Energised by the government’s focus on medical tourism, Indian tour operators are pulling out the stops and devising ways to capture the market.
The Indian government is showing a keener interest to develop the medical tourism sector, which is currently pegged at US$3 billion and has the potential to reach US$8 billion by 2020, according to a recent Grant Thornton report.
In 2015, the National Medical and Wellness Tourism Board was established as a platform for stakeholders to come together and discuss the challenges that the country faces in promoting medical and wellness tourism. It also put in place strategies to be adopted by both the public and the private sector in order for India to grow a larger share of the global medical tourism market.
“India’s ministry of tourism is taking steps to put India on global medical tourism map,” said Ravi Gosain, managing director, Erco Travels, lauding the launch of the Medical and Wellness Tourism Board as an important step with prominent personalities from the medical and tourism sector sitting on the board.
“Till now, we have only been able to touch the tip of the iceberg considering the immense potential of medical tourism,” said Subhash Goyal, chairman, STIC Travel Group.
“The medical and wellness tourism board will help us to identify challenges that the country is facing in the promotion of that segment,” he added.
Most recently, the Indian government expanded the e-tourist visa facility to include short-term medical treatments, enabling tourists from 150 countries to apply for medical visas online.
According to India’s ministry of tourism, 134,344 international medical tourists visited the country in 2015. In 1H2016, nearly 100,000 foreign tourists visited the country availing medical visas, with South Asian countries like Bangladesh and Afghanistan leading the way.
A strong drawcard for India lies its affordability of medical treatments vis-à-vis developed countries. Said K Hari Prasad, president, hospitals division, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise: “Estimates show that medical procedures in India allows patients to save about 65-90 per cent as compared with the US.”
Maharaj Wahi, chairman of Rudra Experiences, agreed: “The scope of medical tourism is huge for India primarily because we are cost effective in comparison with other countries.
“The post-treatment period, during which a medical tourist has to recover, offers us an opportunity to promote tourism,” he said.
Wahi added that India’s strengths lies in its quality hospitals, experienced doctors, global recognition in the medical field and top nursing facilities. “Destinations like Thailand and Malaysia are more popular for wellness tourism, but when it comes to medical procedures India is better placed,” he remarked.
Added Goyal: “Apart from Allopathic treatment, we have Ayurvedic, Unani and Naturopathic treatment, which is not available in Malaysia and Thailand.”
Excited by the government’s focus on the medical tourism, Indian tour operators have devised strategies to capture the segment.
“We have signed contracts with some popular hospitals in major cities to recommend them to international patients. We are targeting mostly Europe and North America customers who are looking for cosmetic surgeries and wellness treatments,” said Gosain.
Wahi said his company had been receiving queries for medical tourism even without much promotion. He said: “We see good potential in markets like the US, Canada and the UK that have a significant non-resident Indian population. Our focus will be on promoting medical tourism packages through the Internet.”
Goyal said: “We are focusing on the African market as there is a greater need for world-class medical treatments in those countries. We will reach out to these markets by participating in medical tourism tradeshows.”
According to the trade, medical tourism to India is growing not only from traditional markets like South Asia, Africa, Russia and Gulf countries but also from Europe and North America.
This article was first published in TTG Asia February 2017 issue. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe.