KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 19 — Shirley, a 38-year-old Australian woman, dreamed of perkier breasts but they would have cost her A$9,000 (RM27,000).
Instead, she flew to Malaysia — despite never having travelled abroad before — for four procedures for the price of one operation back in Australia.
Shirley said that a cosmetic surgeon in Australia had quoted her A$9,000 for breast augmentation compared to just A$4,800 quoted by Beautiful Holidays, a specialist tour company based in Penang, Malaysia that offers holiday packages for tourists to get a suntan and a little nip and tuck.
So, the mother of four decided to add liposuction, Botox for crow’s feet and lip augmentation to her boob job, the total of which amounted to the price of breast augmentation in Australia alone.
“4 months later I am in size 11 jeans, 32 DD breasts, no wrinkles and lips that Angelina would be jealous of!” Shirley wrote in a 2006 testimonial on the Beautiful Holidays website.
Since then, cosmetic surgery has been drawing more tourists to Malaysia as they seek quality, yet affordable, treatments in the country that is more well-known for its gorgeous beaches in Penang and shopping malls in the city centre here.
Beautiful Holidays said recently that business has almost doubled from just 46 clients in 2004 to 89 last year, and that dental implants and hair transplants would be added to its menu of treatments next year.
“If you compare Penang to the USA, then it’s safe to say that what you would pay in US dollars at home, you will pay in Malaysian ringgit here in Penang,” Tony Leong, one of Beautiful Holidays’ directors, told The Malay Mail Online in a recent email interview.
“Hence, most of the time, we are significantly cheaper. That being said, the hospitals in Malaysia provide high-quality medical treatment and are equipped with adequate facilities, and also our reputable skilled surgeons in their respected fields,” he added.
Leong said that the holiday and cosmetic surgery packages offered by Beautiful Holidays, which works with three private hospitals in Penang, range between RM25,000 and RM40,000, depending on the hotel chosen by the client from a range of four- to five-star resorts in Batu Feringghi, the beach area in the island-state.
He added that most clients are women from Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, who usually opt for breast augmentation, tummy tucks or full face with neck lifts.
Male clients favour facelifts, rhinoplasty and liposuction.
Leong said a holiday package for a typical facelift or breast augmentation is a week long, though most clients prefer to stay longer to explore the island.
Dr Chin Shih Choon, president of the Malaysian Society of Aesthetic Medicine (MSAM), said more and more people are going under the knife in Malaysia, though he did not have specific figures.
“People are influenced by the glamorised looks and style of Hollywood stars (both male and female),” Dr Chin said.
“Lip augmentation is greatly influenced by Angelina Jolie. The looks of Brad Pitt have been studied in detail by aesthetic doctors,” he added, referring to the Hollywood celebrity couple.
Dr Chin also noted that an increasing number of women in Malaysia are requesting a “V-shaped” chin, or a slimmer jawline, which is the current craze in plastic surgery-obsessed South Korea.
“We use Botox, laser facelift and other tissue tightening procedures to achieve it,” he said.
International news wire AFP reported last May that double jaw surgery, which is now a trend in South Korea among women who desire small, doll-like faces, is a radical “bone-cutting” procedure that involves realigning the lower and upper jaws, .
Patients Beyond Borders, the US-based provider of medical travel guidebooks, said that Malaysia is among the top 10 medical tourism destinations in the world and drew about 670,000 medical travellers in 2012.
In the same year, Thailand drew between 920,000 and 1,200,000, while Singapore attracted between 400,000 and 610,000 medical travellers.
“Most patients come from Indonesia to obtain access to high quality medical care not available in their own country,” Patients Beyond Borders CEO Josef Woodman told The Malay Mail Online in a recent email interview, referring to medical tourists coming to Malaysia.
“Others (Chinese, Australians, Middle Easterners, Singaporeans, Europeans, North Americans) come for the mix of quality and value (Malaysia remains one of the top value medical travel destinations, with savings of up to 80 per cent), and cultural compatibility,” he added.
According to Patients Beyond Borders, a full facelift in Malaysia costs only US$5,500 (RM18,000), less than half of the US$12,500 price tag in the United States, as of last March.
Rhinoplasty, on the other hand, costs US$3,600 in Malaysia compared to US$6,200 in the US.
A coronary artery bypass graft costs US$20,800 in Malaysia, a fraction of the US$88,000 cost in the US.
The Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC), an agency under the Ministry of Health, said the medical tourism industry generated RM594 million in revenue last year, based on information from 72 private medical facilities registered with it.
“Based on the 72 private medical facilities that registered with MHTC, the three most common sought-after specialties by healthcare travellers to Malaysia are cardiology, orthopedics, and obstetrics & gynaecology,” MHTC said in a recent email interview.
MHTC stressed, however, that this information was based on interviews with the respective hospitals in 2012, and thus may not necessarily be the entire picture.
According to MHTC, the number of medical travellers to Malaysia has almost doubled from 341,288 in 2007 to 671,727 in 2012.
MHTC also said that the top 10 countries from which medical tourists come from are Indonesia, Australia, India, Japan, China, the UK, the US, Libya, Bangladesh and Nepal.
The agency, however, does not have figures specifically on cosmetic surgery.
“Among the private hospitals that are known for cosmetic surgery as a centre of excellence are Prince Court Medical Centre, Beverly Wilshire Medical Centre, DEMC Specialist Hospital, Gleneagles Penang, KPJ Damansara Specialist Hospital, and Penang Adventist Hospital,” said MHTC.