Thailand Extreme Makeover
A woman lies on an operating table during a facelift surgery at a private plastic surgery clinic. Reuters

Post-protest Thailand is in need of a complete image makeover and it hopes you are, too.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand just kicked off a new digital marketing campaign to promote the beleaguered Southeast Asian nation as a global center of low-cost, high-quality medical tourism. At the heart of the strategy is the “Thailand Extreme Makeover,” a “reality-type” competition that will see three lucky contestants from around the world flown to The Land Of Smiles for various cosmetic surgery procedures.

“The Thailand Extreme Makeover campaign is a reality competition that will not only create awareness about Thailand as a destination for medical tourism and excellence of our medical facilities, but also promote the kingdom as a travel destination with something for everyone,” tourism authority head Thawatchai Arunyik said in a statement.

“Thailand already has a great reputation for its excellence in medical care, and people come here for operations of all kinds,” he added. “The expertise of our doctors and wide range of procedures we can offer are turning Thailand into the ‘medical hub’ of Asia.”

Thailand-based surgeons will take the scalpel to any non-Thai woman between the ages of 25 and 45 who can convince a panel of judges, including medical experts and beauty surgeons, that they are most in need of completely changing their appearance. In addition to a personal health profile and photos of their face, interested candidates must submit a document explaining what needs to be fixed.

At stake in this competition-based reality stunt is a $5,000 cash prize and the chance to win “luxury trips to Thai tourist destinations.” Three finalists, to be announced May 7, will travel to Thailand for their “life- and face-changing trip,” and each will have to lay their insecurities bare while documenting the experience in videos and blog posts uploaded to the new Thailand Extreme Makeover website.

The face-changer who receives the most votes from the scrutinizing public will win the cash prize and the most luxurious tour of Thailand. Those who ogle online at each nip and tuck, meanwhile, will have the chance to win various beauty products and prizes of their own.

All finalists must agree to let TAT use their names, images and video footage in marketing both online and off before and after the surgeries.

Bangkok is, by all accounts, already one of the world’s most popular medical tourism destinations, with roughly one million visitors seeking some type of medical care in the Thai capital last year. Tourism officials, who began promoting the niche industry in 2004, say that medical tourism -- largely from cosmetic surgery, dermatology and dental work -- now makes up about 0.4 percent of Thailand’s GDP and is growing at a rate of 16 percent annually, though the social unrest of the past few months will likely take a toll on 2014 figures.

A new report from the International Medical Tourism Journal found that Thailand, in addition to Malaysia and South Korea, had increased business year on year because of government support, while other destinations with less support like India had seen their slice of the medical tourism pie shrink. “It is very much a regional business, and there is a huge move away from price competition to competition on quality, niches and even luxury,” the authors noted in a summary of the report.

Many Thai hospitals are certified by international medical accreditation organizations, giving global visitors a sense of comfort in knowing that the quality of care is on par with that offered in their home country, despite prices that can be between 50 and 70 percent cheaper, according to Patients Without Borders. Thirty healthcare organizations in Thailand, for example, are accredited by the U.S.-based Joint Commission International, meaning their standards must be the same as those of U.S. hospitals.

Thawatchi said Thailand’s reputation for hospitality had a big part in its growth as a medical tourism destination. “People feel welcome here and safe when coming for surgery,” he noted. “They can also combine their trip with a holiday on our islands or beaches to recuperate,” which is the driving force behind the current campaign.