India targets wellness for healthy growth

Alphonse ... medical tourism growing

India hosted nearly 10.2 million international visitors last year, up 15.6 per cent over 2016.

One niche area in which India already excels is medical tourism, thanks to the high-quality, yet affordable healthcare it offers patients through world-class hospitals and tertiary care facilities. With the pace at which this sector is growing, India’s earnings from medical tourism could surpass the $8-billion mark by 2020, said senior Indian tourism officials.

Additionally, India’s leadership in yoga and Ayurveda has opened up the wellness tourism space, they stated.

India has truly emerged as a sought-after destination for medical/wellness travel from GCC countries. The percentage of the Gulf tourist inflow for medical treatment has been on the rise over the years and is growing rapidly, they said.

Last year was a highly successful one for the country as India’s ranking in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitive Index (TTCI) moved to 40th position climbing up 12 places from the 2015 ranking.

Over the last four years, India has cumulatively improved its ranking by 25 places which is a significant achievement, K J Alphonse, India’s Minister of State for Tourism, told TTN on the sidelines of ITB Berlin expo.

The introduction of the e-visa, first started in November 2014, is the biggest game-changer for the sector, the minister said.

"We now have a more liberalised e-visa regime in place. The window period for application under the e-visa scheme has been increased from 30 days to 120 days to allow tourists plan their trip better," he explained.

A key highlight of the scheme is that the stay duration has been increased from 30 days to 60 days with a double entry on e-tourist and e-business visas and triple entry on e-medical visas. This will bring cheer to citizens from 163 nations around the world planning to visit India, stated the minister.

The e-visa facility now gives entry through 24 airports as well as five seaports (Cochin, Goa, Mangalore, Mumbai and Chennai) to tap cruise tourists from different countries, he added.

Focusing on ITB Berlin's theme, sustainable tourism, Alphonse said: "We had always insisted that tourism must be sustainable. Yoga and Ayurveda are the spirit behind India's sustainable tourism.

"Our brand of tourism comes from the deeply entrenched Indian philosophies – Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family) and Atithi Devo Bhava (the guest is equivalent to God).  When the whole universe is one family and guest is my god then I don't think there can be any other place on earth as peaceful and safe for tourists as India," he added.

He said Mice (meeting, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions) is also a vital sector for India. "We have the necessary infrastructure in India along with the required expertise for MICE," he added.

The minister said the country boasts four world-class airports that could probably be in the global top 10, apart from many other international airports. Besides this, the Indian government is working on an ambitious project to build nearly 60 airports right into the villages. The idea is to get the ordinary people to travel frequently by air, he stated.

Under Udaan, an ambitious scheme of the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, all the flights of one-hour duration has been priced at Rs2,500 ($38.43). According to Alphonse, the objective is to make air travel cheaper and make almost 50 underutilised airports operational.

"Last year we had a whopping 1.8 billion of travels across the country besides 117 million air traffic movements," he added.

In a major boost to the country's tourism sector, the Tourism Ministry recently launched the ‘Adopt A Heritage’ project. "Under the scheme, heritage sites are being offered for adoption by the public sector, private sector and individuals to become ‘Monument Mitras’ for developing amenities and facilities at these sites under this programme," stated Alphonse.

In another move, the ministry has set up the National Mission on Pilgrimage and Spiritual, Heritage Augmentation Drive (Prashad) with the objective of holistic development of 25 pilgrimage and heritage destinations.