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
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
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.