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BEAUTY AND THE BEACH-Jul 9th 2004

For your next holiday, why not head for a hospital?

A new type of vacation is emerging from our obsession with the way we look: a combination of hospital and beach. Pop in for an op; then stop off to recuperate at a nearby resort. A number of tourist destinations are already promoting this "op-and-stop" idea. In South Africa, the "scalpel safari" has been a recognized phenomenon now for a number of years, combining cosmetic surgery in Johannesburg or Cape Town with a trip to the bush. (…)

Bangkok is another city trying to get in on the act. Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok looks more like a luxury hotel than a medical centre--understandably, since almost a third of its patients are foreigners who fly in to have operations performed by its western-trained doctors for a snip of the price at home.

Thailand has already developed a special niche in the op-and-stop market: it leads the world in sex-change operations. Once, the traffic in this trade went one-way to Sweden. Now you can find an op and a holiday in Thailand that is guaranteed to send you home feeling and looking like an entirely different person.

Another niche with potentially rich pickings is aesthetic dentistry, a market for which Costa Rica, Turkey and (again) South Africa are making a big play. London boasts a large number of South African dentists whose rates can neutralize any of the effects of laughing gas. Why not go to South Africa itself and have the work done privately by someone who may well have been trained at the same school, throw in a safari and a week on the Cape, and come home with change to spare?

CHEAP AND CHEERFUL
For more serious surgery, Russia is the place for kidney transplants. The surgeons there have the unbeatable combination of the former Soviet Union's high standards of education, practical experience from their military incursion into nearby Afghanistan in the 1980s and extraordinarily low prices. But, of course, the beaches are not too good. For the benefits of communist medicine, plus a beach to strut your new bits and pieces, you have to head for Havana.

A number of factors is sure to keep this business growing now that attitudes to travel have returned to normal. Price, skill and anonymity are the crucial ingredients. A heart bypass at Bumrungrad Hospital is about one-eighth of the cost of the same operation in New York. Likewise, a porcelain crown in Istanbul can cost as little as one-eighth of what it would in Los Angeles. You don't need too many crowns to cover the cost of the trip, and some shopping in the bazaar besides.

Skills come next--a combination of training and practical experience. The alumni of the best teaching hospitals today are spread all over the world, and the richest experience is no longer found in Harley Street or Mount Sinai. India's Aravind Eye Hospital, for instance, carries out cataract surgery like Henry Ford made Model Ts.

Anonymity matters, too. Nobody wants to face their friends on Bond Street or Fifth Avenue with the bruises still showing.
TIM HINDLE is THE ECONOMIST'S management editor.

My Costa Rica plastic surgery offers all inclusive packages including a tummy tuck in Costa Rica and a liposuction in Costa Rica. You will benefit with affordable plastic surgery and affordable cosmetic surgery.

The plastic surgery cost of your Costa Rica surgery is up to 75% less than USA rates and you will have access to leading board certified Costa Rica plastic surgeons.

In addition to plastic surgery in Costa Rica packages, we also offer gastric bypass, lap band, gastric banding and cosmetic dentistry.

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