The reputation of South Korea as a world leader in cosmetic surgery has inspired the Seoul Metropolitan Government to launch a project to attract more foreign tourists looking for surface touch-ups.
The cosmetic surgery boom in South Korea has been accelerated by the so-called Korean Wave, a boom across Asia in South Korean pop culture, which includes TV dramas performed by actors and actresses with flawlessly chiseled features.
The tourism promotion policy emphasizing plastic surgery, for which the country has an international competitive edge, may include a plan to build a complex of medical institutions, accommodation and facilities for aftercare.
According to the city government as well as an affiliated organization in charge of implementing the project, the city is planning to establish a center, tentatively called the Seoul Center for Aesthetic Medical Tourism General Support.
The center would have multilingual counseling staff and would introduce cosmetic surgeons or dermatologists to tourists, or bring tourists to them.
The center also would dispatch interpreters specialized in the fields to hospitals caring for the center’s clients.
It also would have its own Web site and brochures in foreign languages to promote plastic surgery.
South Korean people are said to be generally less averse to having cosmetic surgery than Japanese.
“Out of, say, 10 of my friends, I wouldn’t be surprised if at least five have had plastic surgery,” a twentysomething female office worker in Seoul said.
A survey found that 40 percent of respondents aged between 18 and 24 and 60 percent of those aged between 25 and 29 said they have had cosmetic surgery.
It is not uncommon for graduating students to undergo cosmetic surgery before beginning job hunting.
There are about 1,300 plastic surgeons in Seoul alone.
“There are many foreign tourists who come to get plastic surgery here because of South Korea’s reputation as having high-end plastic surgery technology. We’d like to pinpoint this demand and stimulate it,” a city official in charge of the project said.
Some pointed out that the Korean Wave has been instrumental in spreading the image of Korean beauty, which has in turn stimulated the boom in aesthetic medical tourism.
According to the Chosun Ilbo daily, cosmetic surgeons in Seoul have an increasing number of patients from China and Southeast Asia who request operations to make them look like South Korean actresses.
Some of the surgeons are said to work on 30 to 40 patients a month.
According to the paper, a weeklong package tour that includes cosmetic surgery is popular among tourists.
Some companies go as far as to offer their clients free cosmetic surgery tours to South Korea.
The cost for such a tour is at about 1 million won (about 110,000 yen), depending on the hospital and type of surgery.
However, cosmetic surgery is not free from problems related to aftercare or unwanted aftereffects. The city may, therefore, face a tough task to achieve adequate accountability for foreign tourists for risks that can accompany cosmetic surgery.