Sun, sand, nip, tuck: one in three up for medical tourism

Looking for an affordable face lift without breaking the bank? Want to combine a tummy tuck with two weeks holiday abroad ? You’re not alone.

Nearly a third of people surveyed around the world say they are open to the idea of medical tourism – traveling abroad to enjoy cheaper medical or dental treatment according to a new Ipsos poll of 18,731 adults in 24 countries.

Indeed, 18 per cent said they would definitely consider it.


What better place to tuck up that turkey neck. Turkey is up and coming as one of Europe’s most reasonable destinations for cosmetic and plastic surgery. Prices are significantly lower than in North America or in Western Europe, but quality standards are decent. Many experienced Turkish surgeons are internationally trained and multilingual, and several Istanbul medical facilities are clean and modern. Of course, you need to choose your surgeon and facility wisely. Ask a lot of questions, verify credentials, check referrals and more. Budget shouldn’t be your only criteria when considering a serious cosmetic procedure.

“The concept of medical tourism is well accepted in many countries,” said Nicolas Boyon, senior vice president of Ipsos Public Affairs.

“With the exception of Japan there are at least one third of consumers in every country we covered that are open to the idea,” he said in an interview.

Whether for economic reasons or perceptions of superior treatment elsewhere, for treatments ranging from cosmetic to life-saving surgeries, Indians, Indonesians, Russians, Mexicans and Poles were the most open to the idea of being medically mobile.

Thirty-one per cent or more people in each of those countries said they would definitely consider traveling for a cosmetic, medical or dental treatment.

Conversely, people in Japan, South Korea, Spain and Sweden were least likely to be medical tourists.

Boyon said it was not surprising that men and women from emerging nations would be medically mobile if the treatments were cheaper.”This probably reflects perceptions of medical care in other countries that is superior to what is available at home,” he said.

But he was intrigued by the percentage of people in developed nations such as Italy, where 66 per cent said they would definitely or probably consider medical tourism, along with Germany (48 per cent), Canada (41 per cent) and the United States, where 38 per cent of people were open to the idea.”It is a reflection that the medical profession is no longer protected from globalisation,” Boyon said.


Although medical tourism spans a range of treatments, the most common are dental care, cosmetic surgery, elective surgery and fertility treatment, according to an OECD report.

“The medical tourist industry is dynamic and volatile and a range of factors including the economic climate, domestic policy changes, political instability, travel restrictions, advertising practices, geo-political shifts, and innovative and pioneering forms of treatment may all contribute towards shifts in patterns of consumption and production of domestic and overseas health services,” the report said.

Various studies using different criteria have estimated that anywhere between 60,000 to 750,000 US residents travel abroad for health care each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Along with variations among countries, the Ipsos survey showed that younger adults under 35 years of age were more likely in most countries to consider medical tourism, than people 50 to 64 years old.

Boyon suggested that the cost of travel, proximity, borders and quality of care may also be factors considered by potential medical tourists. In both Italy and Germany, about 20 per cent of adults said they would definitely consider medical tourism. Both countries are near Hungary, a popular destination for health treatments.

Ipsos conducted the poll in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea,Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States.

Based on story published in The Sydney Morning Herald- Traveller


Case study: VANITY; Location: BANGKOK; NipTuck and Frequent-Flier Miles

How Thailand as a developing country in an economic crisis and floundering economy and a significant H.I.V. problem managed to turn it all  around and become a world centre for medical tourism is a fascinating, yet in typical Thai- style they did it in a rather odd and roundabout kind of way.  If you know anything about Thai culture you will know what I mean, and this is what makes this story and this strategy cooked up by Thai tourist officials at TAT and hospital administrators all the more brilliant!

They came up with a strategy when Thailand found itself in the economic crisis of 1997 based on their strengths. Their strategy was to market Thailand as a place you would actually travel to for plastic surgery and maybe even other medical procedures as well (like dental) as well as other medical procedures. They started on the one plastic surgery procedure that Thai doctors have come closest to perfecting —  the sex change operation. 

They thought, Thailand had doctors who earned a fraction of what their western counterparts do, though many of them had studied in the U.S. or Australia. It had highly trained nurses who were paid around $600 a month, a culture with a tradition of massage and other spa-worthy healing practices and in Bangkok and Phuket, at least, a lot of high-tech medical equipment purchased during the economic boom and now sitting idle. Medical tourism would have a better rep than sex tourism, and it could easily be as lucrative. But the sex-change industry was the beginning of medical tourism in Thailand, as it make sense to start here and  build on some obvious strengths.

Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)  issued new directives to travel agents, suggesting that they offer their clients health-tourism and medical-tourism packages and offered Famil’s each year to agents. I went every year – it was a great!

And media was invited from the US and Australia including NBC,  MSNBC and ABC veteran anchor and journalist and multi Emmy awarder Kendis Gibson who has worked for all three broadcasters — ABC News, NBC News, and CBS News & Stations, where they were advised and introduced to the ”fine hospitals” throughout Thailand at the hotels they provided.

Thai travel agents talked up the country’s medical bargains, and hospitals found new ways to advertise and the hospitals and clinics in Bangkok and Phuket pitches to attract foreign tourists, esp. plastic surgery and advertises itself as a ”breakthrough integrated medical rejuvenation center providing spa, medical and fitness facilities.”

Hospital’s websites began to target westerners, featuring  opening page features a sun-dappled photograph of a handsome Caucasian couple, explains that ”in Asia, retaining that youthful look is important. This has, in turn, led to the development in Thailand of cosmetic surgical techniques that are the envy of the medical profession in many G7 countries.”

Plenty of people in Thailand — from government officials to hotel owners to doctors and nurses — banked on the country’s new status as an international capital of discount plastic surgery. All this investment to payed off as Thailand became the number 1 medical tourism destination by volume of care in 2014 and attracted over 2.4 million foreign patients in 2017.

Westerners, or Ferangs, as they are called in Thailand were a good fit for Thailand as medical tourists. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED- HUGE SUCCESS!!!!!!  

But then, politics.  It was the Chinese tourists that Thailand was now interested in woowing…… Some Western countries had downgraded their diplomatic ties when the military seized power back in 2014 and the Thai government was seeking to strengthen ties with Beijing.   And of course, China is a top trading partner…..

And back on the Gold Coast Australia where we were based, it became a very competitive business where clinic’s offered ‘bargain boob job’ for less than $5000 to compete with medical tourism in Asia. This was the lowest price in Australia with a discount to compete as growing numbers of women flock to Asian clinics for cheap surgery. It was competition that Thailand didn’t count on.

As a high-profile Glitter Strip cosmetic surgery promoter, Claire Licciardo, it was said I was hoping for bumper bookings for her next cosmetic surgery tour to Thailand to help pay for the damage.


And then there was covid. And lock-downs. Thailand only this year in 2023 in January welcomed back Chinese tourists. With ‘arms wide open’ as key market returns.


What a ride that was! And a fascinating insight into how Thailand became number one. In 2023 there is an increase in inflation and a lot of global competition in medical tourism…….

But let’s think back. It’s a facinatinating insight thanks to the New York Times Magazine. It’s 1999, Thai Airways International, the government airline of Thailand, began offering travelers an unusual new package-tour option. Most tourists might still prefer the old add-ons: the river cruise, the round of golf, the Thai cooking course. But others, those who were part of a new market that government officials were calling ”medical tourists,” could now combine their Asian holiday with a comprehensive physical, including abdominal ultrasound, chest and barium stomach X-rays and a complete laboratory analysis of blood, urine and stool samples. They could get a written report sent to their hotel within three days. And they could get it all done at Bumrungrad Hospital, a modern medical complex in Bangkok that had all sorts of inviting, foreigner-friendly amenities, starting with a Starbucks and a McDonald’s in the lobby.

This might not seem like a plausible promotion at all except for the fact that thousands of tourists were already coming to Thailand to avail themselves of its best-known medical attraction, discount plastic surgery. In Thailand, you can get a $2,400 face lift or a $1,200 nose job. You can get tumescent liposuction, body contouring, extra-large silicone breast implants, a buttock lift, a brow shave, a laser resurfacing of the face — and pay a fraction of what you would pay back home. At the luxurious Bumrungrad, which offers high-speed Internet access and cable TV in every room, you can choose among precisely delineated packages: liposuction, ”the thighs and love handles” package; liposuction, ”the love handles only” package; liposuction, ”the under chin only” package; and on and on. You can find Thai plastic surgeons who market these operations directly to you on English-language Web sites, where you can book an appointment online if you like what you see.

How a developing country with a floundering economy and a significant H.I.V. problem managed to market itself as a center for medical tourism makes an odd, roundabout story. It depends in part on the Asian economic crisis of 1997 and in part on Thailand’s thriving cabaret culture. Most of all, perhaps, it depends on the one plastic surgery procedure that Thai doctors have come closest to perfecting — namely, the sex change operation. Without the international transsexual grapevine, which since the late 90’s has been spreading the word about the affordable talents of Thai plastic surgeons, the new campaign to bring hard currency into the country by touting its medical bargains would never have gained momentum. And so it makes a strange kind of sense to begin this story with somebody like Michelle Moore — somebody who, it is fair to say, had never given Thailand a moment’s thought before she flew there and changed her life forever.

Moore lives in Philadelphia, not far from where she grew up in the blue-collar town of Glenside. Back then, she was known as Michael Maier. She is now 36 and for the last 18 years has operated a moving company called Maier’s Relocation Service, which runs trucks between Florida and Pennsylvania. For vacations, she likes Daytona Beach, Fla.; in her spare time, she collects and repairs old televisions and radios. Her boyfriend is the cook at a nearby nursing home. In Moore’s previous life, the subject of what might or might not be happening in a developing country in Asia just didn’t come up.

Then last spring Moore heard from a friend about a doctor in Bangkok named Preecha Tiewtranon. Preecha is a talented plastic surgeon with an unusual niche: he and two other Thai surgeons perform the cheapest sex-change operations in the world. Even before the Thai government started actively promoting the country’s medical care, the work of Preecha and his students had made Thailand a pilgrimage destination for American and European men who could not afford sexual-reassignment surgery in their home countries, where it can easily cost upward of $20,000. Moore was one of those customers. Twenty thousand dollars was more than she could afford, but $5,000 — Preecha’s going rate, plus air fare to Bangkok — was a sum she could manage. She would even have cash left over for breasts and, as Moore put it, ”fake cheekbones.”

The good thing, besides the price, was that Thai surgeons didn’t set so much store by the extensive psychological evaluations that Western surgeons demand before they will undertake a sex change. In the United States, doctors commonly adhere to a protocol known as the Harry Benjamin standards, which require sex-change candidates to have seen a psychiatrist for at least six months. In Thailand, they don’t. As long as their foreign patients have passed the ”real life” test of living as a woman for six months, they seldom throw up roadblocks. Moore, who isn’t big on roadblocks of any kind, liked this a lot. As she put it, ”I don’t want to pay some psychiatrist money I don’t have to tell me something I already know.” The convenient thing was that Thai immigration officials were by now so accustomed to their country’s brisk business in sex changes that they hardly blinked when a foreigner in a dress offered up a passport with a name like Chuck on it.

Of course, it was a long way to fly — especially with some very sore nethers and probably some bleeding and, depending on how long you decided to convalesce in Thailand, maybe an inability to urinate normally or some sort of brewing infection. But then the whole operation itself was so extreme that, in some ways, the distance and the arduousness of the journey and the strangeness of the destination seemed fitting.

Once Moore had settled on a trip to Bangkok, her biggest difficulty was choosing between the three Thai surgeons who performed sex changes on foreigners at a rate of two or three a week. Suporn Watanyusakul in Chonburi was kind of new at it, but he had studied with Preecha and his prices were great. (Besides, effused one satisfied customer in a Web site posting, Suporn was willing to provide the giant-sized breast implants that other doctors discouraged.) Sanguan Kunaporn, whose practice was on the swinging resort island of Phuket, was known for laboring hard to make a sensitive ”clitoris” from a small chunk of penis he preserved during surgery. His procedure, however, took 11 hours over two days.

Then there was Savannah, The Canadian-born Australian that had our own Dr Sanguan who is one of the pioneers in male-to-female gender reassignment surgery, and among those who are still performing this type of surgery in Thailand. This has gained him a following from all over the globe in Phuket as her surgeon in male to female gender transition

Then there was Preecha — who at 57 and with 1,200 male-to-female sex changes to his credit, the old man of the business. Having studied plastic surgery at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, he started out back in the 1978 doing sex changes on Thais, but then many of those transsexuals moved overseas (a lot of them to Germany, he says) and married Europeans. These ”lady boys” abroad were admired for their beauty, and word started to trickle out that Thailand was a place to get sexual reassignment surgery done cheaply and fairly artfully. By the late 90’s, Preecha’s clientele was made up almost entirely of Americans, Europeans and Australians. Preecha was fast — in three hours, he could do sexual-reassignment surgery, add breasts and shave an Adam’s apple — and his fans claimed he didn’t sacrifice aesthetics or sensation. He did most of his surgery at Bumrungrad, where many doctors had trained in the U.S. and the decor suggested a new Hyatt in some prosperous American exurb.

Michelle Moore picked Preecha, who first operated on her last August. When I met her, on a March morning so humid my glasses fogged over the instant I stepped outside, she was back in Bangkok to get a bit of repair work done. ”I wasn’t real good about dilating the new vagina every day,” she explained. ”I didn’t do what Preecha told me, and it kind of like collapsed on me.” In the tiny, lace-curtained waiting room of Preecha’s clinic, into which several rows of plastic chairs have somehow been crammed, rangy, raw-boned Moore was a large and incongruous presence. She was wearing jeans and a faded T-shirt with a drawing of a Formula 1 car. Her brown hair was long and a little raggedly cut. She looked a bit like David Bowie as a Philly motorhead.

Normally, Moore is a friendly sort, but at that moment she was kind of ticked off because Preecha had told her that another surgeon, whom she did not know, would be operating on her. ”I want to know who is this guy, where’d he go to school and blah, blah, blah,” she said, gesturing with a plastic fork full of a street vendor’s yellow curry. ”I’m afraid, and nobody can blame me. This is serious stuff.”

The person patiently listening to her was Eddie Chaichana, Preecha’s young nurse. Eddie is from a poor village in the north of Thailand. After he earns a little more money in Bangkok, he wants to go home and provide some much needed medical care there. But in the meantime he lives above Preecha’s clinic and deals all day long and into the night with the requirements of transgendered foreigners. Some of them want a pizza; some want a better selection of cable TV; some want advice on the best beaches to head for when they are ready to strut their brand new stuff. Some of them have never been abroad and are scared to leave the darkened hotel rooms where they are recovering.

At the moment, however, Moore was making perhaps the one request Eddie had not heard from a patient before. She wanted information on how to become a permanent resident of Thailand. She likes the people, the weather, the fact that she can get tailored suits for practically nothing. Having surgery abroad had opened her eyes to a life beyond Pennsylvania. ”I like the United States,” she said. ”But there’s too much red tape, especially in long-distance trucking.” She asked Eddie to help find her a job, maybe figure out a way around some immigration problems. It was one thing Eddie couldn’t do. It is medical tourists he had learned to serve — the people who want a new body, for a good price, to take home.

These days, there are plenty of people in Thailand — from government officials to hotel owners to doctors and nurses — banking on the country’s new status as an international capital of discount plastic surgery. The sex-change industry is only the beginning, as they see it, though it certainly made sense to start there and build on some obvious strengths

Thailand, as it happens, is a country whose male-to-female transsexuals make up an unusually accomplished and accepted subculture. There are no legal sanctions against homosexual or transgendered lifestyles, and kathoeys, or drag queens, are everywhere. In the late 90’s, one of the country’s most popular celebrities was a cross-dressing kick boxer who kissed his opponents and wore lipstick in the ring. The second-highest-grossing Thai movie ever made, ”Iron Ladies,” tells the (true) story of a transsexual volleyball team. Drag-queens and lady-boys are stock characters on Thai soaps. And the country’s many transsexual cabarets employ performers who are delicately featured marvels of plastic surgery. I visited two transsexual bars and a cabaret in Bangkok one Sunday night; talking to Iman and Bam-Bam, two pretty, gum-chewing dancers with lustrous hair and matching mauve eye shadow, it was easy to forget that they were not genetic girls. It is true that the breasts they kept flashing genially at me were perfectly spherical and their hips exiguous, but then that kind of made them look like Victoria’s Secret models, who are genetic girls as far as I know.

Given the amount of reshaping transsexual performers require in order to increase their value in the tourist-driven entertainment business, it is not surprising that there are skilled plastic surgeons in Thailand. But in a country where the per capita income is $2,000, not even showgirls have unlimited money to spend on cosmetic surgery. And they had even less of it after the Asian economic crisis and the devaluation of the Thai baht in 1997.

By then there were 131 private hospitals in Bangkok alone, most outfitted with up-to-date medical technology. Somebody had to fill all those beds and pay all those doctors, and after the baht took its plunge, not even the Thai middle class could afford private medical care anymore. (Those who couldn’t pay out of pocket went to government hospitals.) That is when tourist officials and hospital administrators came up with a strategy: market Thailand as a place you would actually travel to for plastic surgery and maybe even other medical procedures as well. Thailand had doctors who earned a fraction of what their American counterparts do, though many of them had studied in the U.S. or Australia. It had highly trained nurses who were paid around $600 a month, a culture with a tradition of massage and other spa-worthy healing practices and in Bangkok, at least, a lot of high-tech medical equipment purchased during the economic boom and now sitting idle. Medical tourism would have a better rep than sex tourism, and it could easily be as lucrative.

And so two years ago, the Tourism Authority of Thailand issued new directives to travel agents, suggesting that they offer their clients health-tourism packages — trips that might include, say, laser eye surgery along with airfare and hotel. Thai travel agents talked up the country’s medical bargains, and hospitals found new ways to advertise. At the hotel where I stayed, a regularly broadcast message advised me that I could get CNBC at ”fine hospitals” throughout Thailand. And several hospitals and clinics in Bangkok started making concerted pitches to attract foreign tourists. The St. Carlos Hospital, where you can get a full range of plastic surgery, advertises itself as a ”breakthrough integrated medical rejuvenation center providing spa, medical and fitness facilities.” The hospital’s Web site, whose opening page features a sun-dappled photograph of a handsome Caucasian couple, explains that ”in Asia, retaining that youthful look is important. This has, in turn, led to the development in Thailand of cosmetic surgical techniques that are the envy of the medical profession in many G7 countries.”

But it was Bumrungrad that took the merging of hospital and tourist accommodation the furthest. Under the administration of an American C.E.O. named Curtis Schroeder, the hospital began showing travel agents a slide-show presentation to get the word out about its bargains: $205 for an MRI, $267 for a complete physical, $1,200 for abdominal liposuction, $750 for full face resurfacing. From a medical point of view, Bumrungrad was already well equipped, with coronary care and dialysis units and sophisticated imaging technology. Now Schroeder, who is 44 and the former administrator of the U.S.C. Medical Center, set about furnishing it with the kind of lavish niceties to which American tourists are accustomed.

After the hospital’s makeover, a foreign visitor could expect five-star hotel extras: meet-and-greet service at the Bangkok airport, a multilingual personal escort to take him from test to test during physicals. And the rooms themselves were luxe and, by American standards, cheap — some just $54 a night. There were 250-thread-count cotton sheets and complimentary toiletries in baskets woven by Thai hill tribes. The hospital brought in chefs from Bangkok’s most glamorous restaurants — a new one each month — to cook patients’ menus. For customers who found the cuisine too exotic, a McDonald’s was installed in the lobby’s food court.

To advertise all these attractions, Schroeder opened outreach offices in cities across Asia. He figured it wouldn’t be all that hard to attract elites from countries whose medical services lagged far behind Thailand’s but who had the wherewithal ”to shop around for Grandma’s heart operation.” Last year, he also opened an office in London, on the assumption that the National Health Service’s waiting lists could propel some intrepid Brits halfway around the world for medical care. ”I have a newspaper article from England right here,” Schroeder told me one day, ”that shows how people can wait three years for hip replacement surgery with the National Health Service. And it’s the same thing in places like Sweden. There’s got to be a market for us there.” Schroeder handed me a newly produced brochure aimed at luring British patients to Bumrungrad. It promised what sounded like a medical paradise of ”instant” care — a place where the people (read: nurses) are ”gentle, serene and gracious” yet modern and efficient, a soothing amalgam of Buddhist compassion and Western infrastructure.

All this investment is beginning to pay off. Bumrungrad saw some 165,000 foreign patients last year. Schroeder knows that the kind of people who can afford plastic surgery or executive physicals in the United states are not necessarily the most price-sensitive, but he figures that everybody likes a bargain, especially if it can be combined with a vacation to a warm, tourist-friendly country. ”We’ve got one couple from New York who comes here every year for their physicals,” he said. ”They love Thailand, and it’s just an easy way for busy people to kind of multitask.”

Walking through the lobby at Bumrungrad one morning, past the lush ficus trees and the splashing fountain, I ran into Ruben Torral, a bouncy American who is Schroeder’s right-hand man. We ordered two Starbucks lattes, and Torral recounted a couple of his sample pitches for surgical vacations. To promote the month’s special on Lasik surgery, which corrects near-sightedness, Torral said he told prospective customers, ”Have the surgery and see beautiful Thailand — get it?” And for face lifts and such, Torral said the anonymity afforded by a hospital so very far from home might be an incentive for some Americans. ”Look, you can come here, get a face lift and spend five days vacationing on the beach, and it’s still going to cost you 30 or 40 percent less than it would if you had the same procedure in L.A. or New York. And guess what? Nobody at home needs to know what you’ve been up to. They just say, ‘Wow, you look rested.’ And you say ‘Yeah, Thailand’s great!”’

Personally, I find it hard to imagine spending any vacation time in a hospital if I can help it, let alone flying 24 hours to a country where vaccinations are recommended, the H.I.V. rate is 2 percent and the nurses don’t speak my language just to get an operation I could get at home. I worry about surgical complications discovered in Economy Class somewhere over the Pacific. I envision having to ask a flight attendant for 9 or 10 yards of gauze and a shot of morphine. I think about less exacting imitators of the doctors at Bumrungrad trying to cash in on the foreign market and ruining, oh, say, your face.

And most American plastic surgeons would agree with me. They take a dim view of all the sun-and-surf-and-nip-and-tuck destinations: Central America, Mexico, Thailand. Follow-up visits are a problem, they point out, and cultural ideals of beauty differ — and more importantly, so do medical credentials and standards of care. ”These are third-world countries — what more do I really have to say?” said Daniel Morello, the president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. ”All the best plastic surgeons in those countries come to the U.S. to train. So why would an American go there for surgery?” Every year, Morello said, ”I am beset by 10 or 12 patients who went abroad for surgery and who have problems they want me to fix. These are people whose phone calls have not been answered, who have been abandoned by the doctor they saw.” Morello added that many plastic surgeons here are reluctant to take such patients on, because ”these are angry, disappointed people who tend to transfer that anger to you. You feel badly for them, but you feel they’ve been dumb, too. The notion of a vacation and surgery of any kind — they really shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence.”

There may, however, be less risky strategies for coaxing well-heeled Westerners into the Thai health system. After my coffee with Torral, I made a brief stop in a public bathroom where yellow roses float serenely in a marble bowl by the sink and then took the elevator to Curtis Schroeder’s office on the top floor.

Schroeder is a tall, well-tended man with sandy hair slicked back from his forehead and a youthful, pink complexion. The day we met, he was wearing a pearly gray suit and waxing enthusiastic about his latest project, something called the Vital Life Wellness Center, set to open this month. Schroeder leaned forward, elephant-print silk tie dangling. He thinks the center will be a big attraction for Americans into vitamin therapy, and he may be right. The lingo sounds spot-on, and ”wellness” sounds like a smart direction for medical tourism to go in: ”nutraceuticals,” prevention, treatments that are trendy and costly and nonsurgical — and, like plastic surgery, not covered by insurance at home. ”We’ll do body fluid assays, check for vitamin deficiencies, anti-oxidants, free radicals,” Schroeder promised. At the Wellness Center, doctors analyzing data about a client’s body would create ”custom compound” supplements for him. ”Some people now are taking 30-40 vitamin pills a day that they’re buying at the local mall, and they don’t need it,” Schroeder explained. ”It’s passing through them, and all they’ve got is the most expensive urine in the world. Well, we don’t want expensive urine here! We’ll give you exactly what you need to take and no more, and then you’ll come back and we’ll test you again.”

So savvy and so neat was this vision, so far removed from the messy work of turning a man into a woman, that I nearly lost sight of the fact that, so far, the most successful Thai medical tourism — the root of it all — was sexual reassignment surgery. Curtis Schroeder, it was made clear to me, did not wish to talk about sexual reassignment surgery. Before I interviewed him, I met with a woman named Yadda Aparaks, the business director of Bumrungrad. She is a petite, impeccably groomed and rather obdurate person with whom I had the following conversation:

Aparaks: ”We do sex changes, but we are not going to speak about that. We don’t want to be known for doing sex change operations. Sex tourism, sex change, nothing like that.”

Me: ”But you have a whole section of your Web site on sexual reassignment surgery at Bumrungrad.”

Aparaks: ”No, we don’t have that.”

Me: ”Yes, you do.”

Aparaks: ”Well maybe somebody looking at our Web site can pull that up. If they’re looking for that. But we’re not going to talk about that.”

It seemed fruitless to press the point, so that was that. But later that day I met a man who knows intimately just how important sex changes are to the whole boom in medical tourism, who has made quite a nice living on them himself and who just chuckled when I told him what Aparaks said.

Not much seems to bother Preecha Tiewtranon. He gives off an aura of quiet jollity, as though he had just heard a good joke or eaten a warm, tasty meal. And his vast and tolerant bemusement takes in all sorts of phenomena discomfiting to other people. Just for the heck of it and kind of expecting an oh-don’t-be-silly reply, I asked him whether something I had read in a guidebook was true: namely, that penile reattachment surgery was performed more often in Thailand than in other countries and that Thailand was, in fact, the international capital of penile reattachment.

”Oh, yes,” he said. ”We have many wives and girlfriends cutting off the husband’s penises here. A few years ago, you had that Bobbitt, and everybody in America was so excited. And in Thailand, we though what’s all the excitement? We have that all the time. We got very good at the microsurgery for reattaching the penis; it’s a specialty for us.” Preecha chuckled heartily. I joined in rather more hesitantly.

Long ago, Preecha said, he had thought ”transsexual people were kind of dirty people and I looked down on them.” But then he started seeing a few transsexuals as patients, people who came in with horribly botched surgery to be repaired, and he felt sorry for them and thought, If they are going to do this anyway, somebody good should do it so they don’t mutilate themselves. And after a while and to his surprise, he found that he liked his transsexual patients. Maybe even especially the foreigners — those blundering Americans who didn’t know the first thing about Thailand but who trusted him.

In the end, what he liked was that the sex-change patients were grateful, which ordinary tourists, and people in general, so often weren’t. ”You know, someone you do stomach surgery on, maybe it’s very hard for them, and you do a good job, but the patient is just saying, ‘Oh pain, pain, pain,”’ Preecha said. ”The sexual-reassignment surgery patients are always happy. They don’t complain! They say they are born again here in Thailand, and they are happy.”

A version of this article appears in print on May 6, 2001, Section 6, Page 86 of the National edition with the headline: 6. CASE STUDY: VANITY; LOCATION: BANGKOK; Nip, Tuck and Frequent-Flier Miles.

Medical tourism in Turkey: Why it is a cosmetic surgery hub

Known for its pristine Aegean beaches and architectural wonders, Turkey also draws tourists for its cosmetic treatments.

Turkey’s health and cosmetic surgery industries have the winning tickets in a globally competitive marketplace with throngs of red scalped men in Istanbul’s public squares and bandaged noses in its metro stations. It’s unlikely to disappear anytime soon with Australia the latest nation to take notice.

The bottom line is that cosmetic surgery is big business for Turkey and it’s all about the price!

Patients are drawn to Turkey for procedures like hair transplants due to cheap prices and the speed of procedures 

Flights back from the Turkish city to Western Europe or the United States and now Australia are often full of people bandaged up, avoiding eye contact with fellow travellers.

Fillers, botox treatments and rhinoplasties are also popular procedures for tourists looking to change their appearance.

Affordable prices, visa free entry and short flight distances from much of West Asia, North Africa and Europe, all add to the appeal of visiting Turkey to get medical and cosmetic procedures done.

Some experts are watching the trend with concern, though, pointing to unethical marketing tactics, results that do not match up with promises and lack of legal protections.

Despite this, the country is a top ten destination for medical tourism globally, with 600 registered clinics in Istanbul alone, according to Patients Beyond Borders (PBB), an organisation that surveys medical tourism.

According to local media reports, more than 100,000 people visit the country for hair transplant procedures alone, the vast majority from Arab states. 

The importance of cost

“People can find quality service at affordable prices and work with surgeons and technicians who know the job well,” Ekram Caymaz tells Middle East Eye, succinctly explaining the appeal of “getting work done” in Turkey.

A leading clinician in hair transplantation at Istanbul’s Hair Upload clinic, Caymaz says patients are drawn to Turkey for its comprehensive approach to customer care.

For example, most clinics will not offer the surgery alone but as a package deal, which can include everything from flights, transfers, luxury accommodation, regular aftercare and even tours of the city.

Patients with bandaged heads after undergoing hair transplants in Turkey 

For the customer that means every aspect of the procedure is taken care of – they simply need to turn up.

Prices are another draw, with Caymaz charging between $4,000 and $6,000 for his hair transplant procedure, which is considered cheap. Others can be as low as just over $1,000, though the quality of service inevitably varies wildly.

In comparison, procedures such as hair transplants are not available for free on the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and can cost as much as £30,000 ($36,700) when done privately. 

Similarly, cosmetic rhinoplasties can cost around £7,000 in Britain ($8,570), not including the cost of consultations and follow ups, whereas in Turkey the procedure costs less than half that.

Key overheads, such as staff salaries, are much lower in Turkey than in Western Europe or the US, while standards of medical training are relatively high compared to other countries in the Middle East or Asia.

Turkey’s ongoing economic crisis has also helped depress prices to a degree that keeps them affordable for Europeans. 

Speed of treatment

But price is not the sole reason for the popularity of cosmetic and other procedures in Turkey.

Speed of treatment is another factor, albeit one that serves as something of a double-edged sword.

Weight loss surgeries, for example, are only available on the NHS in extreme cases, for people who have a body mass index of 40 or more, meaning they are severely obese.

Before proceeding, patients must agree to a rigorous long term follow-up after the surgery, including making healthy lifestyle changes and regular check-ups. Even for people who are eligible, the wait for treatment can last years.

A general view shows the Blue Mosque and the empty Sultanahmet square after a blast in Istanbul’s tourist hub on January 12, 2016. – At least 10 people were killed and 15 wounded in a suspected terrorist attack in the main tourist hub of Turkey’s largest city Istanbul, officials said. A powerful blast rocked the Sultanahmet neighbourhood which is home to Istanbul’s biggest concentration of monuments and and is visited by tens of thousands of tourists every day.

Safety and the black market

Some experts, though, have warned that patients in search of quick and affordable solutions could be setting themselves up for trouble further down the line.

Cosmetic dentist Sam Jethwa, from the UK-based Perfect Smile Studios, tells Middle East Eye that patients can easily be misled when it comes to cosmetic procedures. 

“Getting a dental procedure abroad means you risk not having any legal protection, which can leave patients with difficulties afterwards,” he says, adding that patients can also be misinformed, resulting in needing further treatment or repeat procedures.

“The need to have corrective work done back in the UK due to botched cosmetic dentistry procedures (abroad) is on the rise,” Jethwa says. 

“We see these patients attending our clinic afterwards regularly, sadly after patients have already chosen treatments that they were not fully appreciative of the risks of.”

While there is no suggestion that a typical procedure in Turkey will result in problems for patients, there are those looking to capitalise on the trend and exploit vulnerable patients.

The International Society for Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS), a global non-profit medical association active in over 70 countries, has launched a campaign named Fight the Fight in an effort to shed light on the dangers of the “medical black market” and medical tourism package deals. 

Launched in 2019 in response to the growing number of people going to unlicensed technicians to get hair surgeries, the organisation offers support to victims of treatments that have gone wrong and provides education and training about the subject. 

ISHRS says there have been cases where doctors or those purporting to have medical training have misled patients and carried out illegal practices, resulting in injuries, scarring and the depleted or uneven appearance of hair. 

Caymaz reiterates that the onus to make an informed decision lies with the patient.

“Although clinics and hospitals are inspected, there are so called ‘under the stairs’ places, which are much cheaper,” he says. 

“It is very important to examine their social media and videos, the words they say and what is written must match up.”

According to the doctor, one of the main issues within the industry is the lack of follow-up after the operation to ensure there are no complications.

“This is a very important detail, and most clinics in Istanbul do not follow up after the operation. Even customers who have had operations in other clinics ask us about this,” Caymaz says. 

Social media and medical tourism

Anyone likely to have mentioned hair loss, weight gain or insecurity about their looks online is likely to have been bombarded with Instagram or Google adverts promising affordable and sometimes miraculous solutions to their issues.

Part of the reason for the popularity of medical and cosmetic tourism is social media advertising.

This trend is compounded by entertainment news coverage of celebrities going public about their own procedures.

Rhinoplasties are one of the most common surgeries patients come to Istanbul.

Hair transplants are very popular among footballers, with Wayne Rooney confirming he had one in 2011 and Emirati singer Hussain Al Jassmi putting his dramatic weight loss down to a gastric bypass in 2010.

Selena Marianova, a UK based 22-year-old social media content creator and clinic owner, says that social media has an “undeniable influence” on individuals considering surgical enhancements. 

In a YouTube video, viewed over 300,000 times, Marianova recounts her experience to her followers. She says that she wants to help other people by sharing information, and that she chose Turkey for her surgery because of their advanced medical technology and experienced doctors. 

Marianova went to Istanbul for a rhinoplasty in 2019, cautioning, however, that young people need to feel confident in who they are before they proceed with any surgical enhancements.

“Plastic surgery isn’t to be taken lightheartedly,” she says. “Being a content creator, it is extremely hard to not pinpoint parts of myself that would need ‘improvement’ because I am constantly looking at myself in videos, photos and in the mirror, which can be very mentally draining for people who do not have a strong self concept.” 

The link between social media use and negative self-image is well established by researchers but for all the ethical considerations, the bottom line is that cosmetic surgery is big business for Turkey.

In 2018, the cosmetic enhancement industry was worth $2bn in Turkey and hair transplants alone are now a billion dollar industry

Those valuations are likely to have increased in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a surge in interest in cosmetic surgery globally.

Despite the concerns, Turkey’s health and cosmetic surgery industries are winning tickets in a country otherwise suffering economically.

The throngs of red scalped men in Istanbul’s public squares and bandaged noses in its metro stations are therefore unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition. and English

As Botox parties take off, doctors warn of risks

BOTOX parties are on the rise in Queensland, but doctors have urged caution, saying they were regularly called on to fix botched Botox procedures.

Botox party host Claire Licciardo and Hollie Anderson, who says the parties are less intimidating than visiting a clinic.

BOTOX parties are on the rise in Queensland, as everyone from brides-to-be to high-flying lawyers look for a cheaper, more convenient way to turn back the clock.

But specialist doctors urged caution, saying they were regularly called on to fix botched Botox party procedures undertaken by unqualified practitioners.

Cosmetic Holidays International managing director Claire Licciardo said there had been a surge in demand for at-home cosmetic injections in the past few months, and she was now hosting as many as three parties a week with a qualified doctor in southeast Queensland.

She said men in their 40s, lawyers, businessmen, gym owners, strippers and bridal parties were just some of the people flocking to attend parties, at which she said it cost $8 a unit for anti-wrinkle treatments and about $400 for lip fillers.

An internet search turned up evidence of other clinics and registered nurses who are willing to host at-home Botox parties

An internet search turned up evidence of other clinics and registered nurses who are willing to host at-home Botox parties

The parties usually last for at least three hours and Ms Licciardo travels to customers’ homes with a doctor registered with the Medical Board of Australia who can administer cosmetic injections and dermal fillers. The venue host receives a discount.

Ms Licciardo enforces a six-person limit at her parties and said for safety reasons, the consumption of ­alcohol was not allowed.

“I’m not going to boss people around, but we’re very clear,” she said. “We prefer people not to have ­alcohol before.

“What they do after we leave is none of my business.”

Hollie Anderson, 27, plans to host a Botox party and said it was less intimidating than visiting a clinic.

“Plus, we can make an evening of it,” she said.

Mishaps don’t just happen at Botox parties. Lawyer Raluca Crisan claims this reaction was the result of mistakenly being injected with snake venom – in a clinic.

Brisbane Skin director and specialist dermatologist Shobhan Manoharan said he’d been approached to give injections in a party setting, but said it’s something he would not do as patients could not be sure what was being injected and a home wasn’t as sterile as a clinic.

He said he regularly sees patients with complications from a Botox party and was especially concerned that the parties were expanding to offer fillers, which could cause serious issues, such as tissue death.

He said that while smaller complications tended to be more common, poor injection skills could lead to brow drops, dribbling problems, and even blindness.

“I’ve had patients who have had to fly in (to Brisbane) from North Queensland to see me because of a Botox party injectable complication there,” he said.

Queensland Health also warns against the practice.

Ms Licciardo, who has worked in the cosmetic surgery industry for years, said Botox parties sometimes got a “bad rap”, but she’d only ever work with a registered doctor. 

Story was published in The Courier Mail

Lay-by boob jobs? How very GC!

JUST like lay-bying the kids’ Christmas presents and paying them off, mum can now put her cosmetic surgery on a payment plan too.

JUST like lay-bying the kids’ Christmas presents and paying them off, mum can now put her cosmetic surgery on a payment plan too.

Cosmetic surgery clinics and travel agencies are offering boob jobs and procedures on payment plans to cater for demand from potential clients who cannot afford to pay upfront.

But those who commit to certain schemes be warned — they could end up paying twice the original surgery price.

Hire purchase used to be for household electrical goods or furniture, now it’s being applied to body parts, a Gold Coast Bulletin investigation has found.

Claire Licciardo, managing director of the Coast’s Cosmetic Holidays International now re-branded as NipTuck Holidays, will today launch a new lay-by option where clients can enter a six to 12-month payment plan and only pay weekly transaction fees.

It means a $6500 procedure would only set them back a further $338.

“I think this will be really successful because we’re catering to that part of the market I never used to, I only catered for the middle to high end,” she said.

Make-up artist Ellie Wright, who runs local styling business Beauty Queen, said this gave women a good option if they weren’t good savers.

Ms Wright wants to go to Thailand next year for a nose job and possible chin implant.

“It’s a way of paying that money, just not spending it week to week on little things you don’t really need,” she said.

Australia’s biggest cosmetic surgery provider, The Cosmetic Institute in Sydney provides payment plans using Zip money which charges a 19.9 per cent interest rate if the loan is fully repaid within three months.

After that a minimum $150 or 3 per cent of the outstanding balance must be repaid every month.

A $6500 loan paid back over six years at around $155 a month would see a woman pay over $4600 in interest as well as a $349 sign up fee and a $5.95 per month ($357 over six years) administration fee.

The fees and interest would total over $5380 almost the same as the original cost of the procedure.

Ellie Wright. Image: Instagram

Ellie Wright. Image: Instagram

Institute managing director David Segal said his company had no financial interest in Zip money and not all clients used it.

“People have been doing it on their home loan, extending their mortgage, getting a personal loan,” he says.

Gold Coast-based Cosmeditour provides an interest free payment option where the person pays n instalments for travelling to Thailand for surgery or using the business’ Gold Coast service. It charges a non refundable deposit of $500.

Sydney’s Enhance Clinic offers breast enlargements for $5790 with finance available if you pay $2970 upfront and $80 per week for a year, clients paying $1,000 in excess of their surgery.

Melbourne’s Elysium Cosmetic and Medical offers payment plans that for around $155 per month over five years would see the person outlay $2318 in interest.

Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey says the interest rates being offered for cosmetic surgery loans “are inflated”.

“It really pays to shop around,” he said.

“Don’t assume the company providing the procedure is providing the best credit,” he said.

Published in The Gold Coast Bulletin

A stronger, more positive comeback for Malaysia’s medical tourism

MHTC aims to continue developing existing offerings and enhancing healthcare experiences through niche branding initiatives. — Photos: Pixabay

Malaysia’s health tourism sector, which has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, is showing signs of a stronger comeback as the nation heads into 2023, propelled by the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint 2021-2025.

Malaysia has built a strong reputation as a safe and trusted global destination for healthcare over the past 10 years, with visitors from across the world coming for a range of treatments.

In the next phase, this segment will continue to focus on treatment services such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), cardiology, oncology, orthopaedic, neurology, dental, aesthetics and general health screening, while unleashing the full potential of the industry, covering the areas of preventive treatments and healthcare.

Five-year industry blueprint

Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) chief executive officer Mohd Daud Mohd Arif said, during the recovery phase, more emphasis is being placed on the healthcare travel ecosystem as readiness measures for the industry to recover and move into a new phase.

“We are now in a solid position to embark on the next phase of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint in 2023 to rebuild the industry, while enhancing service delivery of a seamless end-to-end experience for all healthcare travellers.

“Guided strongly by the blueprint, we are on course for a continuous and sustainable industry growth, focusing on providing the best Malaysia healthcare travel experience by leveraging our strengths in three key pillars.

“The three pillars consist of the Healthcare Travel Ecosystem, which focuses on enhancing service quality and experience of care; Malaysia Healthcare Brand, to increase brand cohesiveness across key touchpoints and amplify our brand equity in core markets; Markets, (which) we are looking at growing beyond primary markets and exploring more niche markets to strengthen our presence,” Mohd Daud said in an interview.

MHTC will be enhancing these pillars through collaborations with local, regional and global stakeholders to create value for the entire industry.

“The rebuild phase will also see the industry driving forward with a focus on both curative and preventive treatments as well as several niche branding initiatives such as in cardiology, oncology, fertility, and dental treatments as well as premium wellness offerings, inviting healthcare travellers to experience and rediscover the best of healthcare in Malaysia,” he added.

Top destination

Currently, Malaysia is ranked among the top medical tourism destinations in Asia, alongside India, Thailand, Singapore and South Korea.

President of the Association of Private Hospitals (APHM) Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh has said, Malaysia is one of the best in South-East Asia in terms of cost and high standard of healthcare.

Mohd Daud said Malaysia’s healthcare system has been internationally recognised and has garnered numerous global accolades over the years. They include International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) Destination of the Year: Malaysia (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2020); IMTJ Cluster of the Year: Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020); Asia Pacific Healthcare and Medical Tourism Awards (2016-2022); and International Living: Asia’s Top Destination for Retirement Living (2015-2022).

He said Malaysia saw significant declines in healthcare travel revenue from RM1.7bil in 2019 to RM777mil and RM585mil in 2020 and 2021 respectively, due to the Covid-19

“However, the industry’s swift response to the pandemic has led to fruitful results. Anchoring heavily on public-private partnerships (PPPs), our success as a destination has been an all-industry effort. Together, we have cultivated a solid ecosystem, further positioning Malaysia as a safe and trusted destination for healthcare travellers as we recover from the pandemic,” he added.

Malaysia’s healthcare travel sector will focus on several treatment services this year, including dental.

Malaysia’s healthcare travel sector will focus on several treatment services this year, including dental.

Following the opening of borders in April this year, the sector has seen an encouraging surge in the number of healthcare traveller arrivals

“As of the third quarter of (Q3) 2022, the industry recorded RM726mil of revenue, bringing us closer to our target of achieving RM1bil for 2022. This signifies the healthcare travellers’ trust on Malaysia as a safe and trusted healthcare travel destination, as well as the industry’s positive recovery and growth,” Mohd Daud said.

Discover new fields

Leveraging the demand for niche treatments and its excellent track records, MHTC aims to continue developing existing offerings and enhancing the Malaysia healthcare experiences through niche branding initiatives, which include preventive healthcare and wellness.

“In recent years, the global population has become increasingly diligent in prioritising their physical and mental wellness.

“In response to this trend, Malaysia healthcare introduced a Premium Wellness Programme, an industry-wide collaborative effort with top-tier private hospitals, hotels and travel companies in the country to integrate comprehensive health screening, world-class accommodation and leisure tour offerings into one convenient comprehensive premium package for healthcare travellers.

“Through this programme, we aim to empower the global population by inspiring healthier lifestyles via enhanced health screening offerings, with options for add-ons for dental aesthetics, cosmetic procedures and focused screenings and treatments for Hepatitis C, cancer and heart related disease,” said Mohd Daud.

Malaysia Healthcare has identified Indonesia, China, Bangladesh and Myanmar as core markets based on the volume of healthcare travellers, as well as the growth potential in the respective markets.

It also plans to increase the market penetration in those countries while aggressively raising the country’s profile in secondary markets like Hong Kong, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore and Australia.

“Currently, Indonesia represents one of the key markets for Malaysia Healthcare, with healthcare travellers from Jakarta, Surabaya, and Medan making up the majority of those seeking care in Malaysia, to complement the healthcare services obtained in their home country.

“Penang and Melaka are healthcare travel hot spots for Indonesian travellers, dominating more than 70% of total arrivals,” he added.

In terms of travellers by origin, Malaysia continues to attract healthcare travellers from many countries, not just within the region.

For the past decade, citizens from Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Britain, and the United States make up the top countries of arrival in Malaysia.

Poised for positive growth

Meanwhile, MSU Medical Centre (MSUMC) chief executive officer Zahri Abd Ghani said the health tourism sector’s growth after the pandemic brought positive spill-over effects on the organisation.

Buoyed by the turnaround, MSUMC undertook to refresh its mission of “Caring, Healing, Educating” by providing quality, accessible and affordable services to its customers based on MHTC’s recovery plan for the industry.

MSUMC which began operations in January 2019, offers treatment services such as neurosurgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, orthopaedic, cardiology, nephrology, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and ophthalmology.

“In general, the segment for overseas patients at MSUMC covers health check-up such as brain and backbone screening package, orthopaedic, plastic and reconstructive surgery, general surgery, nephrology, neurosurgery and cardiology.

“The world-class health care services provided by hospitals such as MSUMC, continue to open the floodgates for healthcare tourism. Malaysia has emerged as one of the preferred destinations for medical tourists given its highly-specialised medical treatment options, reasonable fees and patient comfort coupled with experienced medical experts who are fully equipped to meet patient demands,” he added.

MSUMC has earned international recognition for its reconstructive surgery such as for lymphoedema (chronic condition that causes swelling in the body’s tissue), gum cancer, acid burn, omphalocele (birth defect of the abdominal wall) and craniofacial growth (the cranial base matures earlier than the face).

MSUMC has also received full accreditation from the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) for a four-year term as recognition for achieving compliance to service quality and healthcare safety standards.

“The recognition that Malaysia earns as among the world’s best medical and healthcare tourism destinations augurs well for the sector, which remains on a positive trajectory with ample room for growth,” he said adding that it would directly push demand for skilled human resources and generate more employment opportunities.

He said MSUMC has proactively worked in collaboration with the health tourism industry stakeholders particularly MHTC which plays a vital role in promoting Malaysia’s health tourism to the global community through cooperation with regional and international media practitioners.

High standards

A senior lecturer from the Faculty of Hotel and Tourism Management, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Melaka, Akmal Adanan said, emphasis should be given towards safety and health aspects based on set guidelines by the authorities, noting that local health tourism management practices should be on par with international standards to gain tourist confidence.

Industry players should be ready to offer flexible, reasonable and varied service packages in addition to taking proactive steps in accepting the latest technology, such as adapting the Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications for data analysis and to meet customer needs.

“The ‘Chatbot’ system that is available in ML allows service providers to interact for 24 hours with their clients online to respond to various queries including providing effective treatment schedules.

“Hospital authorities and service providers should maximise their service promotions especially on the social media platform. The promotion content should be more creative, focusing on soft selling marketing approach such as short videos that provide information as well as useful health tips while promoting the facilities, doctors’ expertise and special services offered,” he said.

Coordination between the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, the Ministry of Health and MHTC should be strengthened to ensure the health tourism sector provides quality service and continue to attract more tourists from both locally and abroad.

Finance incentives aimed at boosting the operational resilience of the health tourism sector such as awarding of grants, subsidies, sponsorships and deductions or tax exemptions should be considered for the sector’s revival, in addition to tourist friendly policies, rules and procedures such as simplifying the visa process.

In addition, educational programmes, training and professional development courses for industry players can help enhance the quality of their products and services.

“In general, the tourism sector has experienced significant declines in terms of tourist arrivals and earnings due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It may take a long time before the industry can recover to its pre-pandemic levels.

“However, the health tourism sector is poised for positive growth next year given that quality health services are always in demand especially among tourists from neighbouring Indonesia and Singapore as well as China.

“Besides being blessed with scenic and attractive sites for tourists to spend their vacation, the highly trained doctors as well as competitive treatment costs are also a major draw among medical tourists to Malaysia,” he said, adding that continuous studies should be conducted on certain groups’ inclination for choosing treatment destinations. – Bernama

Published in The Star Monday, 02 Jan 2023

Aussies are heading to Turkey to access cheap cosmetic surgery

Danielle Gusmaroli in London writes this piece for the The Herald Sun as Aussies head over to Turkey to access cosmetic surgery for prices we haven’t seen for years! NipTuck Holidays is the only agency in Australia offering Turkey as a medical tourism destination with our Group Tour getting ready to officially announce for October 2023! Interested?

Australians craving a dramatic makeover are heading overseas to access cosmetic surgery for a fraction of the cost of procedures at home.

Turkey is fast establishing itself as the new medical tourism hub for Aussies craving bargain boobs, butts and bodies.

In a shift away from the one-time cosmetic surgery capital of Thailand, the southeastern European country has enjoyed a 400 per cent jump in bookings since international flights resumed in February 2022.

Much of the lure is price — procedures are up to 275 per cent cheaper than Australia — but there is also a belief among patients that the work is carried out in clean environments.

Venesa Sacco, 46, underwent her second cosmetic procedure in Istanbul in October — a breast lift and Brazilian butt lift (BBL).

“I feel and look totally different, I’m much more confident and like what I see in the mirror now – it’s like getting a haircut, you feel so much better afterwards,” Ms Sacco, from Caulfield, Melbourne, said.

Venesa Sacco underwent a breast lift and Brazilian butt lift, among other procedures, in Turkey.

She claims to have saved $74,450 on what she would have paid in Australia for her eight surgery procedures in two trips to Turkey over 15 months.

Her BBL cost $550 instead of $3000, her breast lift was $4000 versus $15,000, she paid $3000 for veneers that would have set her back $20,000 and her 360 liposuction was $6000 instead of $20,000.

“I’m addicted and I’m thinking of another round of liposuction … and maybe a facelift next year,” she said.

Ms Sacco says she saved $75,000 over her eight procedures by going to Turkey. 

Lisa Consolmagno, 47, from Craigieburn, Melbourne, is part of a WhatsApp group with thousands of Australian members sharing information about plastic surgery in Turkey.

She flew into Istanbul a day after the deadly magnitude 7.8 earthquake for a tummy tuck, removal of old breast implants, breast lift and new implants.

“I went to Turkey because a lot of the men at the gym I go to have had veneers and hair transplants and told me to go,” she said.

Venesa Sacco says she is “addicted” to cosmetic surgery. 

Medical tourism firm Estetica Istanbul said Australian bookings had exploded from one or two a month to 10.

According to another firm, Surgery Savior, at least 10 per cent of its 70 aesthetic procedures and hair transplants a month now went to Australians.

“I keep seeing +61 (the Australian country code) flash up on my phone,” Surgery Savior chief executive Sarah Kasule said.

“After Covid, we got flooded with calls.

“There are five Australians in hotel rooms recovering from rhinoplasty as we speak, three of them girls from Sydney.”

Estetica Istanbul chief executive Mert Karakuzu will next month launch a social media advertising campaign to meet the growing demand from Australia.

“You can’t ignore the numbers, Australia has caught on to Turkey and we are now in discussions to advertise on Facebook,” he said.

AMA President Professor Steve Robson advised exercising caution when opting for plastic surgery overseas.

“We are lucky enough to have one of the best health systems in the world with highly trained doctors, nurses and other health professionals working in world-class facilities,” he said.

“Our outcomes are second to none and when, on the rare occasion, something goes wrong, patients have the security of knowing that the health system will be there to support them.”

Chair of the Communications Committee for the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery Fabian Cortiñas shared concerns about the integrity of the industry.

“Safety should be the first priority when deciding to travel to a different country for an aesthetic surgical or non-surgical procedure,” he said.

Turkey aims to lure 1.5 million health tourists in 2023.

The government has certain expectations of clinics, including having an International Health Tourism Authorisation Certificate, regulated prices and surgical standards.

The story inThe Sun Herald:


■ Choose a procedure that suits your age and body type. Risk and results of surgery are affected by age and weight

■ Ensure the plastic or cosmetic surgeon is experienced and medically board certified

■ Complications can occur during and after your procedure – check the level of after-care service provided and country’s safety guidelines. Each country has different safety guidelines and the safety levels will vary

■ If the procedure is performed in a hospital, verify the hospital is accredited or certified. Ask your surgeon for certification information and the name of the certifying body.

■ Ensure the surgical setting is safe and authorised by the country’s regulatory system and with trained personnel and emergency procedures in place.

■ Flights make changes in the body’s physiology, always arrive one or two days before the surgery, during those days take time for a physical consultation with your Doctor for final adjustments

■ Never underestimate the post operative period. Take enough time — at least a week — for a full recovery before your flight back.

Bali’s new hospital is opening soon!

Medical tourism in Bali

The beautiful holiday island of Bali is set to be a medical tourism destination new international hospital built by the Indonesian Ministry of State-owned Enterprises in partnership with the US-owned Mayo Clinic. NipTuck Holidays sources say Sanur International Hospital, the new world-class international 300-bed hospital, is on track for completion in this year with the concept is to position Bali as a world-leading health tourism destination!

The Sanur International Hospital is bringing in consultants from the Mayo Clinic and  international doctors and surgeons who have graduated and practised abroad, with the focus on South Korea.

Currently the legislation makes it hard for doctors and other medical professionals who have trained outside of Indonesia to come to work in the country, however the recruitment process is underway for specialist doctors and that only the best candidates will be chosen.

The Governor of Bali said, “the aim is to position quality, safety, and patient experience at the highest international standards.” He told the audience that the whole project is being designed in partnership with the NipTuck Holidays partners Mayo Clinic, the best hospital in the US. The partnership is developing not only the hospital building itself but working to create the best governance, management, and workplace culture possible.

The international hospital is being built on a former golf course on the coast of Bali near Sanur, close to Grand Inna Bali Beach Resort. The area is on the quiet east coast with white sand beaches and is popular with retirees and elderly tourists.

The hospital grounds merge with the famous Bali Beach Grand Inna Hotel, a new meeting and exhibition center, and a living pharmacy featuring an ethnomedical botanical garden to draw upon traditional Balinese medical practices as complementary therapy to the modern practices within the hospital. There will also be a commercial center for health, wellness, and medical-related medium, small, and micro-enterprises to support the local economy further.

Bali Beach Grand Inna Hotel

While Bali has become synonymous with wellness travel, there will be an even greater focus on medical, health, and wellness tourism and together with NipTuck Holidays to promote Bali as a medical tourism destination.

Confirmed: Australia’s international border will reopen from mid-November

These changes mean there will be no travel restrictions if you are a vaccinated Australian entering or leaving the nation’s shores.

Morrison also said the government is working towards completely quarantine-free travel for certain countries, such as New Zealand when it is safe to do so.

It will also become easier to enter Australia with the plan abolishing international arrival caps on returning vaccinated Australians.

Citizens and permanent residents fully immunised with a vaccine approved or recognised by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) will be required to undergo seven days’ home quarantine.

Others will be required to enter 14 days of managed isolation.

After more than 18 months of being shuttered, PM Scott Morrison has confirmed today that Australia’s border will officially reopen to inbound and outbound international travel from mid-November in states that have hit vaccination targets.

You heard it here. It’s finally happening.

Australia’s tough outbound border restrictions will be scrapped when states and territories are expected to hit 80 per cent double-dose vaccination coverage.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday revealed the path back to international travel with the new system expected to start in November.

“There are no surprises here, this is what we set out to do,” said Morrison.

“Australia will be ready for take-off very soon.”

Restrictions on people leaving the country will be scrapped at 80 per cent coverage – expected in early November in some jurisdictions.

Current overseas travel restrictions will be removed and Australians will be able to travel subject to any other travel advice and limits, as long as they are fully vaccinated and those countries’ border settings allow.

These changes mean there will be no travel restrictions if you are a vaccinated Australian entering or leaving the nation’s shores.

Morrison also said the government is working towards completely quarantine-free travel for certain countries, such as New Zealand when it is safe to do so.

It will also become easier to enter Australia with the plan abolishing international arrival caps on returning vaccinated Australians.

Citizens and permanent residents fully immunised with a vaccine approved or recognised by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) will be required to undergo seven days’ home quarantine.

Others will be required to enter 14 days of managed isolation.

Home quarantine face recognition

People who cannot be vaccinated including those under 12 or with a medical condition will be treated as vaccinated for the purposes of their travel.

States and territories will begin this program at different times given varying vaccination rates.

Australian travellers will be able to access an internationally recognised proof of vaccination document (Vaccine passport) in the coming weeks to prove their status.

The TGA will also recognise China’s Sinovac and Covishield produced in India as authorised vaccines to enter Australia, meaning Chinese and Indian students, tourists and business travellers can return.

More than 45,000 people are stuck overseas waiting to come home with the NSW government indicating it wants to welcome thousands into the country when borders reopen.

“It’s time to give Australians their lives back,” Mr Morrison said.

More to come.

Article published by


Turkey is one of the top destinations for medical tourism. Home to ancient and scenic natural wonders and famous for its healthcare infrastructure. Being close to Western Europe, Turkey has been medical tourism hotspot for many Europeans seeking affordable cosmetic surgery. Hair transplaint’s have continuously gaining popularity. 

There are many reasons why Turkey has become the rising star of medical tourism. The travelling distances to Turkey from the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa, makes it possible for people to cut costs. But it isn’t just about that. Despite the lower costs, the quality of procedures offered is world-class. 

Famous Kaputaş beach,Antalya Turkey an hour from Istanbul.

Affordable Treatment Packages

The medical tourism industry recieved $1.5 billion from medical tourism in 2018, Turkey received around 700,000 medical tourists, according to the Turkish Health Minister. And it has been growing every year since, with the huge influx of medical tourists is that many people in their home countries are unable to afford the treatment. That is why they consider going to other countries to get the same procedure done.

The quality of the procedure offered isn’t sacrificed because of the lower cost. The cost is low because of the Turkish economy itself. The exchange rate and low cost of living make many things seem very cheap to foreigners. 

Moreover, the minimum wage is lower in Turkey, which results in cheaper labour costs. This means that surgery in Turkey will cost less than it will, say, in Western Europe. Moreover, having cosmetic surgery or a hair transplant is not available on National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. 

No Long Wait Lists

Once you book a treatment package in Turkey, you can get the procedure done in a matter of a day(s). However, in the UK, waitlists can be so long that you might have to wait for almost 2 years to get some procedures done. So, if you want to get treatment without further delays, you can get it in Turkey. 

Many people also find the aspect of including the procedure in their vacation time quite appealing. Turkey is a popular tourist destination, which is why many people can relax after or before getting their treatment. If you’re also avoiding unnecessary questions about the surgery by your colleagues, it’s a good idea to get the treatment and recover for a while in Turkey.