Political discord is currently spreading its influence into every corner of the Thai business community - and among the more unlikely casualties is plastic surgery.
The industry says it appears Thais are not in a mood to improve their personal looks in these troubled times, while foreigners are worried over safety. Some still want to fly here regardless, but travel agents are warning that insurance claims often cannot be recovered when a problem results from political disturbance, such as a riot.
Despite this uncertain climate, Teepakorn Lojanagosin, president and owner of Dermaster Aesthetic Institution, the country's leading high-end aesthetic firm, shrugs off such tension. Nevertheless his firm has faced a slight drop in foreign patients since February, especially among affluent Chinese who often fly here in private or chartered jets.
In an interview with The Nation, however, he is still optimistic about his firm’s two-year old boutique aesthetic hospital which cost Bt200 million. He said the main challenge from the political chaos is that it will take the investment longer to break even, a point it would normally reach within four to five years.
Teepakorn said he understood the current political situation was at the crossroads of Thai democracy, but hoped a solution would be found soon in order to return a peaceful climate to the country and raise foreign tourists' confidence.
“Life must go on...aesthetic service with high quality remains a lucrative business. For us, we are still looking for business opportunities and find that the whole world is our market,” Teepakorn, 33, said.
Currently, 20 per cent of total clients are foreign, and the amount they pay for services totals 30-40 per cent of the company's sales. He projected their numbers would rise to 40 per cent in the future.
Patients spend from Bt100,000 to Bt1 million on average and some pay as high as Bt4 million. They include celebrities and royals, and many come on deals with travel agents and a contract with the company. Patientsare from the US, Australia, China, the Middle East, and neighboring countries.
The company offers an integrated service from aesthetics, body slimming, plastic surgery, to hair transplants. Ten internationally-recognized doctors are on staff for the operations and each holds a medical degree in a specific specialty, aimed at ensuring service quality and medical security for their clients. Ethically, the firm will not comply with patients' demands for expensive treatment if there is any risk. In terms of service, clients are looked after as VIPs from their arrival.
Thailand is a perfect destination for aesthetic operations, thanks the many available tourist centres. The cost is more attractive than in most other countries, 10-50 per cent lower. For example, a hair transplant in London costs Bt900,000, but in Thailand only Bt300,000. Medical quality for this service is second to none in the region and can compete head-on with South Korea. Doctors are not only regionally accredited, but hold worldwide credentials.
Teepakorn intends to go worldwide to promote the firm’s services if he gets the chance. Already the message has spread regionally, to Bhutan and Laos. In Laos, the firm booked an entire hotel to demonstrate its services to possible clients and says feedback was good. Bahrein is another country claiming the company’s attentiion.
The opening of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015,with its single market, is expected to give the company a business opportunity. Under its plan, the firm will expand its network via a franchise agreement with qualified local investors. However, its business will go step by step carefully.
Domestically, the firm plans to expand its services into fast-growing provinces, especially Udon Thani, to lure wealthier locals and Laotians.
However, its operational size will be scaled down. At present, the firm also operates a small clinic in the Nana area to provide quick service to customers.
In Thailand, he said competition among aesthetic services had intensified, with
more than 10,000 players in the market offering low-end to premium service. Teepakorn said only a few of these clinics are medically qualified, particularly with a doctor specialist in attendance for the operation. Hiring general doctors to look after clients is aimed at saving costs which means questionable service and puts life at risk. Some facilities fall below accepted medical standards as well.