From WWD Scoop Magazine, September 2008
The weak dollar has foreigners flocking to the U.S. for deals in cosmetic surgery.
Bernadette, a 48-year-old human resources manager from London, planned to return home from her summer vacation in Los Angeles looking more than simply rested. She wanted to look perfect.
So, in addition to sightseeing and a spot of shopping, the Birmingham woman spent a day with a Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon, getting her forehead and brow lifted and bags under her eyes removed.
Bernadette, who asked to use her first name only, is one of a jet stream of cosmetic surgery-seeking Europeans on U.S.-bound flights whose travel plans are driven by the weaker dollar.
It’s reverse medical tourism: Americans long have been known to fly to places like Bangkok and Mexico to save on procedures such as root canals. Now, given the currency conversion rate, patients and surgeons say flying Stateside for a facelift or tummy tuck, even including airfare and hotel stays, is significantly cheaper than getting the procedure done at home. And that’s even though the pound and euro have weakened against the dollar in recent weeks.
As the American economic crisis continues and Americans put off indulgences including liposuction and breast implants, surgeons say their practices are being shored up by tourists from Russia, the Middle East, South America, Europe and Asia. As a result, a number of top-tier practices have started acting as de facto travel agencies, helping their overseas patients book stays at hotels and recovery centers, hiring multilingual office staff and canvassing further business by advertising in in-flight magazines.
“Frankly, we’re a bargain for them today,” says Richard Fleming, Bernadette’s surgeon, who runs the Beverly Hills Institute of Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery and who is seeing 20 percent more patients from overseas than he did a year ago. “A lot of this is related to the value of the dollar, and that’s what everything comes down to.”
For Bernadette, who stayed with friends, the savings were substantial: The surgery cost her $9,500, the airfare another $700. She figured the entire month in Los Angeles would total about 6,000 British pounds, or approximately $10,500. She compared that with the estimates she had been given by cosmetic surgeons in London, where she was told the surgery alone would be closer to 10,000 pounds, or about $19,000.
“Now, it seems so cheap,” she says. “And I got a whole holiday out of it.”
While some surgeons say the trend relies largely on global economics, others insist that, once that door has been opened, there’s no turning back.
Fleming declares, “Once an approach is established, it doesn’t really reverse.”