India: A global medical and wellness tourism destination
In the past few decades, India has become a world-class destination for medical value travel. The Medical Tourism Index for 2020-21 ranks India as the 10th global destination in this regard. This has been possible because India performs well across various criteria- infrastructure, medical equipment and facilities, and well-trained healthcare professionals. India’s distinguishing factor- AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy) also helps to drive its reputation as a preferred destination for Yoga and wellness through traditional practices.
In an effort to boost the Medical Value Travel and Wellness Tourism in India further, the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India recently launched the National Strategy and Roadmap for the same. This strategy outlines in detail the government’s six-pillar action plan to ramp up this sector.
The six-pillar action plan
The National Strategy provided by the Ministry of Tourism lists 6 key focus areas with the mission to create a well-defined framework for MVT and enhance cooperation between the key stakeholders, namely the central and state governments, as well as the private players of this sector. To this effect, the following action areas have been identified:
“Heal in India”
In its strategy, the government has recognized the need to brand India as a destination for medical and wellness tourism, acknowledging the lack of a current campaign focusing solely on highlighting India’s capability in this sector. Through this campaign, the government will not only highlight India’s expertise as a hub for modern medical science with advanced technologies but also as a center for alternative medicine. India, through its range of ancient healing practices such as Ayurveda, Naturopathy, Unani has a comparative advantage in holistic curing with no side effects, treatments that should be highlighted while branding India as a wellness destination. To this effect, schemes for market development assistance will also be made more lucrative for wellness and medical tourism service providers.
Bolstering the current ecosystem
When a medical tourist visits the host country, he makes use of a variety of services for the duration of his stay, that may or may not be directly related to his desired treatment. For example, some commonly used services include commercial agents like hotels for stay, airlines for travel, etc. In order to ensure that all visitors can enjoy comfortable treatment, the government will focus on bolstering the current ecosystem related to medical and wellness tourism. This will be done by focusing on synergizing and creating linkages between these various service providers. This will also help boost secondary wellness tourism by easing access to India’s alternative treatments. The three key components under this pillar would be Medical Value Travel Facilitators (MVTF), Medical Service Providers (MSP), and wellness tourism operators. The government will invest in capacity-building and promotion for the same.
Revamping of the MVT Portal
The vision is to bring healthcare at the tap of a fingertip- across services and nations. The present portal will be updated to bring together the various service providers mentioned in the previous point under one umbrella and provide a one-stop solution for all the needs of an MVT. This will ensure easy browsing, effortless booking, and quick payments- making it a convenient & safe experience for a medical tourist in India.
Accessibility focused reforms
In order to make medical and wellness tourism in India more accessible globally, the government aims to adopt several reforms for the same. A liberalized VISA policy with features such as e-VISA issuance can ensure transparency and convenience to the MVTs. Lack of direct air connectivity can cause unnecessary journey breaks which may be uncomfortable for several patients. Better air connectivity to India can ensure convenience at every process step. MVT Lounges/ Assistance desks at airports to provide help with baggage, immigration, and additional information.
Increased focus on wellness tourism
Wellness tourism spans a variety of treatments such as preventive care, spa, fitness, beauty, etc. This allows multiple possibilities for businesses and providers. The authorities will focus on critical areas such as control, standardization, accreditation, and simplification in order to ensure quality for wellness tourists. Opportunities to enhance secondary wellness tourism will be encouraged by creating synergy between wellness service providers, tourism operators, and hospitality players.
National Medical and Wellness Tourism Board
In 2015, the Ministry of Tourism formed the National Medical & Wellness Tourism Board in order to further drive the growth of this sector. The board will look over a variety of functions to ensure a ‘patient-centric’ approach to the MVT industry. In particular, it will work toward delivering policy recommendations and suggestions and provide grievance redressal for industry stakeholders. It should assure the trust of medical value travelers by overseeing the functioning of service providers. It will be liable to award government incentives and penalize defaulting bodies. The current structure will be reorganized to facilitate three main committees, namely, the advisory, technical, and executive committees. The board will also work on all the five key pillars discussed above in order to promote medical and wellness tourism in India.
Medical and Wellness Tourism is a promising sector that lies at the intersection of two of the fastest-growing industries in the world- healthcare and tourism. This is why it is an exciting area to invest in, especially in the post-COVID scenario. With India’s state-of-the-art facilities, world-class healthcare professionals, JCI-accredited hospitals, and much more, India is one of the top medical value travel destinations across the globe. There is a range of alternative treatments and experiences for medical value travellers in India. In light of the recent national strategy and roadmap launched for this sector by the ministry of tourism, the sector is expected to continue on its upward trend due to government initiatives like a revamped MVT portal, administrative changes, a dedicated board for medical and wellness tourism, etc.
This has been co-authored by Muskan Hashmi and Devika Chawla.