India has gained a reputation in delivering quality medical services. Owing to travel being on the backfoot during the pandemic, there was a huge reduction in incoming medical tourists to India. MP Bezbaruah, Secretary General, Hotel Association India (HAI), suggests how this sector can now be revived.
According to the Union Ministry of Tourism (MOT), India is ranked 10th in the Medical Tourism Index (MTI) for 2020-21 among 46 countries. India attracts 1 per cent of international travellers annually, though the scope of expansion in medical tourism is immense. There is an increase in foreign visitors arriving for medical reasons from 1.83 lakh in 2021 to 3.05 lakh in 2022. Currently, the Indian medical value travel market is $5-6 billion and is expected to reach $13 billion by 2026. The rising expense of healthcare in foreign countries is a consequence of the Ukraine-Russia war. The escalated interest in medical tourism has called for various governmental initiatives like Heal in India, the creation of an e-Visa for Ayush, and accreditation of Ayush.
While medical visas or M-visas facilitate Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in the country, the private hospital chains, branded as hospital destinations, are attracting medical tourists by providing facilities, niche offerings, and customized luxury. Top hospitals have been certified by international accreditation schemes to attract patients looking for quality care at affordable costs. Cosmetic surgery, orthopaedic surgery, cardiac surgery, and dental operations are reportedly the most popular medical procedures among foreign visitors. According to a survey by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Chennai attracts 40 per cent of the country’s medical tourists.
Shripad Yesso Naik, Union Minister of State for Tourism, highlighted that around 1.4 million tourists visited India for medical reasons. The country has formulated a National Strategy and Roadmap for Medical and Wellness Tourism to put India on the international map. However, for its rapid growth, attention needs to be given to appropriate government regulations for patient protection, insurance frameworks, travel and visa facilitation, and other factors that influence the patient’s experience and treatment outcomes.
To attract medical tourists, maintaining global standards is a primary requisite. Thematic creatives on niche tourism products like medical tourism are being used in government campaigns to cater to diverse consumer interests. These include TV commercials on yoga, wellness, medical facilities, and infrastructure. India can also leverage on its competitive position in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector, where it has established a name for itself in delivering low-cost drugs and vaccines. Huge potential exists in reimagining the sector.
The overall standard of service, state-of-the-art medical facilities, pool of skilled and reputed healthcare professionals, cost effectiveness, blending of traditional healthcare and wellness practices, and diversity of tourism products and experience are several factors contributing towards attractiveness of India. According to MOT Report, majority of visitors are from the Asian and African countries. With easy availability of English-speaking service providers, and expert interpreters available at most multi-specialty private hospitals, foreign travellers feel at ease in India.