the center.
The facility is able to receive more than 1,000 foreign guests a year.
“We teach them basic TCM philosophy, therapeutic cuisine, acupuncture and massage, so they can continue practicing TCM after they leave,” Zhang adds.
Packages lasting from several days for up to four weeks are available for guests to choose from, and English, Russian and Arabic services are provided to meet different customer’s needs.
To date, thirteen health tourism demonstration facilities are currently operating nationwide, including those in Beidaihe in Hebei province, Jiuhuashan in Anhui province, Sanya in Hainan province and Guilin in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
By 2020, China’s tourism industry is forecast to be worth 7 trillion yuan a year, and health services worth 8 trillion yuan, according to tourism authorities.
Lars Roman Engel from Copenhagen in Denmark, has established contact with several tea-producing regions at the expo.
“I tried some of the tea at a few booths, and they were quite nice,” he says.
“I heard that some of them can help your digestive system.”
Engel and his team from a travel agency in Copenhagen joined the expo to “find inspiration and get to know what’s happening in China’s health tourism industry”.
He believes that the health products displayed at the expo could be a good fit for travelers from his country.
“In Europe, we are very busy and we need various treatments that can help us calm down and feel like ourselves again,” he says.
“So, I think these kinds of tea could just hit the spot.”
The second Beijing International Health Tourism Expo ran from Sept 7 to 9.