THAILAND - A drastic change in the public's perception of cosmetic surgery over the past ten years has created a huge demand among Thai consumers, who contribute most of the Bt20 billion (S$795.8 million) in income that surgery clinics enjoy each year.
Ten years ago, both surgeons and customers sneaked into backrooms in hospitals and beauty clinics for the operations. Now, clinics have mushroomed in all parts of the country as consumers welcome the idea of how a tiny appearance change can lead to greater beauty.
A recent survey shows that market value of the cosmetic surgery business has increased from Bt15 billion in 2010 to Bt20 billion in 2011. And this year, the value of this industry is expected to increase by another 20 per cent.
Meanwhile, the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce's Centre for Economic and Business Forecasting estimates that cosmetic surgery will be the most popular business among investors this year as more and more teenagers want to undergo the surgery.
Records from the Public Health Ministry's Health Service Support Department showed that the number of cosmetic surgery clinics registered with the department has increased from 317 clinics in 2004 to 350 this year.
" The world has changed," Dr Supot Sumritvanitcha, a director of Yanhee International Hospital, told The Nation in an exclusive interview.
"Every girl wants to be a super-star like Patchrapa Aum Chaichua who is being spotlighted everywhere," he added.
In the past, people would feel significantly bad and embarrassed if their friends or relatives had known they'd been to cosmetic surgery clinics. Thai society, at that time, had strong feelings against plastic or cosmetic surgery and stigmatised those people who'd had surgery as being unhappy with their genetic heritage.
"Sometimes, people would lie to their friends or relatives about travelling abroad for vacation for two weeks - but in fact, they went to Hong Kong or Japan to undergo cosmetic surgery. When they came home [they were] more beautiful," Supot said.
But now, appearance and personality have become more and more important for people to find opportunities and their dream job.
Some parents have taken their kids to undergo cosmetic surgery at the age of 15 to pave the way for their success or to enter the entertainment industry.
Nose and eyelid surgery is the most popular among teenagers. Supot said 500 teenagers aged over 18 had visited hospital every month to undergo nose surgery and about 450 patients had undergone eyelid surgery.
Not only the number of domestic patients had increased during the past few years, the number of foreign patients had increased as well.
According to the hospital's records, the number of foreign patients had increased from 25,611 cases in 2008 to 34,440 cases in 2010.
They are from many parts of the world such as US, Canada, Mexico, the UK, Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.
"For Western customers, many underwent nose and breast reduction surgery, and mid-facial lift," Supot said.
Yanhee Polyclinic was opened in 1984 in a 2-block 4-storey building near the Rama 6 Bridge in Bangkok to provide medical services including weight control, general medicine, surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, intensive care, and dialysis.
Following the rise inpatients, Yanhee had opened a 10-storey, 40- bed capacity hospital building on ten rai which became the Yanhee International Hospital in 1997.
Now the hospital has opened 36 treatment centres to provide general medicine and a wide range of cosmetic and plastic surgery services such as breast augmentation, facelift, tummy-tuck, liposuction, botox injection, dental whitening, facial treatment, and hair transplant.
The hospital recently opened a vaginal repair centre to restore the anatomic arrangement of structures surrounding the vaginal wall. This centre had attracted a lot of attention from customers aged between 18 and 60. At least five patients aged over 40 undergo vaginal repair surgery per day.
Supot expects the hospital will earn Bt3 million a month as revenue from this centre.
"We want to be an aesthetic institute which provides a one-stop shop for beauty," he said.
To prepare for the Asean Economic Community in 2015, Yanhee has invested over Bt1 billion to build two new buildings and purchase new medical devices.
The hospital has planned to increase its full-time surgeons from 130 to 150 and increase the part-time surgeons from 120 to 125.
It will increase the number of professional nurses from 500 to 700 and import nurses from the Philippines to work as assistants as they can communicate well in English with foreign patients.
Apart from Yanhee International Hospital, the Wuttisak Clinic group also plans to join in the competition by increasing its skincare clinics in local and foreign markets.
The company now has 109 skincare clinics across the country with more planned. The company will also expand into Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia.
At least 20 skincare clinics are marked for Vietnam next year, with four clinics located in Cambodia and four more to be set up in Laos, he added.
"We know everyone wants to be more beautiful so we'll change the public perception of beauty. We'll help people think [it's] doctors who make them more beautiful and not a cosmetic product," Wuttisak Clinic's chief executive officer Nakorn Kornherun said.
Because of the rising demand in skincare treatment, the company has employed 200 general physicians to provide for customers nationwide and send others to work in neighbouring countries.
The company has invested in building its brand in the region to win over their local markets. It has spent Bt600,000 to Bt700,000 a month to rent the most famous building in Vietnam located near the Louis Vuitton shop, and about Bt80 million to renovate the building.
" We want to be the number-one player of this business in this region. It would waste our time, if we could not be the number one," he added.