South Korea downturn a boon for nose jobs and shopping

by Cheon Jong-woo and Angela Moon ,  Reuters | 2009-04-02

South Korea's plunge toward recession is bringing in high-spending tourists by the planeload in search of bargains and beauty.

Foreign tourists, mainly from Japan and China, have been pouring into their smaller neighbor to snap up Louis Vuitton bags and get a nose job, sometimes on the same trip.

The attraction? Thanks to a Korean won that has fallen in the past year by 40 percent against the yen alone, Asia's fourth largest economy has become cheap for foreigners.

"Costs for plastic surgery here used to be just half of what it costs in the U.S. But with the foreign exchange rates, we charge about a third now," said Kim Byung-gun, chief plastic surgeon at BK DongYang Plastic Surgery Clinic in Seoul.

"Foreign patients have doubled. I see infinite growth potential in the plastic surgery market for foreigners," said Kim.

Elaine Teo, a 35-year-old Singaporean, is a case in point.

"You know, it's like using one stone to kill two birds," she told Reuters at a plastic surgery clinic in downtown Seoul where she was getting a facial wrinkle-lift.

She expected to spend 2-3 days in hospital for the surgery. The rest of her 10-day holiday in Seoul was to be spent shopping.

According to the Korea Tourism Organization, the number of foreign visitors in the first two months of this year jumped 25.5 percent from a year ago.

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