Travelling for Health

By Jhuma Biswas

India’s immense tourism appeal and potential are not only because of its natural splendours, historical legacies, deep religious resonance and its exciting wildlife and adventure offerings.

The country has also emerged as an important medical tourism destination.  Medical tourism is generally regarded as the practice of travelling to another country with the sole or primary objective to seek medical services. The medical tourism industry in India was worth 3 billion USD in 2015. According to the statistics of the Ministry of Tourism, India’s medical tourism industry could grow to 9 billion USD by 2020.

Availability of skilled doctors and top-notch healthcare infrastructure at much lesser cost as compared to that of many developed countries, and the growing popularity of yoga and Ayurveda in the west are some of the reasons for the growing popularity of India as a medical tourism destination. People from developed countries are travelling in hordes to India to avail our relatively affordable (as compared to many countries in the west) but top-notch healthcare facilities.

According to www.indiahealthcaretourism.com, India has a good number (22) of JCI (Joint Commission International) accredited hospitals and compares well with other countries in Asia. These set of approved hospitals in India can provide care at par or above global standards.

As per the same website, India has the largest pool of doctors and paramedics in South Asia (1.2 million Allopathic doctors. 0.17 million dental surgeons, 2 million nurses).

A Buoyant Sector

No wonder, medical tourism in India has seen an amazing growth of 111 percent during 2015-2017. In 2015, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs 2,33,918 foreign tourists came to India for medical purposes. And according to the information from the Ministry of Home Affairs, 4,95,056 foreign tourists visited India during 2017 for medical purposes. According to the information provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs, 4,27,014 foreign tourists visited India for medical purposes during 2016. 

We can very easily gauge the impressive growth of this sector and also its potential growth, in India, in the near future. Medical tourism is a market which the tourism and hospitality industry of India and as well as the government of India cannot afford to leave unexplored. In this regard, the step taken by India’s Ministry of Tourism to expand the scope of e-visas for medical visits is praiseworthy.

One of the ways to more effectively tap this vibrant and growing market is to build more and more multispecialty hospitals with the objective of providing impeccable healthcare infrastructure and quality healthcare personnel at affordable cost. The supply side of medical tourism in India should match up to its frantically growing demand side. 

I know this is easier said than done but the state government and the Union government and as well as the private players should take this challenge for effectively tapping the growing demand for medical tourism in India.

Another way is to come up with more and more quality Ayurvedic resorts and retreats, which can cater to the impressive demand among foreign travellers to avail India’s ancient and time tested therapies to solve their post-modern day lifestyle induced health problems with affordable cost. In this regard, our hospitality industry can play a significant and intelligent role.

Resort to Holistic Well-being 

We already have some wonderful Ayurvedic resorts in our country but we need more to tap the expected growth in the number of medical tourists to India, in the near future. Take the case of Devaaya Ayurveda & Nature Cure Centre in Divar Island, Goa. This scenic resort amidst coconut groves and lush greenery is surrounded by the Mandovi river. Its holistic health programmes include Panchakarma Package (of 15 days, 22 days and 30 days duration) and Wellness Package. Here Ayurvedic treatments are conducted in mud and thatch hut.

The Panchakarma Package is a means to detoxify, cleanse and rejuvenate your body. The resort recommends that guests plan their Panchakarma Package in consultation with its doctors if they are suffering from a particular disease, in order to achieve optimum results. 

The basic treatments of the Panchakarma Package include Abhyanga, Svedan, AntarSnehan, Virechan, Basti, Shirodhara, Pizichill, Sarvangdhara, Navrakizhi, Nasya & health consultation. After this initial treatment, additional therapies are carried out according to the specific disease of the patient and length of the package. As some of the therapies are intensive and require rest between the therapies, the package includes occasional rest days too.

The Wellness Package at Devaaya Ayurveda & Nature Cure Centre is designed to relax and rejuvenate your body, relieve your mind of stress and revitalise your energy, which can help you to enjoy life better. The treatments in the Wellness Package may include Abhyanga, Svedan, Nasya, ShiroDhara, Karnapuran, Synchronised Abhyangam, Padabhyanga and health consultation.

The resort offers training courses in Ayurveda too of 15 days duration. They are conducted at Devaaya, for minimum 10 students and the courses are inclusive of yoga and meditation.

Kairali –The Ayurvedic Healing Village, located in Pallakad, Kerala, is another great wellness destination where traditional and authentic Ayurvedic therapies, treatments and medications along with Yoga and meditation can lead you to holistic well-being.  The retreat is situated at the foot of Nilgiri and Annamalai ranges of Western Ghats. Here healing therapies are advised after the doctors analyse the body of the patients/guests. 

Authentic Ayurvedic massages are provided at Kairali –The Ayurvedic Healing Village, where natural oils and herbal powders play crucial roles. Panchakarma therapy is one of the most rejuvenating and detoxifying treatments that Kairali offers with the help of trained experts. 

Various other Ayurvedic packages are available that the guests are recommended. The serene atmosphere and the yoga and meditation sessions are also an added feature for Kairali. These offerings present at Kairali make for a memorable stay infused with well-being.

Another top-notch Ayurvedic resort is The Zuri Kumarakom, Kerala Resort & Spa. Situated on the shores of the Vembanad Lake, the longest backwater lake in Kerala, the resort offers mesmerising views of the serene and languid backwaters of Kerala.

At the Zuri Kumarakom, one can experience vibrant local culture, the mouth-watering local cuisine and the rich repository of flora and fauna, while surrounded by luxury, and impeccable service. Here the comprehensive Ayurveda experience covers Rejuvenation Package, Panchakarma Package, Detoxification Package, and Weight Management Package.

The Rejuvenation Package at the resort, according to the resort’s website, can help to slow down the ageing process. “The major benefits of this treatment is to prolong life span, strengthen sense organs, improve memory, obtain perfect health, youthfulness and increased physical endurance,” states the website.

This Panchakarma programme includes treatments using medicated herbal oils and also Vastis (medicated enemas which will help in removing the toxins away from the body), which can revitalise and detoxify your body. “The major benefits of this programme are to prolong life span, strengthen sense organs, improve memory, obtain perfect health, youthfulness and increased physical endurance,” notes the website of Zuri Kumarakom.

The Weight Management programme at the resort has treatments which include body massages and dry scrubs with special herbal powders and internal herbal medicine to follow up with. According to the website, through this programme there can be a possible weight reduction of approximately 2-5 kg in two weeks. “The effect of the slimming may show only after a week and the extent of weight loss will largely depend upon the body constitutional type of the individual, hormonal imbalances, if any and hereditary factors. There can be a possible weight reduction of approximately 2-5 kilos in two weeks,” notes the website.

Need a Broader Perspective 

These three expressions in hospitality only give a glimpse of the medical tourism benefits on offer in India. There are many other wellness resorts in India which offer wonderful options for medical tourism. They include names like Kalari Kovilakom, CGH Earth, Kerala; Somatheeram Ayurveda Village, Kerala; Ananda In The Himalayas; Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat & Spa in Pune among others.

But we need many more world class Ayurvedic resorts and retreats (and not only in scenic locations but all around India) and state-of-the-art conventional hospitals to further strengthen our image as a medical tourism destination and keep the competition at bay. We also need them on humanitarian ground.

When we talk of medical tourism, we often forget the domestic medical tourists, such as persons who travel from say Bihar to Delhi or Mumbai to get treatment for his/her critical or chronic disease. They cannot pay like the foreign tourists, but they need quality medical care as much as the foreign tourists do and they too contribute to our tourism and hospitality industry.

This above-mentioned measure of developing more numbers of highly affordable state-of-the-art hospitals and Ayurvedic resorts and retreats can cater to the huge numbers of domestic medical tourists more effectively. 

It is time we give a more broader perspective to the definition of medical tourism and create more and more quality healthcare institutions which are not only affordable to the foreign tourists but also our domestic tourists. 

At the same time, on the supply side, strengthening of transportation and sanitation infrastructure, as well as more serious concern to the safety of women travellers can contribute to the growth of our medical tourism industry.       

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