Destinations have been stepping up to tap into a potential new wave of Chinese medical tourists. Since 2016, Chinese couples have been allowed to legally have two children without paying fines or encountering other penalties, ending decades of the One Child Policy. Chinese authorities may even revoke restrictions on the number of children a family can have altogether.
This means that there could be an explosion in the number of Chinese couples seeking in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures. IVF procedures are available in China, and it is estimated that approximately 200,000 babies are born in China via IVF. Still, traveling abroad for better-quality medical care and more advanced medical treatments is increasingly popular in China, and there’s no reason to believe this trend won’t hold true for fertility treatments too. Countries next door to China, and even across the Pacific, have noticed the huge potential of marketing high-quality IVF options for Chinese families as a source of revenue.
Among the destinations that have got a head start on reaching out to this market, Malaysia stands out. Sherene Azli, the chief executive officer of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC), told the South China Morning Post that “One thing about Malaysia we are proud of is that the in vitro fertilization success rate is among the highest in the world. The world’s average success rate is 50 percent, but Malaysia’s success rate is about 65 percent on average.” China’s estimated IVF success rate is also 50 percent, although this figure can vary wildly depending on the source.
The Malaysian government has engaged in efforts to attract Chinese medical tourists seeking medical treatment, including introducing a new e-visa scheme for medical travelers. The new visa would allow Chinese medical tourists to stay in Malaysia for 30 days, and the period can be extended if documents provided by a doctor illustrate sufficient need for extra time. Malaysia has budgeted some $7.4 million to market itself as a medical tourism hub in the region, with China being the most important market.
Unfortunately, Azli also noted that some Chinese couples might not be willing to travel to Malaysia for these treatments because they view the country as less advanced and less developed than China. Ironically, Malaysia is generally regarded as a more developed nation than China, at least according to the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI). HDI utilizes a variety of metrics to rate a country’s economic and social development, including life expectancy, education, and per capita income. As of 2015, China was ranked 90th among all countries in terms of HDI, while Malaysia was ranked 59th.
Regardless, perception is more important than reality when it comes to marketing anything to tourists, let alone tourists seeking cutting medical treatment.
Thailand is another destination seeking to attract Chinese IVF-seekers. Phayathai 2 International Hospital, a private hospital located in Bangkok has built a new fertility wing set to open next year in part because of increased demand from Chinese couples. In 2014, the hospital even sent a roadshow to Shenzhen to market its fertilization treatments in China. Phayathai 2 International Hospital isn’t alone and is joined by several prominent Thai hospitals hoping to tap into the same market, and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is coordinating with clinics and medical professionals to boost the country’s appeal as a medical destination.
Beyond Thailand and Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, the United States, and Canada have all been tapped as potential IVF hubs for Chinese citizens. Of course, Chinese medical tourism for birth services isn’t a new phenomenon for Canada and the United States. The United States, in particular, has been a popular fertility tourism destination, especially for tourists from developed nations. The United States’ tends to have fewer restrictions on fertility treatments and enjoys a high success rate for such medical procedures. Still, costs for fertility tourism in the United States and Canada are substantially higher than in most of China’s neighbors, and only the most cash-rich Chinese fertility tourists will go to North America for such medical procedures. This gives destinations in East Asia a distinct competitive edge, even if they can’t compete in terms of reputation.