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Part 3: Geopolitical Threat to Asian Plastic Surgery Tourism

Bubbles are susceptible to not only major shocks but also the prick of a tiny pin.

While unlikely to pop, the Asian cosmetic surgery medical tourism bubble could deflate faster than anticipated due to any number of unpredictable geopolitical developments.

medical travel and geopolitical threat

On a macro scale, the on-going global economic recession continues to punish the luxury sector.

Although the cosmetic surgery industry is notorious for its unwillingness to divulge true negative effect, the downturn has clearly taken a disproportionately heavy toll on countries with over-developed plastic surgery capacity like the United States and South Korea.

Worldwide factors aside, the Asian medical travel market is in large part driven by regional tourism (flows of patients within East Asia) rather than by international travelers (inflow of patients from distant locales), and so is even more sensitive to local disturbance. Political unrest, nearby currency fluctuations, and unexpected acts of nature could quickly alter the relative value proposition throughout the region.

While environmental disasters such as Indonesia's tidal waves or China's increasingly foul air can discourage foreign travel, the most obvious and pressing geopolitical factor now in play is the escalating saber-rattling between North and South Korea.

With its provocative regime in transition and its uranium enrichment program more ambitious than previously appreciated, North Korea presents an ongoing regional problem of huge concern.

Seoul, the South Korean capital and acknowledged center of Asian plastic surgery, sits only a short distance from the border between the two countries. Tensions in the region are very high with nobody really sure about just how aggressive or impulsive the leaders on either side might be.

Thailand, another established center for Asian plastic surgery, has its own Red Shirt protest movement. Renewed violence and terrorist attacks remain a constant threat to the potential traveler not just in that country but throughout much of Southeast Asia.

Many Chinese tourists suddenly regard the Philippines as unsafe to visit after eight Hong Kong tourists were killed in Manila.

Any significant new regional violence, strong threat of new violence, or unexpected geophysical disaster could have a severe and lasting negative effect on Asian medical tourism. Following the events of September 11, 2001, for instance, the flow of medical travelers between the United States and the Middle East was cut nearly in half and then followed by a recovery to pre-9/11 levels that took over five years.

APSG's Cosmetic Medical Tourism Report
Part 1: Cosmetic Medical Tourism Numbers Misunderstood
Part 2: Main Driver of Cosmetic Medical Tourism: Quality or Cost?
Part 3: Geopolitical Threat to Asian Plastic Surgery Tourism
Part 4: China and Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Tourism: Not a Player
Part 5: Cosmetic Surgery Tourism Cost Savings: Never Mind
Part 6: Singapore on Myths of Medical Tourism

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Cosmetic Medical Tourism: Quality or Cost?