Japan hopes medical tourists immune to China row
Japan hopes medical tourists immune to China row
They are quietly confident that a spat over disputed islands will not seriously impact the growing number of relatively wealthy Chinese visiting Japan for its high quality treatment, therefore keeping the lifeblood pumping in an industry that analysts say could one day be worth $7.0 billion a year.
And for a tourism industry that was battered by the tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster of last year — visitor numbers were down by around a quarter — that might be just what the doctor ordered.
“I came here because Japanese medicine has a very good reputation in China,” 30-year-old Zhang Lan said, two translators in tow, as staff welcomed her to a well-equipped hospital in Asahikawa in Hokkaido.
Treatments there range from head-to-toe check-ups, with a focus on cancer screening and neurological diseases, to anti-ageing and cosmetic surgery, including breast enhancements and liposuction.
Getting a clean bill of health was at the top of Zhang’s agenda, but she also liked the idea of breathing fresh air in a region known for skiing and nature tourism — a big change from her hometown of Shenyang, an industrial city in northeastern China.
“I’m here this time for a follow-up to the last check-up as the doctor said I needed careful observation of my stomach,” she said of her $2,400 trip, which took place before the current tensions erupted.
“But I really liked the hot springs, the food and the sea the last time I visited. I’m not interested in big cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, because China has many big cities.
“Hokkaido is placid and pastoral. The air is fresh and you can relax here,” she added.
Of the several hundred thousands of foreign tourists who visit Hokkaido annually, the lion’s share are from East Asia, with many keen to see the dramatic mountains, extensive pastures and rich woodlands.
That image is a key selling point for Zhang’s tour operator, Medical Tourism Japan, which last year brought about 270 Chinese customers to northern Japan, a number it hopes will grow.
Most clients chose Hokkaido because it “has the image of being an ‘Asian Switzerland’ to the Chinese,” said company president Katsuya Sakagami.
“I was originally selling medical equipment and came to realize the potential of medical tourism for Chinese people,” he said.
A long-running dispute over the sovereignty of Tokyo-administered islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China, is a worry for the industry, said Kayo Uemura, researcher at the Development Bank of Japan.
Sometimes violent anti-Japanese protests shook a number of Chinese cities in September after Tokyo nationalized the islands, and airlines linking the two countries reported a fall-off in demand.
Japanese exports to China, its biggest trading partner, tumbled 14.1 percent that month as a result of the row and the impact of a broader slowdown.
“The territorial row could last longer than most Japanese had expected, so we have to watch how many Chinese tourists will come back to Japan, say, by the start of next year,” said Uemura.
Cho Shosho, a senior official and a medical translator at Medical Tourism Japan, said the company had noticed some impact from the spat, including cancelations during the long Chinese holiday at the start of October.
“But we think it is a temporary phenomenon,” she said.
“Wealthy Chinese are not very hostile to Japan and I think our customers want to come to Japan but are staying away because anti-Japanese sentiment is rising at the moment.
“We are still receiving inquiries from Chinese customers and I think they will come back later, probably after the Chinese leadership change (in mid-November).
“It will be like the temporary drop in tourism in Japan after the quake and tsunami disaster last year,” said Cho.
Japan’s medical tourism sector is a sliver of the wider industry with just 10,000 visitors annually, said Uemura.
She said the potential demand could see those figures soar to more than 400,000 with Russians and Americans among those visiting in a market that could be worth 550 billion yen ($7.0 billion).
“But to realize the potential demand, Japan needs a new category for visas for medical tourism and needs to hire people for medical translation and other things necessary to support the industry,” as well as mending ties with neighbors, she said.
Health offerings are just part of the picture, with the industry stoking the real estate business.
One Chinese man who was visiting the historic port city of Otaru near Sapporo, the region’s biggest city, slapped down 30 million yen on the spot for a house while on a medical tour, tourism operator Sakagami said.
“If we provide opportunities for them to enjoy both tourism and a medical check-up, or tourism and investment in Japan, the demand is there,” he added.
Zhang reckons that it is just a matter of time before Hokkaido is flooded with like-minded medical tourists.
“More and more Chinese people are aware of the importance of maintaining their health,” she said.
Jessica Kahawaty gains recognition Down Under
DUBAI: Lebanese-Australian model and TV show host Jessica Kahawaty was honored with an award at an Australia Lebanon Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ALCCI) event in Melbourne this week.
The fashion influencer, who is based in Dubai but jets across the world to attend events, made an appearance at the event in a strapless black dress with a flared, tulle skirt completed with a thigh-high slit.
Kahawaty wore her hair in a tight bun and completed the look with dramatic blue eyeliner.
She took to Instagram to celebrate the honor, saying: “So yesterday, I received the highest honor a Lebanese-Australian could receive! Thank you so much to the ALCCI for awarding me with ‘Outstanding Ambassador to Lebanon and Australia. With my move from Australia to the Middle East five years ago, my aim was to bridge my two worlds and encourage intercultural dialogue and understanding. Couldn’t be happier for this recognition.”
The organization seeks to strengthen trade relations between Australia, Lebanon and the Middle East.
Before the gala dinner, she took to Instagram to post an image in which she poses on a Melbourne street in a white mini-dress with frilled accents and a dramatic, a-symmetrical train.View this post on Instagram
So yesterday, I received the highest honour a Lebanese Australian could receive! Thank you so much to the ALCCI for awarding me with “Outstanding Ambassador to Lebanon and Australia” (swipe to see) With my move from Australia to the Middle East 5 years ago, my aim was to bridge my two worlds and encourage intercultural dialogue and understanding. Couldn’t be happier for this recognition
“Outside the International Chamber House after the private conference to honor some members of the Lebanese-Australian community who have made significant contributions in medicine, business, politics, philanthropy and more... can’t wait for the big gala tonight!” she captioned the photo.
While in the country, the former Miss Australia — who came third place in the Miss World 2012 competition — visited her childhood school to talk to the students and shed light on her career.
“It was such a pleasure to visit my old school in Australia, Tangara School for Girls, and speak to the bright, humble and ambitious Year 10 and Year 11 Girls. I had goosebumps being there, remembering how I was when I was 17 and what I wanted to hear. Thank you for listening to me,” she posted alongside a short video of cheering students on Instagram.
Kahawaty studied business, finance and law in Sydney and is a keen supporter of a number of humanitarian causes, including UNICEF and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Last year, fashion house Louis Vuitton selected Kahawaty to work with UNICEF at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan to help children affected by the Syrian crisis, which has seen millions of people displaced.
The multi-talented celebrity also gave a talk at the TEDxSciencesPo event in Paris in April.
The conference, according to a press release, brought together influencers “who work toward breaking the wall between the East and the West” and aims to “provide an essential bridge, to fuse the gap between rising trends of neo-conservatism predominant in the South of France and the cultural diversity that characterizes the Arab world.”