Despite India being an attractive destination for people undertaking medical tourism from many countries, including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, West Asia, , Maldives and Africa among others, this segment was severly impacted after Covid pandemic. This hospital sector is now trying to recuperate from the losses it incurred. According to the Ministry of Tourism website, foreign tourist arrivals for medical treatment in India in the calendar year ending December 2020 fell by 73 per cent to 1.82 lakh as compared with 6.97 lakh in 2019. As per experts, corporate hospitals earn 10-15 per cent of the total revenue from medical tourism in the pre-Covid period. Patients generally prefer India for elective surgeries like organ transplant, oncology, joint transplant, heart surgeries, along with complex surgeries too in some cases.
“In pre-Covid times, 10-12 per cent of our total revenue came from medical tourism. During the first wave, revenue came to nearly zero because the air traffic had come to a halt. Subsequently we revived a little bit. Talking about the last quarter we were at 50-60 per cent of the pre-Covid levels. Patients were coming to us through an air-bubble arrangement. Most of the recovery is from Bangladesh,” Dilip Jose, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Manipal Hospitals told BusinessLine.
“With the regime change in Afghanistan, we will have to see if the traffic comes back to us. Earlier a lot of pediatric patients used to come to us from Afghanistan. We do see a trickle of patients coming from Tanzania but nowhere at the same level we used to see three or four years ago. Now, also we are getting a few patients with cardiac ailment from Afghanistan in Delhi but they are not at all close to the pre-Covid levels,” Jose further stated.
As per Anil Vinayak, Group Chief Operating Officer, Fortis Healthcare, contribution of medical tourism to the company’s revenue was nearly 10-11 per cent before Covid hit the country and it plunged to as low as 2 per cent for sometime during the Covid period.
“ We have recovered up to 6-7 per cent now. By the middle of the next financial year, we hope that we will reach the pre-Covid level of 10-11 per cent and from there on, we can expect some growth,” Vinayak stated.
According to Dr. Girdhar Gyani, Director General, Association of Healthcare Providers (India) (AHPI), India has been a leading country to attract medical tourists along with Thailand and Singapore in SAARC and ASEAN group of countries. India attracts medical tourists from Africa, GCC, Central Asia.
Even European nationals find it attractive to avail healthcare services in India owing to cheaper rates with low waiting time but Covid has changed the equation, he said.
“Covid however has hampered medical tourism not only for India but also across the globe. Patients in general have been the biggest loser. Along with them, the industry has also suffered financially as hospitals over the years have added infrastructure including logistics and manpower to cater to foreign patients,”
“Now that the international flights will hopefully open up from March-April, and the international travel comes to a pre-Covid level, we should be seeing the bulk of the patients coming to us,” Jose of Manipal Hospitals said while further adding that we will have to wait and watch.
“In the first wave the flights were not operating and this has continued for almost 2 years. Secondly, there was fear of infection. Put together, there has virtually been a complete ban on overseas patients for the past two years. Now that Covid wave is receding, hopefully there will be movement, once the normal operation of airlines begins,” Gyani of AHPI stated.
Meanwhile, Neha Pandey, Director, International Marketing, Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, Faridabad said, “depending upon how affected any particular country is, patients may not choose that nation as an option for medical tourism. Some countries may also not give visas to certain countries because of the risk involved in international travel to that particular country.”
She further added that the world is also experiencing an economic crisis, and many patients may have to give it a second thought if they could bear the cost of medical tourism at the moment. “Value of currency is going low because of the shutting down of businesses and global import and export. The Indian Government has also made strict protocols to Grant Medical Visas,” she said.
“Medical tourism in all states has been impacted by waves of Covid-19. We are working on re-branding the State and re-organising our strategy in post Covid-19 times where the stress will be on health and wellness. We are in discussions with some good players in this space who are willing to offer quality service to tourists across various budgets and needs,” said Sonia Meena, Additional Managing Director, Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board.