Trip And Tuck
ExpatriateLifestyle.com  |  October 2010

Going on vacation these days has become an opportunity to have those reconstructive surgeries away from the often judgemental eyes of friends and family. So when people say you look great after your holiday, you can be sure they're not just talking about your tan.

Words Eleanor Lopez

Passport: check; tickets: check; tummy tuck, breast augmentation: check, check. That is not the kind of checklist one is accustomed to go through after a tropical holiday in the East but it's fast becoming the norm, so pack wisely. Suntan lotion might not be top of your list if you've booked in for a laser treatment to remove those unsightly scars and moles. On the other hand you might want to invest in a super sexy swimsuit to flaunt those newly acquired assets.

Welcome to the world of cosmetic tourism. Unlike medical tourism, where patients requiring major surgical procedures such as hip replacements and heart valves choose to travel East out of necessity—due to the escalating costs and never-ending waiting lists at home—cosmetic travel is a whole new niche market, and a lucrative one as well.

Botox injections, facelifts, liposuction and such have become common practice in the West, what with advances in medical technology and accessibility, so why travel halfway round the world when these procedures are readily available in your home country? As with everything else health related, it's the costs and waiting lists that have prompted this new breed of tourists to look East.

Dr Yap Lok Huei (right), a consultant plastic/ cosmetic surgeon and clinical director of Plastic Surgery at Prince Court Medical Centre, believes that the reason for choosing Malaysia is apparent enough. "The quality of healthcare here is excellent and offers tremendous value for money. Most people here are conversant in English and get along well with international visitors. We have a relatively stable political and economic climate, and also offer visitors access to world-renowned attractions such as our beaches, wildlife reserves and of course our wide range of local cuisine."

Louise Cogan, founder and director of Gorgeous Getaways (www.gorgeousgetaways.com), agrees. "We found that we had more of an affinity with the country due to its colonial heritage and the quality of medical care and service here is a lot better. Plus, it's easier to travel around Malaysia." This has naturally led to business opportunities that have capitalized on an emerging market. With the country's bountiful attractions and generous exchange rates, it made sense to combine travel with something as extravagant as cosmetic surgery. There are several companies that offer surgical packages which include flights, accommodation and even cover certain expenses for the duration of the client's stay.

Gorgeous Getaways (GG) is an Australianbased pioneer in cosmetic tourism, catering for clients—mostly middle-aged women—in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Louise explains, "ten years ago, cosmetic surgery was a taboo subject and the women who wanted to have these procedures would do their own research and choose places in Asia because it was cheaper and also for the sense of privacy."

But these often led to undesirable consequences due to the lack of information and consultation by qualified surgeons as well as absence of post-surgery care. Dr Yap is keen to stress the importance of the consultation process. "Cosmetic surgery or treatments should not be undertaken lightly, without fully understanding the patient's goal. The decisions that we take are often a shared responsibility of the patient and surgeon."

Plus, travelling on their own presented a host of safety issues not to mention the frustrating language barrier. It was the growing number of cases involving botched surgeries, complications and lack of monetary compensation that inspired Louise to come up with the plan of offering more on-ground support, not just making the necessary travel and hospital arrangements.

She is also very much involved in the process and makes frequent visits to Malaysia, staying for months at a time. "Most of the women are here on their own so it's important to have a support system, be it emotional or psychological. We help provide this by organising frequent get- togethers throughout their stay and they get to meet each other and share their experiences."

In fact, what began as individual searches for affordable and quicker alternatives has pened up a whole new world of opportunities even for those who might not have considered having cosmetic surgery before. Add to that the chance to bask in the sun by the pool of a five-star resort and it almost looks like you're getting a free holiday with surgery, not the other way round. "Many of our clients have had thoughts of having cosmetic procedures but it used to be only available to the upperclass or the elite. With GG we are bringing it to the public so to speak," says Louise.

It's also quite obvious that the days when cosmetic or reconstructive surgery was meant only for those who suffe from severe disfigurement or deformity are long gone. Nowadays, the need to have extensive surgical work on your body and face is more to do with one's self image and confidence and is not restricted to middle-aged women. GG's secondary market is the younger women between the ages of 20 and 30. They prefer to have single treatments on their breasts and face.

As these don't require extensive postsurgery care, they make the most of their stay here to take in the sights, savour the local cuisine and even manage to squeeze a bit of shopping in. And the men are not far behind. It appears that the pressure to look good is taking its toll on the opposite sex and they too have succumbed to the powers of the scalpel. According to Dr Yap, "men seem to request nose reshaping procedures and body contouring surgery more frequently."

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