Hair implant with your ski trip? Turkish tourism branches out

Wed Apr 3, 2013 10:17am EDT
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By Can Sezer and Ceyda Caglayan

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Sitting in a private clinic in an upscale neighborhood of Istanbul, Saleh, a human resources executive from Qatar, is preparing to leave Turkey with a smile on his face and more hair on his head.

Having previously brought his wife and children to Istanbul for sightseeing and shopping, Saleh has returned as the new kind of high-spending visitor Turkey is increasingly seeking to attract: a medical tourist.

"There's a social pressure to look good," the casually suited executive, declining to give his family name, told Reuters as he sat waiting for a check-up a day after having hair follicles implanted in his balding scalp.

"Two of my brothers and half of my friends had hair implants in Turkey. It was an easy choice after that."

As it tries to boost tourism revenues and narrow its current account deficit, its main economic weakness, Turkey is on a mission to diversify away from the all-inclusive package tours to its sun-drenched Mediterranean shores which, local businesses complain, often do too little for the local economy.

Of 37 million tourists visiting Turkey last year, about 270,000 came for surgical procedures, from moustache implants and liposuction to operations for serious ailments, generating $1 billion in revenues and representing a small but growing fraction of tourism receipts.

"They usually come for three days. We offer them shopping or skiing tours, they get well and have a short vacation," said Kazim Devranoglu, the medical head of Dunyagoz Group, which has 14 eye care clinics in Turkey and branches in western Europe.

Around 10 percent of the group's patients - some 35,000 people a year - are now coming from abroad, he said.   Continued...

Fahad Ali, a 27-year old medical tourist from Britain, is prepared for hair transplant at a clinic of Esteworld, an aesthetic private hospital group, in Istanbul March 30, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer