Despite the overall decline in foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) to India at 5.16 million in 2009 from 5.36 million in 2008 and 5.19 in 2007, primarily due to the global economic slowdown, safety concerns arising from the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the medical tourism industry in the country bucked the trend. This segment of the industry actually grew on account of parameters such as the low-cost and vast range of healthcare facilities provided by the country, according to a FICCI-Evalueserve study on Inbound Tourism.
The reasons are not far to seek. According to the FICCI-Evalueserve study, All medical procedures including hospitalisation and recover costs are relatively low in India as compared to Europe and America.
An increasing number of patients are undergoing treatment here due to the following reasons:
Low cost of treatment in India: For instance, a heart bypass surgery costs USD 6,000 in India, whereas the same costs up to USD 19,700 in the US.
Patients covered by medical insurance in regions such as Europe and America have to wait a long time before they can undergo treatment in their country.
Furthermore, state governments encourage international tourists by leveraging the traditional wellness systems of India. Various healthcare traditions practised in India include Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, homeopathy, naturopathy and yoga. Ayurveda is quite popular in Kerala. The Kerala government also participated in various tradeshows and expos to highlight the advantages of Ayurveda in health management. Similarly, the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have made attempts to promote spiritual tourism and yoga, respectively.
In 2007, 450,000 inbound patients were treated in India. Singapore and Malaysia are the countries competing with India in this segment. The number of patient arrivals from the US, the UK and Europe has increased in India, apart from the usual inbound patients from neighbouring countries and West Asia. It is expected that India will increase its share in inbound medical tourism in Asia to around 25 per cent by 2012
The number of medical tourists in India is expected to reach one million by 2012, with India’s share in the global medical tourism industry reaching 2.4 per cent. This market in India is estimated to reach INR 44 billion by 2012. However, the current market for Indian medical tourism is predominantly limited to patients from the Middle East and South Asian economies. However, there is an immense potential for India to cater to African patients as well. It is estimated that Afro-Asians spend up to USD 20 billion per annum on healthcare outside their countries.
The Middle East region is an important market for India’s medical tourism industry. In the last two years, there has been a significant increase in the number of inbound tourists from this region for medical tourism. Though the West is the traditional medical tourism destination for citizens in the Middle East, the trend saw change after the 2001 terror attacks in the US. Campaigns, such as Incredible India, changed the perceptions towards India and helped in promoting India as a cost effective and reliable medical tourism destination. Today, there are many global tour operators who offer innovative medical tours cum leisure trips to India.
In 2007, Indian missions in the UAE issued a total of 60,814 visas compared to 50,076 in 2006. Similarly, the Indian embassy in Oman issued 21,843 visas in 2007 as compared to 18,476 in 2006. Indian missions in 12 Gulf and Middle East nations issued 1,72,689 visas in 2007 compared to 1,49,568 in 2006, a 16 percent increase.
Though, the marketing of medical value tourism is a relatively new concept in the country, India already has world-class hospitals and treatment centres. Apart from allopathic doctors, indigenous medical practitioners provide their services in India. In 2009, there were over 3,000 hospitals and 726,000 registered practitioners in the country.
Wellness tourism a sub-set of medical tourism, comprises Ayurveda treatment, spa therapy, yoga and meditation. A niche segment, it draws high-end inbound tourists.
Ayurveda draws medical tourists from countries like the US, Canada, South America, the UK, Germany, France, Sweden, the Netherlands and even countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman, Jordan, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Japan, etc. Visitors can choose between Ayurveda treatments or a combined package of Ayurveda, Yoga and meditation.
Kerala is the most popular wellness destination in India, but other states are also emerging in this segment. There is a huge demand for wellness treatments, especially Ayurvedic and herbal Ayurveda, as the effects are long term and the treatments are safe. Tourists who experience the change post treatment become repeat visitors to continue their treatment. Panchakarma, detoxification, rejuvenation, stress management and weight loss programmes are most popular among inbound tourists.
The FICCI-Evalueserve study states that the major factors that make India an attractive destination for medical tourism include:
Cost Effectiveness: The cost for medical treatment in India is approximately one-tenth of the costs in the West.
Availability of Traditional Therapies: States such as Kerala have strong traditional systems of healthcare. Kerala Ayurveda centres have been set up at various locations across India, promoting the benefits of Ayurveda in health management. Kerala has participated in various tradeshows and expos to highlight the advantages of traditional therapies.
Delhi, Mumbai, Tamil Nadu and Kerala lead the list of medical tourism destinations for medical tourism in India. The UK, USA, Canada, the Middle East and South-East Asia are the major countries that drive Indian’s medical tourism industry.
Apart from the Middle East, the number of inbound patients from western countries has also increased due to the high level of expertise and low-cost treatment.
Kerala is one of the major destinations for Ayurvedic treatment in India. A significant number of such treatment facilities also exist at the foothills of the Himalayas.
Spa resorts are coming up across India. Numerous centres or ashrams in India offer meditation as a package. In line with traditional meditation, Rishikesh in Uttarakhand is a popular destination among tourists.