According to data from the Turkish Healthcare Travel Council (THTC), 746,000 foreign visitors landed in Turkey for medical treatment in 2015. As many as 100,000 arrived for hair implant surgeries and nearly two-thirds of them were from the UAE. Turkey earned US$5.8 billion from legal medical tourism in 2015, or nearly $10,000 per visitor. Medical treatment in Turkey costs as little as half the price in countries such as Germany and the United States, the THTC says.

It is perhaps little wonder the illegal clinics are growing. Everyday scores of clients’ documents and lists of customers are delivered by middlemen such as Ismail to and from dozens of tourism agencies in central Istanbul.

Then the agencies introduce the patients to a clinic, which in return pays the tour agency a certain amount of commission per visitor. Once those seeking hair-replacement therapy have decided on a treatment, they usually arrive on an all-inclusive package covering a welcome at the airport, transport in luxury cars, a hotel reservation in a central location and transfer back after the treatment is finished.

Turkey’s booming health tourism industry has been driven by increased investment in health facilities and treatment technology over the past decade. Cosmetic surgery options such as hair implants, as well as eyebrow and facial hair implants, have led this boom. More than 200 hair transplants are carried out in Turkey per day, the country’s health ministry says.