A makeover getaway in Prague

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Cosmetic surgery, once a privilege of the rich, is now reshaping women and men of all ages and incomes. You can opt for a total face-lift or just gentle Botox injections that stretch your wrinkles and smooth your skin for up to six months. 'After all, it's important to look good' I learn from a leaflet I picked up in a cozy waiting room of one of several state-of-the-art clinics in Prague. Without a doubt, I agree. After all, what 'sells' more than design?

This particular clinic serves mainly Czech women, aged 35+ with a middle and higher income. 'Well you would be surprised how many women are willing to invest a great deal into their appearance," explains Elles Hooft van Huysduynen, the Dutch owner of the clinic when I frown at the price of a single Botox injection.

While I keep frowning, not caring about that deepening wrinkle on my forehead, Elles tells me about the growing number of foreign clients. They kill two birds with one stone. They get treatment for half the price they would pay back in their native country and have the chance to spend some time admiring the sites of the Czech capital. Beauty tourism is a boom industry.

One of the clinic's foreign clients didn't hesitate to express her satisfaction.

"I was in to have Botox a couple of weeks ago and as I live in England and couldn't come in for a follow-up appointment, the nurse asked me to email to let you know the results. I am absolutely delighted, all my lines have disappeared but I still look very natural. I've been recommending you to all my friends. See you in six months for a top up and hopefully some treatment."

Elles Hooft van Huysduynen continues:

"People in the UK find us through the web. They either send us an email or they call us. They come for treatment and they are very happy."

So basically, they call you, arrange a meeting, ask a few questions, fly over, get some treatment, look around Prague, go back home...

"Yes that is what they do. We also have business people flying in and they are flying regularly. They come in have some treatment and next time they are back they come in again... which is excellent."

If you were to compare price of treatment ...

"We are fifty percent cheaper on average compare to Holland, UK and even to the USA we are about 30-40 percent cheaper."

And what is cheaper? Is it staff or products?

"Products are the same price but the labor costs are at the end cheaper."

That is why it would be worth traveling from the UK to get some treatment?

"Yes, especially flying in from UK at the moment hardly costs anything anymore with all those cheap airlines. It saves a lot of money even if you stay here for a few days. You don't have to book into very expensive hotel. It really makes sense to come over here and have the treatment done. We are just as good if not better than clinics outside the Czech Republic or in the UK or Holland and you will get it for fifty percent less."

When I ask whether I can talk to one of her foreign clients she promises to check the appointments and call back. She does, inviting me to meet Julia. She is nothing like I had imagined her to be. Neither 'Barbie' nor a 'Beast' but an attractive, mature, charismatic woman.

"I am Julia Vos from Holland, I am 38 and I am coming for botox treatment. I have heard here is a very good clinic. I have checked all treatments on the internet and I have compared prices. It is much cheaper over here and I can combine it with a nice visit to Prague. So that is why I am here. "

So basically you will go home beautiful and younger?

"Hopefully. I don't know. I don't think you will really see it. The most important thing is that I will see it and that I will see the difference. It is not that I don't want my friends to recognize me anymore. It is that I just want to have a fresher look."

So what was the main reason for coming to Prague? Was it the holiday or this treatment?

"No I was planning to go Prague for a long time. Then I thought 'Why not to combine both?' To visit the beautiful city and to have the treatment done for much cheaper price so I can have nice dinners and lunches here."

What were the reactions of people back at home?

"They were like 'Why are you going to Prague to have it done if you can have it done here as well?' But the doctors are so professional here. I think they have the right knowledge and they are trained by Dutch doctors. I feel very comfortable here it nothing strange for me."

Do you think that this kind of beauty tourism is going to grow and more people from Holland or the UK are going to fly over?

"I hope they will do it because they can also combine it with some nice facials. It is also much cheaper here to have manicure or pedicure done here. You can combine your 'beauty weekend' with visiting the cultural sites of Prague. Because I think Prague is a really beautiful city in Europe."

However ridiculous it struck me at the beginning, I soon realized that this is a rapidly expanding business. This became even clearer when I spoke to expats Mitch Berman and Peter Casimaty. The two business partners have launched an agency to serve as middlemen between Czech clinics and foreign, mainly English-speaking clients. Their agency arranges everything: finds the clinic, accommodation, arranges sightseeing tours and much more. Mitch says ...

"First is the peace of mind that when you are coming to take an advantage of treatment here you don't have to worry about the quality of medical treatment. All surgeons are fully experienced and trained and practiced. Secondly there is a high level of financial value in treatments here. You are getting a significant degree of service for your investment. And finally you come to Prague because it is acknowledged as being one of the gems of Europe If you have an opportunity to come here for a treatment and the total outlay on your holiday and your treatment ends up being the same or less than it would have been if you had stayed in your country then that is a pretty powerful argument for considering surgery or cosmetic treatment here."

Mitch's partner Peter has himself had a troublesome wrinkle smoothed out with a Botox injection. He thinks particularly highly of Czech dental care.

"A lot of people from Western Europe are already going to Hungary for dental treatment. So Hungary is becoming a kind of a center for dental care. The Czech Republic has got potential to take a similar position in dental treatment. Prague is probably the leader for cosmetic surgery in Central Europe - for medical tourism. Other countries, such as South Africa, Tunisia and Greece, have been long established in cosmetic surgery tourism."

Do you think that the Czech Republic has a chance of beating all these established countries?

"I think that the Czech Republic has a chance to become a bit of center of medical business in various things, including this."

Good for tourism, even better for Prague. Could cosmetic tourism one day end up luring as many visitors as the famed Czech beer?

"I am not certain that this is necessarily going to bring in more tourists than are already here. Many people who would be planning coming to Prague anyway might look at this as an added opportunity. As long as I am going to be in Prague maybe I should go ahead and have done this treatment I have been waiting for."

Are you saying that all the young people who come for stag parties will consider having some kind of treatment, returning back as beautiful men?

"I am not confident that this will happen. Maybe it is likely that some so called hen parties may end up starting to look into these possibilities."

'... in a faster, flickering image-rich world, transforming your appearance might be the quickest route to transforming your whole life. After all, as a Europeans are learning, it is what's on the outside that counts.' concludes a TIME article.

It seems it is high time to update guide books- the Czech Republic is famous for its beer, historic sites, girls, cut glass and affordable cosmetic surgery.