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Combining Leisure Travel with Medical Treatment (May 19, 2005)

A patient undergoes a PET scan. (Atsuchi Memorial Clinic)
In a further reflection of consumers' growing inclination to choose products that are good for their health, travel packages that combine medical checkups or treatment with fun and relaxing activities are enjoying a steady growth in popularity. A typical package of this sort involves the traveler being given an extensive medical checkup at a hospital before enjoying a relaxing and therapeutic stay at a hot spring resort.

Checkups and Hot Springs
One such package is the "hot doc" plan offered at the Yubara Onsen resort in Okayama, a town in Western Japan boasting numerous hot springs. Travelers are first given a general medical checkup along with any optional tests they have chosen, such as abdominal ultrasounds or respiratory tests. Trained staff then prime them on the fundamentals of using hot springs for therapeutic benefit. Needless to say, the itinerary includes ample time to enjoy the soothing sensation of soaking in the steaming spring water.

The program is part of a project to promote the town as a destination for travelers keen to try therapeutic bathing. The project has received the enthusiastic backing of a public hospital, whose officials hail it as important approach "that links medical treatment with a curative environment." The packages are by no means expensive. A basic plan including a checkup plus one night's accommodation and two meals is priced at ¥26,400 ($251 at ¥105 to the dollar).

An outdoor bath at Yubara Onsen. (Yubara Onsen)

JR Hokkaido is marketing a similar service that combines a medical checkup with hotel accommodation in the city of Sapporo. These packages include return air or train tickets to Sapporo, the biggest city on the northern island of Hokkaido, as well as a night in a hotel and a medical checkup.

Witnessing a particular boom in popularity are medical travel package tours offering positron emission tomography (PET) scans, a new technology that is being used increasingly in the detection of cancer, with hotel accommodation included. These packages, which also include hotel accommodation, are the result of alliances between travel agencies and medical institutions in cities throughout Japan, including Obihiro in Hokkaido, Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture, Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture, and Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu.

Such packages offer benefits not only for consumers - it is well known that early detection is vital in the treatment of many diseases - but also for medical institutions and the travel industry. Hospitals and clinics are able to use the expensive medical equipment they own to derive commercial revenue, while travel agencies are able to tap a new and expanding market.

Therapeutic Bathing for the Twenty-First Century
The concept behind the Spa Resort Hawaiians, a major hot spring facility in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, is for customers to stay for prolonged periods to maximize the therapeutic benefits of spa bathing. The customers spend their time at the resort taking part in bathing and exercise programs as well as eating foods with health benefits. Packages have been offered since November 2004, and the standard length of stay is four nights.

Another package involving stays lasting several days, called Spa Do, is being planned for Kagoshima Prefecture, located in Kyushu. The package includes a consultation session with a doctor, who advises travelers on ways to improve their health, while much of the time is spent taking it easy soaking and dining at local hot springs. During a trial tour in July 2004, participants had their health checked by doctors before relaxing at sand baths and hiking local trails to burn some calories, while also sampling some of the local delicacies.

More and more medical travel packages are expected to appear in the years ahead. Many industry analysts predict that medical tourism will be an increasingly important element of the travel industry, because people's awareness of the importance of preventative health and their willingness to spend time and money on it are likely to continue to grow.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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