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Thu 16 Jul 2009 09:49 AM

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Gulf clients flock to Beirut for cheap plastic surgery

Lebanon launches nip, tuck and tour initiative for Middle East tourists this summer.

Gulf clients flock to Beirut for cheap plastic surgery
NIP TUCK: Dubai-based firm Image Concept handles bookings and accommodation for tourists seeking cosmetic surgery in Lebanon. (Getty Images)

Plastic surgery has never been particularly taboo in Lebanon, and now the east Mediterranean country is capitalising on its popularity as a venue for lovers of sea, sun and scalpel.

A cosmetic surgery tourism initiative, launched by a private company under the auspices of the tourism ministry, includes post-operation rest and recuperation in stellar resorts and even summer camps for patients' children.

The Dubai-based firm Image Concept handles all bookings and accommodation for tourists seeking cosmetic surgery in Lebanon, which is famed for its skilled yet affordable surgeons.

Nicole, a native New Yorker of Lebanese origin, recently saved $7,000 (5,000 euros) by having a nose job in Lebanon.

"In the States it would cost me about $9,000 (6,400 euros) to have rhinoplasty, but in Lebanon it cost me only $2,000 (1,400 euros)," said the 21-year-old law student.

While surgery was not her only motive for a holiday in Beirut, Nicole admits that being in Lebanon was a decisive factor.

"I was not for it at all at first," she told AFP. "My extended family here convinced me. Spending summers here, one of the first questions people would ask me is 'when are you going to do your nose?'.

"I did a bit of research and I saw this well-reputed doctor's work was pretty natural, so I went for it," she said.

Nada Sardouk, the tourism ministry's director general, believes the programme is both "innovative and promising."

"Cosmetic tourism is a widely recognised and appreciated concept, and we are very hopeful that this initiative will contribute to our economy," she said at the launch of the scheme in June.

Local banks have also played their part, with many offering low-interest loans for beautification procedures.

Estimating how many nip-and-tucks will take place this summer is difficult, but a handful of top surgeons told AFP they each had hundreds of operations scheduled for August alone, many of them clients from the oil-rich Gulf.

Nour, a 26-year-old Kuwaiti, is taking full advantage of her holiday in Lebanon and readying for rhinoplasty and surgery to remove a small scar.

Although both she and her surgeon agree that neither surgery is "necessary," she said she wanted to look better for her job at a bank.

"I come to Lebanon anyway every year for vacation," Nour told AFP at the Hazmieh International Medical Centre, which employs an army of more than 50 cosmetic surgeons and is still expanding. "All doctors here are skilled, the prices are moderate and it's not a taboo any more," she said.

Surgeon Elias Shammas, who heads the Hazmieh centre and is affiliated with Image Concept, says Nour is one of many patients of all ages and genders who brave the knife to be "fashionable".

"And Lebanon has always been famous for medical tourism, way before the civil war" from 1975 to 1990, he added. "The only thing that stopped people coming here was the political situation."

Men and women from the Gulf states have long come in droves for augmentation and reduction in Lebanon, but they kept their distance after political turmoil and violence rocked the country for four years between 2005 and 2008.

Tourism was particularly badly hit by the 34-day summer war between the Shiite Hezbollah and Israel in July and August 2006.

But the industry made a dramatic recovery last summer with the arrival of 1.3 million visitors and, after a peaceful general election in June, Lebanon hopes to host two million tourists by the end of the year, the tourism ministry says.

Nader Saab, surgeon to the stars and a jury member on the Miss Lebanon beauty pageant, says three quarters of his clients in the summer season, which is already fully booked, hail from abroad.

A popular model among women opting for plastic surgery is pop star and sex symbol Haifa Wehbe, surgeons say, and many young ladies leave clinics looking uncannily like the dark-haired, voluptuous siren.

According to Shammas, "It is a national duty for women to look the best they can."

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Emmanuel 11 years ago

"national duty" lol good one

Geriant 11 years ago

The joke about Wacko Jacko was always how he picked his nose ... from a catalog. Now we can all do the same in Beirut, and end up looking like Nancy or Nawaz.

Mr Kevin 11 years ago

I can imagine that when a lady leaves a clinic after having just had half her face hacked off, she would look like she's just been 15 rounds with Mike Tyson rather than Haifa Wehbe.

man 11 years ago

You always feel good when you visit Lebanon. And now you will look good.

Nour 11 years ago

there is nothing wrong by being more and more beautiful, i would go to Lebanon and spend all my money to be a beautiful girl rather than living my life ugly ugly ugly.. i love Lebanon for all what it has to offer, SUn, SNow , Beauty

miam 11 years ago

I know lots of lebanese friends who are going to syria for their plastic surgery as syria is much cheaper, funny how people from abroad are going to lebanon for plastic surgeries and lebanese are going to syria for theirs. what that surgeon talking about "national duty" to look good, is that what women are all about in lebanon.

No Einstein 11 years ago

Are all the deeply insecure people from the Gulf flocking to Lebanon? Are all the deeply insecure Lebanese going to Syria? Who needs a confident, outgoing personality when you can be run through with a scalpel instead. However, one should remember than surgery cannot fix a non-fuctioning personality. The ugliness will always shine through, no matter how much cosmetic surgery one gets.

infedel 11 years ago

Why would surgeries be overpriced in other countries while in Lebanon surgeries are reasonably priced? Yet inflation is a burden on the country itself. The funny thing is, in Lebanon, you get good doctors, the kind you can humanely depend on. I seriously doubt Lebanese people would put their well being under a Syrian Scalpel, with all do respect to the Syrian people. There is nothing wrong in correcting little defects that face us in our lives. The one who said: "The ugliness will always shine through, no matter how much cosmetic surgery one gets." shows spite for the human nature. Go towards the light, try to see the cup half full. What makes you happy other than feeding on other people's misery?