Hallyu or ‘Korean Wave’, is a term used to describe the popularity ofKorean popular culture in the international scene, including China, Indonesia,Japan, and even non-Asian countries. Since Hallyu began its movement from1990s, its genre has been expanded from soap operas to cosmetics. This varietyof Hallyu not only attract the international fans to learn Korean or consumethe promoted products but also attract them to visit Korea for plastic surgery tolook as beautiful as the Korean celebrities. In this essay, the effects ofHallyu on a boom in plastic surgery would be discussed which led to success ofmedical tourism market in Korea. Since Hallyu’spopularity accelerated after 2010, Korean plastic surgery rose as a by-productof Hallyu. Hallyu has been influencing the daily lives of the internationalHallyu fans. With the rapid growth of Korean popular culture based onentertainment media, additional trends have developed, in which internationalfans have taken an interest in learning Korean, communicating with Koreans,sharing Hallyu contents with friends and families and consuming Korean products(Eun 2013).
Furthermore, the growth of Hallyu has effected the overseas fans toemulate the appearance of Korean celebrities or ‘Hallyu stars’. Since Hallyu hasexpanded its genres such as pop music, variety shows and beauty, K-pop idol celebritieshave become new influencers; their glamorous visuals, performance and musicvideos have appealed to the Hallyu fans, especially young generations (Kim,2017). The rise of K-pop idols not only inspired the international fans to buymore Korean products such as soundtracks and character products, but led themto imitate the appearance of those celebrities by purchasing the same cosmeticproducts and undergoing plastic surgery (Kim, 2017).
Since theinternet has been propagated rapidly in Korea, it is common to see theadvertisements of plastic surgery on popular websites such as Naver and Daum. TheKorean media outlets the pictures of Hallyu starts who have “received freecosmetic surgery in return for promoting a given clinic’s expertise” (Davies& Han 2011). The growing numbers of ‘before-and-after’ pictures and videoclips of popular actors and idols undergoing plastic surgery attracts theHallyu fans who admire the styles of those celebrities. Even though some Hallyufans and tourists are not familiar of accessing Korean-language internet, thedigital billboards and screens crowded in the streets and subways could stilltempt them (Davies & Han 2011). In Southeast Asian countries such as China,female Hallyu fans and tourists have a “strong interest in beauty treatmentsincluding plastic surgery”, and they prefer to purchase Korean makeups andfashion items to imitate the appearance and style of Korean celebrities theyadmire (Kim & Nam 2015). Therefore, it is significant that rapid growth ofHallyu and internet has affected Hallyu fans to consume the products and cosmeticmedical services promoted by Hallyu stars. Foreignersfamiliar to Hallyu choose Korea for medical tourism because of quality medical service,skilled doctors, low costs and active promotion of Korean Government.
Hallyufans, mostly from Asia, are aware of Korean cosmetic products, plastic surgery,medical technology and doctors. In China, Korean plastic surgery is consideredas an outstanding ‘brand’. According to the Chinese media reviews from 2007,Chinese surgeons have endorsed Korean surgeons that, they are “skilled inattending to detail and perform surgery in half time taken in China” (Davies& Han 2011).
Hallyu fans also prefer undergoing plastic surgery in Korea becausethe cost of medical expenses in Korea is low compared to that of othercountries such as United States. According to recent research, the total healthexam package offered by Korean hospitals was regarded cost-effective comparedto U.S. hospitals, even after factoring in travel costs (Oh et al.
2014). Thesefactors affect foreigners to visit Korean for medical tourism where they canreceive quality services at lower costs. On the other hand, Korean Governmenthas been actively promoting medical tourism since Hallyu’s popularityaccelerated. Since Hallyu began, the Korean government has been promoting itssoft power through Hallyu by exporting media contents and following the wavesof ‘cultural Hallyu’ and ‘economic Hallyu’. When plastic surgery became a trendby Hallyu stars, it offered Korean government a chance to expand the genre ofHallyu to ‘medical Hallyu’, playing a more proactive role in the global market(Eun, 2013). On 2009, the Korean National Assembly approved providing a legalbasis for hospitals to attract foreign patients from overseas countries (Eun2013). This has enabled Korean hospitals to promote and provide their beautytreatment and plastic surgery to foreigners.
Also, the Seoul MetropolitanGovernment has launched the ‘Seoul Beauty Tour’ in 2010 (Kim & Nam 2015). Plasticsurgery clinics in Gangnam and Apgujeong provide this medical tourism package;they offer tourists various services including premium arrangement and beautyconsulting to help tourists visit Korea and organize their schedules for plasticsurgery. Hence, South Korea provides foreigners the best conditions and environmentfor medical tourism, especially for those who wish to undergo plastic surgery. Medical tourismhas become a significant source of revenue for South Korea. With Koreangovernment’s active promotion of medical tourism, the number of foreignpatients visiting Korea has increased from 8,000 in 2000 to 80,000 in 2010; inthe following year, the medical tourism industry has made a revenue of 116million US dollars (Oh et al, 2014). According to Kim (2017), China is one ofthe top country where Hallyu has significantly been integrated and “the numberof Chinese tourists visiting Korea for medical tourism has been rapidly risingover the past few years”.
Hallyu fans’ desire to Hallyu stars’ appearance andadvertisements featuring those celebrities have inspired tourists to visitKorea to undergo cosmetic treatment. Current numbers of Chinese medicaltourists visiting Korea are not available, however the frequency of Koreanmedical tourism introduced on Chinese mass media verifies that it is a trend. Accordingto the recent survey held in Chinese medical website, more than 50% out of the620,823 Chinese people have stated that they have a desire of undergoingplastic surgery in Korean beauty clinics (Davies & Han 2011). In 2013,210,000 foreign touristsfrom 191 different countries received medical treatment in Korea; this is anincrease of 32.5% from 159,464 visitors in 2012 (Kim, 2017).
Because of suchsuccess, Korea aims to be the next competitive country in medical tourism. TheSouth Korean government is setting aside as much as USD 4 million a year for morediverse promotion of medical tourism industry. For the past few years, SouthKorean Government has been promoting medical Tourism through Hallyu usingplatforms other than the advertisements, social media or digital billboards. Forexample, Korea Tourism Organization has opened a talk show with famous Hallyustar, Sandara Park from 2NE1 in Manila 2015, for the promotion of Korea medicaltourism and introduction of Korean beauty and wellness care (Korea TourismOrganization, 2016). Korea Tourism Organization also has participated in MoscowMedshow 2015 which is the biggest Russian international Medical TourismExhibition.
Collaborating with 18 enterprises, the organization has introducedKorean medical tourism through ‘cultural Hallyu’, such as tasting Koreantraditional teas and experiment of Korean massage (Korea Tourism Organization,2016). During the exhibition, 9,760 people visited the Korean Pavilion, and theKorea Medical Tourism promotion hall became the most popular booth, winning the’Best Booth Award’. With the effort of South Korean Government and their continuoususe of soft power, the Medical Tourism and Health Statistics (2014), has announcedthat it is expected that approximately one million medical tourists will visitSouth Korea a year by 2020, with Chinese tourists representing the largestsegment (Kim, 2017). In conclusion, therapid growth of Hallyu is leading success of medical tourism industry in SouthKorea.
The acceleration of Hallyu and Hallyu stars have influenced many foreignersto admire the appearance of these celebrities and led them to imitate the appearanceof them. The Korean Government used this phenomenon as a chance of risingmedical tourism industry and their active promotion of plastic surgery and tourismpackages attracted the tourists to visit Korea to receive plastic surgery. As aresult, medical tourism has become a significant source of revenue for SouthKorea. For the future development, the South Korean Government is continuing theuse of soft power to promote ‘medical Hallyu’ through Korean popular cultureand celebrities.