4 Dec 2020, 09:59 — 8 min read
The effect of the ongoing Covid-19 crises has spared no country and has had a major impact on many businesses. Economies that rely on leisure and business travel, medical travel, hospitality, and entertainment for their survival are experiencing disruptions of gigantic proportions. With the expected shrinking of economic activity all over, concerns have been raised over its likely impact on some key sectors.
In this piece, I highlight one such key sector, namely the Medical Value Tourism (MVT), also referred to as the Medical Tourism industry, where the impact has been most alarming in terms of the economic value.
Medical Value Tourism is a mix of services, basically of healthcare and tourism. It involves patients travelling, internationally, to a destination of their choice. The prime reason for this outbound travel could be the cost of the procedure and the quality of healthcare in the destination country. In India this is a medium scale business having made considerable contribution to our economy. MVT is already a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide and is expected to considerably grow in the next decade. India is a big attraction for patients from developing and less developed economies, having gained the trust of millions, over the years.
The abundance of medical healthcare services along with the trust in Indian doctors worldwide has added to this increase in business. International travel becoming more affordable in addition to multiple options being offered by hospitals and the travel sector has only added to this sector’s steady growth.
Individual patients prefer to travel to various other parts of the world to get better healthcare at cost effective prices. The most famous destinations are India, Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore to name a few. Many patients from Africa, South East and Central Asia, SAARC nations, Middle East and Eastern Europe travel to India especially for medical procedures. Major destination cities in India are Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Kolkata. A total of 27% of medical travellers visit Maharashtra out of which 80% go to Mumbai. Chennai attracts nearly 15% while Kerala handles around 5-7%.
The global medical tourism market size was valued at USD 44.8 billion in 2019 and is expected to witness a CAGR of 21.1% over the forecast period. Medical tourism leads to generation of substantial revenue in developing economies, helping them further expand their healthcare business. In 2018, India ranked as the third most popular destination for medical tourism, when the industry was worth USD 4 billion. India's medical tourism industry could have grown by 200% by 2020, hitting USD 9 billion, according to Ministry of Tourism figures.
The effect of Covid-19 pandemic on the MVT industry has been multidimensional. With most countries in various stages of lockdown and with suspicions being cast on the actual numbers being reported, the trust among international travellers, for medical purpose is at an all-time low. This coupled with non-issuance of medical visas by most government the situation for this sector is worsening.
Mr DK Chopra, the President of the Foundation of Health & Wellness Promotion (www.fhwpi.org), a body representing the interests of MVT players, opines that India’s deft handling of the pandemic is resonating well with international experts. The Government is proactively working on bringing this sector back on its feet as soon as possible, he says. He cites example of multiple Stand Operating Procedures being formulated by the Ministry of Health in this regards. The concept of the “bubble travel scheme” allowed with certain countries is also being appreciated. Realising the potential to develop and promote healthcare and wellness and to promote MVT as a niche product in the country, various Industry bodies such as FICCI and the Ministry of Tourism has formulated guidelines for the promotion of this sector.
The effect of the pandemic on the MVT industry has been multidimensional. With most countries in various stages of lockdown and with suspicions being cast on the actual numbers being reported, the trust among international travellers, for medical purpose is at an all-time low.
On its part the Foundation, is actively engaged with International agencies and healthcare experts on knowledge sharing to maintain the engagement levels. This, besides, reminding its international associates of huge potential of healthcare expertise in India, also sends a positive message of its deep commitment to the international community.
In September, healthcare major Apollo Hospitals Enterprise said the medical tourism sector in the country needs support from the government to get back on its feet after being severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. “The medical tourism sector came to a standstill due to the lockdown. This has impacted not just India but Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and other Asian countries also which have a thriving medical tourism sector,” said Apollo Hospitals Group Joint MD, Sangita Reddy. At another leading international hospital in India, where almost one-third are international patients, industry insiders are predicting a 29% drop in revenues by the end of the current financial year.
Ultimately, the fate of the MVT Industry in India is heavily dependent on some crucial factors beyond its control. The fact that we have achieved an impressive success rate of almost 94% in the treatment of confirmed Covid-19 patients speaks highly of our healthcare workers and the Government’s proactive approach. Industry insiders believe that with the partial uplifting of the lockdown, how the Indian Government manage the rest of the crises will be a crucial factor in the bounce back of the MVT Industry in India. Of course there remains some uncertainty about the timing of the reopening of international travel, with some Indian states insisting on a forced quarantines of up to 14 days for visitors, even as they ease lockdown.
The government policies should not only act as a “reassurance” to the international patient about the expertise related to Covid-19 management but should also highlight the special status to this highly visible industry which is a substantial contributor to foreign exchange also.
Covid-19 has truly been a Black Swan event which no one could have planned for. Leading MVT players hope that strong government support for the private healthcare industry, coupled with its swift and strict response to the pandemic, could pave the way for a far quicker recovery.
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Posted bySameer Mathur
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