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May 2011
Giving Holidays
A Cosmetic Make-Over
Shobita Shivshankar
Eesha and husband Tarun could see vast expanses of rolling grasslands from the small Beachcraft plane they were travelling on. As their plane circled around for some minutes to let the giraffes cross the landing strip, they knew it was an African Safari all the way!

But the couple was not in Kenya just on an exotic Safari holiday. The real purpose of their visit was Abdominoplasy (tummy tuck) for 32-year-old Eesha. Yes, you read that right! A tummy tuck while on an African safari.

The newest trend in the look-enhancement market is combining surgery with a vacation. Thousands upon thousands of people are latching on to this ‘cosmetic surgery tourism’ offered by countries like South Africa, Kenya, Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Jamaica, Honduras, Malaysia and Thailand. Such has been the phenomenal response to the trend that it has grown exponentially over the last few years.

Package Deal
Take the case of Eesha. For over two years she had been fighting a losing battle with her weight after the birth of her first child. Even as she was reaching her wit’s end with all the fad diets, she stumbled upon a two-week package deal on the Internet. It offered her an opportunity to stay in a five-star tented resort in Masai Mara, one of Kenya’s most stunning game reserves that plays host to the annual migration of wild beasts.

But the purpose of the vacation was not just to view wildlife. After three days spent watching prides of lion and herds of cheetahs, rhinos and elegant antelopes, she would be flown to neighbouring Johannesburg where she would go under the surgeon’s knife to flatten her tummy with liposuction. The remaining time would be spent recuperating in a luxury resort.

Though the entire holiday and the surgical procedure set the couple back by around Rs.5 lakhs, Eesha feels it has been worth every rupee. By the time she came back to India with her flattened tummy, there was a dramatic effect on her looks and self esteem.

Though not many Indians are taking the safari route to surgery, because of the relatively low cost of beauty procedures in India, this unusual medical tourism has come as a boon for people in America and other western countries where cosmetic surgery costs a fortune.

Surgeon-and-Spa Retreats
It is estimated that every year over 100,000 Americans go south of their border to tour packages arranged by leading surgeon-and-spa retreats like Cosmetic Vacations (Brazil), Health Escape (Costa Rica), Caribbean International Plastic Surgery Centre (Venezuela) and Cosmetic Surgery Vacation (Mexico), for a host of plastic surgeries ranging from breast enhancement and cosmetic dental surgery to lifting of eyelids, rhinoplasty (nose job), rhitidectomy (full face lift) and a number of other procedures.

Companies offer comprehensive package tours that include luxury accommodation, airport transfers, sightseeing, cosmetic surgical procedures and pre and post-operative care.

One of the best known companies is South Africa-based Surgeon & Safari which offers "surgery, recuperation and rejuvenation away from public scrutiny." On its menu are not just cosmetic procedures but also dental, ophthalmic, orthopaedic, infertility treatment and hair transplants.

The vacation part includes bush safari, wilderness safari, train safari, wine country safari, shopping excursions and day activities during the recuperation period.

Common Cosmetic Procedures

Some of the most popular cosmetic surgery procedures on surgical holidays include liposuction, facelifts and enhancing the shape of the nose. Breast augmentation too tops the list followed by lip-fillings and non-surgical botox injections to remove facial wrinkles. Other popular cosmetic interventions in demand are eyelids lift surgery, as also lip and chin augmentation.

Changing Faces
These cosmetic surgeons promise to change almost everything—shape of nose, chin, cheek augmentation, lip filling, face-lift, brow enhancement and reconstruction of ears and jaw. Though the more conservative surgeons usually advise people to go in for cosmetic surgery to correct nature’s shortcomings and not try and alter the entire look of the face, but in a society where good looks and perfect body are essential components, such conservatism is sharply on the decline.

Medical Tourism Destinations
  • Apollo Hospitals,India
  • Surgeon Safari,johannesburg,South Africa
  • Bumrungard International Hospital,Bankok,Thailand
  • Hospital Angels,Tijuana,Mexico
  • MedRetreat,Penang,Malaysia

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, last year Americans spent over $1 billion on facelifts and facial surgeries. A majority of the procedures were for treating facial skin laxity and sagging and giving a person a younger look with the benefit spreading over ten years. Most of these beauty procedures are very popular on ‘surgical’ holidays despite the high costs.

Take the case of Namita, a Mumbai-based 45-year-old investment banker who was one of the few Indians to take a ‘surgical’ holiday. She went to Thailand for breast lift and augmentation and ended up spending over Rs. 4 lakhs. But she has no regrets and says, “What’s a few lakhs of rupees to get back those admiring glances all over again. I’d have done it for double the price!”

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