What do Phoenix, Arizona, Thailand, and South Korea have in common? They are all popular go-to spots for beauty tourism. Also known as cosmetic surgery tourism, wellness tourism, and part of medical tourism, beauty tourism is a thriving and growing industry in the world. According to the Medical Tourism Association, an estimated 14 million people travel to other countries for medical care and treatments like these, including aspiring models and actors. These activities are valued at 50 to 70 billion dollars annually. The New York Times reports that even in a pandemic, pent-up demand for affordable treatment in foreign lands continues, both for health-related and beauty-related medical tourism, mainly due to lower costs abroad.

It’s Not Just About The Savings

According to an OECD scoping study, there has been a shift towards patients from developed countries traveling to less-developed countries to access lower-cost services, aided by inexpensive international flights and a bounty of Internet sources of information. However, a McKinsey study also shows that only 13% are driven by lower costs. There are 40% who seek advanced technology performed by highly-trained medical personnel, 32% who seek better and more human medical care, attention, and treatment, and 15% who seek immediate medical service without long waiting periods. 

Beauty Tourism Destinations Abroad

Models, actors, and other celebrities usually patronize beauty tourism spots. When they show these off in their Instagram and other social media posts, their followers swoon and share, and soon desire similar procedures for themselves.

Currently, Thailand is the top destination for medical tourism, receiving an estimated 1.2 million visitors annually. Common procedures are breast augmentation, breast reduction, face and neck lift, full abdominoplasty with liposuction, thigh and buttocks liposuction with Vaser, and rhinoplasty reduction. They take only one to two nights to do, and cost around 162,000 to 291,000 baht, or around $5,000 to $9,000. These relatively lower costs, combined with top-notch and Western-trained surgeons, high-quality medical facilities, state-of-the-art medical equipment, and the local tourist attractions as a side-trip make Thailand very popular for beauty tourism.

South Korea is the third-largest cosmetic surgery market in the world, with the highest rate of cosmetic surgery procedures per person among member nations of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. 14% of Korean women have had cosmetic surgery, with those under 30 comprising 30% of Korean women. Foreign demand is expected to grow by 40% annually, with a quarter of all cosmetic procedures performed globally done in South Korea. During the pandemic, the South Korean government implemented a $230 billion stimulus program, which saw increased patient demand for cosmetic surgery services. People saw the opportunity in availing of the huge discounts while safely and privately recovering under a mask and working from home.

Beauty Tourism Destinations In The US

In the United States, there’s the option of traveling to Phoenix for plastic surgery. Some cosmetic surgery companies offer fly-in programs for out-of-state patients who wish to avail of their services comfortably and privately with all the amenities they need. Some even specialize in ” Mommy Makeover” programs for those women who want to improve their appearance and bodies after childbearing. Common services availed are abdominoplasty, breast surgery, liposuction, and facial rejuvenation. In 2020, the United States registered the highest number of cosmetic procedures worldwide, at over 4.6 million of such operations. Top procedures done were liposuction, breast augmentation, and tummy tucks for women, and liposuction, breast reduction, and eyelid surgery for men.

Traveling For Beauty Is Here To Stay

Since the 1990s, beauty tourism has grown and expanded worldwide due to a confluence of several cultural, economic, and technological factors: media and celebrity influence, global beauty and wellness trends, rising awareness of people about beauty tourism, the affordability of high-quality services, technological innovations in the field, and the attractions of foreign travel that are also retreat-and-rejuvenation holiday packages.  With prospects and trends like these, beauty tourism is here to stay.