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China Focus: Health tourism means greener growth

Source:   Time:

BOAO, Hainan, April 9 (Xinhua) -- The health industry may be a new growth engine in a rapidly aging society, experts said at an international forum Wednesday.

The Chinese health sector is expected to grow to 800 million yuan (129 million U.S.dollars) in 2020 and will be a powerful driver for domestic consumption and employment thanks to its expansive service and long industrial chain, said Li Bin, head of the National Population and Family Planning Commission at the ongoing Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) 2014 Annual Conference.

Within the health sector, healthcare tourism is growing fastest, said Jia Xiaofang, vice president of Global Healthcare Travel Council (GHTC).

The wellness tourism was a near half-trillion dollar market in 2013, representing 14 percent of total global tourism revenues overall, according to a report by Global Wellness Tourism Congress last year. The category could grow 9.9 percent annually over the next five years, nearly twice the rate of global tourism overall, reaching 680 billion U.S. dollars by 2017, or 16 percent of total tourism revenues.

Chinese cities with ecological advantages or rich medical R&D investment are rolling out products to cater to growing global demand.

Southern China's Hainan Province has been a pioneer in the health sector, with the pace speeding up since the 2010 national strategy to turn Hainan into an international tourism island.

Western Hainan's Chengmai county, a certificated world longevity area, has capitalized on the global trend as the local government wraps up the county as a tourism spot and encourages local farmers to brand their selenium-rich rice, vegetables and fruit with longevity-nurturing features.

Meanwhile, the Boao Lecheng International Medical Tourism Pilot Zone, the only national pilot program in medical tourism granted by the State Council, is now under construction and will set up a self-discipline body to regulate developers in the zone, according to a press conference held during the BFA on Wednesday.

Compared with neighboring countries like India, Thailand and Republic of Korea with rich experience and established brands in the global healthcare market, China is still in its infancy, Li said.

China has its unique advantages in developing the healthcare sector, such as low cost, rich tourism resources, advanced medical services, and most importantly, traditional Chinese medicine is a global attraction, she added.

"To catch up with other players with head starts, China should resort to specific national strategies and give more preferential policies to nurture the market," said Wei Jianguo, deputy secretary-general of China International Economic and Exchange Center, a state think tank.

China encouraged social capital to set up hospitals last November, a move expected to attract more investment in the healthcare sector.

Besides government support, it also takes a consulting team with top brains to offer you the best advice in designing specific development plans, said Mahmood Ansari, chairman of UAE QuestInvestment LLC, citing Dubai's experience in running healthcare tourism projects.

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