India needs concerted efforts to pick up a bigger piece of the $60 b medical tourism pie

Putting together the first medical tourism and wellness policy will give a big boost to attract foreign travellers and exploit the big potential India has to host such visitors. While 500,000 foreign nationals come to India annually for various medical emergencies and procedures, the $3 billion industry can quickly metamorphose into $9 billion mega enterprise by 2020, if industry and government studies are anything to go by. India will have to make concerted efforts to pick up a bigger pie of $60 billion industry globally.

From allopathic, unani, ayurveda, homeopathy, yoga and siddha, India has the wherewithal, expertise and experience to provide a complete package of medical care and leisure travel packages. Streamlining all the services providers from traditional wellness centers and hospitals to hospitality industry under one roof will be required to evolve into a global hub for medical tourism. The government has taken the first step by setting up a board for medical tourism and wellness last year. But, the entire ecosystem (including training of manpower) for the nascent industry will have to be readied fast to cater to all kinds of visitors. Unless the hospitality and wellness infrastructure is developed, India can’t position itself as a cost-effective and quality medical tourism destination. Already, competition in this space is high with countries like Thailand, Mexico, Malaysia and Singapore way ahead of us.

Currently, visitors from countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Maldives top the list of medical tourists. South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya travelers follow in numbers and the value chain. Issuing medical tourist visas expeditiously, setting up separate immigration centres at major airports will be steps in sync with global practices. Cardiology, orthopedics, transplant and ophthalmology related disciplines are where India gets patients from. Extending these medical services to the entire gamut of services and providing integrated wellness centres will help realise the industry’s potential. Expanding the six wellness and medical tourism centers at Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Goa, New Delhi and Kolkata to at least 20 will help a tourists make a better choice on destinations. In fact, each centre can specialise in a particular treatment area and focused medical procedures. For instance, Kerala can be a wellness and ayurveda hub while Goa is ideal for recuperation.

Branding India as the global destination for Yoga has created the requisite heft for the medical tourism industry as well as training foreigners in this centuries old tradition. Campaigns like ‘athithi devo bhava’, ‘Incredible India’ will only increase the curiosity of tourists. Similarly, promoting ages-old environment and human friendly medical practices in Siddha, Ayurveda and Unnani will have to be undertaken in the next phase. For budget travelers, turning each home into a medical tourist’s nest may be a good idea. Setting up the wellness and recuperation centres after major surgeries as well as procedures in rural setting will allow global visitors to experience ‘real’ India.

Soft digital marketing would help making India a global medical tourism power. Launch of an integrated internet platform earlier this week in Russian, Arabic and French providing comprehensive information must be extended to other languages. India’s ability to offer competitively priced packages with transparency will show the way forward.