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Swiss quality attracts cosmetic surgery tourists

Increasing numbers of foreigners are visiting Switzerland to undergo plastic surgery treatments such as liposuction Keystone

Whether it is to look younger or undergo reconstructive surgery after an accident, foreigners are increasingly turning to Swiss expertise for aesthetic enhancement.

Specialist agencies catering to foreigners seeking to undergo general medical treatment in Switzerland say they are seeing more customers enquiring about cosmetic treatments and plastic surgery on the side.

Gregor Frei, head of Swiss Health, established several years ago to promote Swiss medical services abroad, told that Switzerland’s reputation for quality in luxury products has spread abroad to plastic and cosmetic treatments.

“We have noticed that there is more and more demand, not only in the area of plastic surgery but also for reconstructive surgery after treatment for breast cancer or after an accident,” Frei said.

“We were in China a few months ago and there we really noticed that Switzerland has a certain reputation in aesthetic medicine and plastic surgery.”

Anna Kosmina, director of the agency Rayan Partners, an advisory service to foreigners looking to access a range of services in Switzerland, said her company receives around 15 to 25 enquiries a week – sometimes more – from clients seeking information about plastic surgery in Switzerland and this doubles when including all cosmetic procedures.

“It is about quality, Switzerland is renowned for it. Also it is a very small country so it is easier to guarantee the quality because there is more control over services,” Kosmina said.

Art and discretion

Not only quality services, but the manner in which cosmetic procedures are carried out influences potential patients, Kosmina says.

“Here there is more of a plastic surgery ‘art’. They try to make it not obvious that you have had something done, unlike in the United States, for example,” she said. “I wouldn’t say all surgeons have this approach but lots of them prefer that the results of the work look as natural as possible.”

Jan Sobhani, director of the agency Swixmed estimates that between eight and ten per cent of the group’s clients are seeking plastic surgery or cosmetic treatments. He says that cultural considerations play into the reasons why people from certain countries seek these services in Switzerland.

“If you’re American and you want to look like the American beauty, you may not travel to Europe. But for Russians, Europeans per se and for people from Arab countries there is certainly a demand for it and the know-how can meet their expectations,” Sobhani said.  

Sobhani said “a large portion” of Swixmed clients were referred by the private banking sector and estimated that 40 per cent of his clients wired fees from Swiss bank accounts, indicating they had a prior connection with Switzerland from which they built up a level of trust.

Sobhani added that often the friends or relatives visiting patients in Switzerland for complex medical treatments would ask for additional cosmetic surgery treatments while they were in the country.

For Frei and Kosmina, a perception of Swiss discretion was also an important factor in foreign clients choosing Switzerland for such services.

“It’s something to do with culture and mentality because here people prefer to be more natural and discreet and this is reflected in the plastic surgery,” Kosmina said.

“Confidentiality is also a big thing, they prefer to do it where nobody knows them.”

Growing market

With most such procedures paid for directly by the client, few statistics – usually collected by insurance companies or government agencies – are available to quantify by just how much the industry is growing.

According to a 2011 report by Euromonitor International, Switzerland’s medical tourism sales are expected to grow 20 per cent from SFr850 million ($947 million) in 2010 to SFr1.021 billion in 2015. Sobhani said that demand for plastic surgery and cosmetic treatments was growing in line with demand for general medical services from abroad.

Clients from countries with rapidly growing middle classes such as Russia and China, but also from the former Soviet states and the Gulf states, are increasingly interested in Swiss plastic surgery services, says Frei.

Kosmina notes that compared with two years ago, the numbers of clients from countries including Egypt, Syria and Greece has dropped in line with changes in social and economic conditions in those countries.

Who wants what

She says that Chinese clients in particular are “very enthusiastic” about animal cell treatments offered by exclusive medical and wellness resorts such as Clinique la Prairie in Montreux.

A spokeswoman for Clinique la Prairie, Arian Repond, told in an email response to questions that demand from foreigners for cosmetic surgery and treatments “is always growing”.

She said “revitalisation” treatments – in which a concentrated solution of biologically active  substances extracted from young lamb livers are administered orally over two days – was the most popular treatment programme with the clinic’s clients, most of whom are foreign.

“For our programmes, most patients come principally from China, Russia, Latin America and Europe,” Repond said. “And very often they also visit our centre for aesthetic medicine. Every nationality has particular demands.” 

Sobhani said that Chinese clients tended to ask more for aesthetic procedures such as eye corrections to make their eyes more rounded, and Swixmed would often refuse the more outlandish requests for cosmetic surgery treatments.

“There are the standard procedures but for the Saudis for example, what we see is that they are more interested in procedures about weight loss, liposuction and tummy tucks; while for the Russians what we see is much more about breast or face,” said Sobhani.

Medical tourism sales are predicted to climb from SFr850 million in 2010 to SFr1.021 billion in 2015.

A study by the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute estimated that 30,000 people visit Switzerland every year for health reasons, spending more than SFr1 billion on treatments.

The Association of Swiss Hospitals, which represents 370 public and private institutions, estimates that 1-2 per cent of all patients come from abroad.

Switzerland’s largest private healthcare provider, Hirslanden Private Hospital Group, is seeking annual growth of 10 per cent in foreign patients within the next five years. It collaborates with hospitals in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to attract customers.

Source: Euromonitor International “Health and Wellness Tourism in Switzerland”

A Swiss surgeon, Paul Niehans, first injected patients at Clinique la Prairie with fresh foetal calf and lamb liver cells in 1931.

Known as “revitalisation” the treatment today involves one injection of Lipid A and two doses of CLP Extract – a concentrated solution of biologically active substances extracted from young lamb livers – administered over two days.

Clinique la Prairie says that revitalisation helps to slow down the ageing process of the immune system but there is no immediate or miraculous anti-ageing effect.

“Frequently people close to the patient will observe improved mental performance, increased intellectual and physical endurance, and an overall improved wellbeing. In general, the older the patient, the more readily he or she will notice an improvement to his or her condition.”

Source: Clinique la Prairie

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR