Malaysia's lucrative new business is to lure European clients to hideaway holidays for bigger breasts or a facelift. Malaysia's other major selling point is its ability to perform difficult treatments.
Among the most popularly requested operations are cardiac bypass surgery, the National Heart Institute is a leading center in the region, and fertility treatments, with the country's premier Damansara Fertility Centre claiming in vitro success rates that match top U.S. clinics'.
According to Azilina Zainal, a Tourism Malaysia official. "Hospitals catering to foreigners are not just in Kuala Lumpur but also in cities such as Melaka that are close to Singapore."
She said, "We see medical tourism, which is fast-growing, as a niche with vast still-to-be-tapped potential." Price and privacy are the big drawing cards, says Marloes Giezenaar, a 26-year-old MBA who has reshaped 65 clients since setting up "Beautiful Holidays" on Penang island off Malaysia's north-west coast. For around the same cost as cosmetic surgery in their home countries her clients get the surgery plus the chance to recuperate during a two-week holiday in a four-star hotel far from the prying eyes of acquaintances.
The most popular treatments, in order, are breast
augmentation, liposuction, tummy tucks, facelifts and nose jobs.
"In Britain a breast augmentation with implants is between £3000 and £5000 pounds, depending on what kind of clinic you go to. "With us, including the flight from Britain, two weeks in a four star hotel, plus the surgery, all the transport, all our advice, it comes to about £3000 £3200 pounds."
"I have a lot of friends in Europe who had cosmetic surgery and I always thought the recovery was very slow weeks of sitting at home, but they still had to go to the supermarket and do domestic chores while they were healing.
"When I came to Asia I found that many wives of expats had things done here because it was so cheap and the results were practically the same as in Europe. They also recovered a lot faster because they all had maids so could sit around doing nothing.
Giezenaar works with a Malaysian plastic and cosmetic
surgeon who practised for several years in Britain. She does the marketing mainly
through her website, word of mouth and brochures at European beauty salons and gyms
arranges the consultations, flights and accomodation.
Several Asian countries, including Singapore and Thailand are are targeting "medical tourism" as a growth area, and Giezenaar is co-chairman of the Health Tourism Promotion Taskforce of the Penang Tourism Council.
"Malaysia's got big potential for medical toursim. The hospitals are very good, spoken English is better than in many countries and a lot of Malaysian doctors trained in the UK and Australia."
"We've had clients who didn't tell their husbands or boyfriends just said they were going on holiday and presented a surprise when they came home." Others bring their husbands along for the golf.
Giezenaar says although Europe is her main market, she is receiving an increasing number of clients from Asia, mainly Singaporeans and Hong Kongers looking for double eyelids and Indians seeking nose jobs.
"They don't like talking to their families about it so if they just tell them they're going on holiday to Penang that's fine."
Most of her clients are women, but she has had several men seeking liposuction, breast reduction and nose jobs. Her youngest patient was 19, for breast augmentation, and the oldest was 62, for a tummy tuck.
Giezenaar believes cosmetic surgery is about to boom in Asia, with women having increasing disposable income and a desire matching their European counterparts to improve on what nature has given them.
A full facelift with all the endoscopic forehead lift and double eyelids is about 18,000 ringgit (nearly $5000).
Pantai Medical Centre, Kuala Lumpur
Posh patients can enjoy deluxe accommodation at Pantai's Royal and Premier Suites. This includes the services of a bow-tied butler, satellite TV and digs more Regent Hotel than recovery room. Some even have a one-way mirror for your personal security guard to check up on you.
Mahkota Medical Centre, Melaka
This 356-bed hospital offers homely hostel rooms in the same block for visiting family members. The center's specialties include affordable caesarean delivery and open-heart surgery. Outpatients might want to consider Mahkota's three-day/two-night health-screening packages, which include tours of the historic town and even transportion to a local golf course.
Beautiful Holidays, Penang
Marketed to Europeans through the Internet, Beautiful Holidays (beautiful-holidays.com) is a tour company providing plastic-surgery packages in conjunction with the Loh Guan Lye Centre, a 25-year-old private hospital in Penang. The most popularly requested operations: liposuction and tummy tucks. "Our customers enjoy the anonymity," says Marloes Giezenaar, Beautiful Holidays' managing director. "They fly in, recuperate around the pool, and fly out again without anyone noticing they've been under the knife." The company can also arrange postsurgery tours of Penang.
Country Heights Medical Tourism (CHMT), Kuala Lumpur
The country's only medical screening center within a five-star resort, CHMT offers patients a battery of diagnostic tests (including fluoroscopy and abdominal ultrasounds) and the results five hours later. Pass the time by taking a water taxi to the neighboring Mines Shopping Fair for a bout of retail therapy.