Hyped medical tourism lacks substance
In fact, the tourism ministry’s annual report points to gaps and glitches posing as roadblocks in making the sector a money-spinner for the travel industry.
For instance, the absence of niche health products for medical tourists from targeted regions coupled with a lopsided pricing strategy have made the “much hyped medical tourism a near flop show”, ministry officials said.
African and West Asian countries are potential clients. They could contribute 80 per cent of the total targeted medical tourists in the country. But they were not tapped to its full potential.
“The handicap begins at the first stage. The prospective medical tourists from Africa and West Asia are mostly non-English-speaking people. The nonmedical staff employed to target these groups are not able to communicate properly. Using interpreters is neither comfortable nor efficient. The tourists have complained about the competence of the medical and paramedical staff, which includes documentation, and most have been disappointed with the available boarding facilities,” the ministry’s annual report says.
These tourists can change India’s prospects because most of them were not covered by the social security and health insurance that people in the US and the UK enjoy.
Major markets include Oman and UAE in West Asia and Nigeria, Tanzania, Mauritius, Kenya and Gambia in Africa.
Tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahai has been pressing for medical tourism to boost foreign arrivals.
Most tourists “are concerned on settlement of bills and lack of clear instructions and post procedure monitoring,” a ministry official said. The price consciousness is such that a lot of South Asians register in India as “domestic patients” because they come on tourist, not medical visas. The ministry suggests that the government must reassess the medical visa policy. A medical visa allows three entries per year and there should be a gap of two months in between two entries. A medical tourist, who travels for consultation with doctors, has to wait two months for treatment. “India is losing a big chunk of potential medical tourists to Thailand due to the cumbersome visa regulations,” the report says.