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News Article

India targets medical tourism investment

Hospitals and budget hotels in pipeline

India is trying to make it easier for foreign investors to put money into Indian hospitals and hotels, in a bid to boost the medical tourism sector. The plans were announced last week by Tourism Minister Ambika Soni at the CII Health Summit. The Minister forecast that up to $6.5 billion could flow into the sector in coming years.

"As much as $6.5 billion are in the pipeline for setting up affordable hospitals and budget hotels for patients' relatives in the country," said Ambika Soni.

She said so far three international parties have evinced interest in setting up 1,000-bed facilities in Delhi and NCR.

"They will meet government by the end of this year and they will also set up budget accommodation facilities for patients," she added. However, she did not disclose the names of these firms.

Commenting on problems faced by the medical tourism industry, Soni said: "The biggest deterrent for foreign investors is the unavailability of a single window clearance system." The government is working towards making a system in which investing in India becomes easier, she added.

Also, she pointed out that the medical tourism industry faced a lot of legal implications, mainly by the doctors, while treating foreign tourists. The hospital management needs to be more transparent and ensure that profiles of doctors are easily made available, she said.

"Nobody can be fully satisfied with the treatment and legal implications do arise sometimes. We must have a proper legal framework to deal with this," Soni said.

The importance of sufficient budget accommodation to meet the needs of medical tourists was highlighted. "So many people bypass India because hotel rooms are very expensive," she said. Where surgical procedures which require longer convalescent periods are conducted, hosptals find it hard to keep recuperating patients because of a shortage of beds.

Health-care providers are tying up with luxury hotels to house patients until they are ready to return home.

"You have average room rates of $350 to $400 a night, which is definitely becoming a deterrent," said Vishal Bali, chief executive officer of Wockhardt Hospitals in Mumbai. "Because the number of patients coming into the country is increasing, the pressure is definitely getting built up in terms of creating alternatives for post-treatment stay."

High costs of lodging in India are making some patients look elsewhere, said Rana Mehta, vice-president of health care at Technopak Advisors.

Medical tourism in Asia

Medical travel is widely reported to be increasing, as patients take advantage of health services that would be too expensive, or have long waiting lists, in their country of origin. Asia is an attractive destination for this, as costs are low and many countries have invested heavily in medical training, although large numbers of medical staff from countries like the Philippines are working abroad.

Many countries have high targets for patient numbers and revenues from medical tourism, although accurate statistics for current business can be hard to come by. The Oxford Business Group says that Asia attracts over 1.3 million visitors annually for medical tourism and is expected to generate more than US$4 billion (RM13.27 billion) a year in revenues by 2012. "Within five years, Malaysia is expected to bring in US$590 million per annum in medical tourism receipts," it said.

OBG said while Malaysia was still catching up with countries such as Singapore, Thailand and India, the authorities believed Malaysia could provide state-of-the-art facilities at affordable prices to compete in this growing field.

According to the tourism development and environment committee, in 2006 there were 110,000 foreign patients seeking treatment in Malaysia, a 10% increase over the previous year.

"While this figure lags behind neighbouring Thailand (400,000) and Singapore (370,000), it is a notable achievement considering that both countries have been aggressively promoting their medical facilities overseas for nearly two decades," it said.

Professor Cherry Lyn Rodolfo, from the University of Asia and the Pacific, in a presentation on medical tourism in the Philippines in early November, said Thailand recorded an estimated 1.1 million medical travelers at present (considerably higher than the OBG estimate), and put the figures for Singapore at 150,000 to 200,000, India as 150,000, Malaysia as 122,000, and Philippines with only 2,000 to 3,000 medical travelers.

"Medical travelers, (who) were identified in the Philippines, are mostly "Balikbayans", retirees mostly on individual basis, and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)," Rodolfo said.

Among the five countries, only Philippines has no target revenues for medical tourism.

Singapore targets one million international patients per year contributing US$3 billion by 2012, Thailand target revenues were placed at US$2 billion by 2010, Malaysia aims to have US$1 billion revenues by 2010, while India targets a total of US$2.2 billion by 2012.

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • David Simpson
  • Date
  • 22 November 2007
  • Subject(s)
  • Tourism