Already planning your next getaway? Don’t buy those tickets just yet. Chetica and Cocoon aren’t your average luxury resorts, and those guests lounging by the pool aren’t typical hotel-goers—they’re medical patients, and a great number of them are recovering from elective, cosmetic procedures.
An estimated 14 million people go abroad to receive medical care each year, and the medical tourism industry has long attracted patients looking to save money on costly and necessary treatments while fitting in vacation. But these days, the draw of combining care with a luxury vacation is holding more sway than any particularly urgent medical needs.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the cosmetic surgery arm of the industry, easily its largest subset. According to a 2014 study conducted at the University of Leeds, voluntary plastic surgery accounts for nearly half of the medical tourism industry, and it’s likely even more when you account for cosmetic dental- and obesity-related work.
The countries with a reputation for sculpting beach bods and movie star faces are experiencing a boom as a result, with new businesses popping up to capitalize on this influx of surgery-seekers. The new infrastructure comes in many forms—trip coordinators with names like Makeover Travel and Gorgeous Getaways; “complication insurance” that covers any potential post-surgery issues back home; resorts like the Ritz-Carlton Seoul, which famously offered a $88,000 anti-aging multi-treatment package—but most of them end up increasing the cost to patients. So if all these amenities are making surgery abroad as expensive as it is at home, why are people still willing to fly thousands of miles for a face lift?
Privacy, for one. Plastic surgery is a status symbol in some parts of the world, but it’s still majorly stigmatized in others. By staying in a recovery resort for a few extra days or weeks, travelers get to heal away from the public eye, rather than returning to face their coworkers and friends looking like the loser in a bar fight.