Exploring Virgin Markets

Indian hospitals are using multifarious strategies to tap patients from newer markets like GCC, West Indies, Caribbean Islands and a few African countries

Medical tourism

India is the fastest growing medical tourism destination in Asia. It is among the top six medical value travel destinations of the world which also includes Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Mexico.. Medical tourism in India is likely to reach a whopping $9 billion by 2020 as compared to the $3 billon in 2015.

India issued more than 1.78 lakh medical visas in 2016, including for follow up treatment, as against 1.22 lakh in 2015, according to the data. In 2014, there were 184,298 Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTA), in 2015 the number was 233,918 which jumped to 361,060 in 2016 Most of the patients come from the Middle East, Africa, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Maldives, Pakistan, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. To grab a pie of the burgeoning market,
Indian hospitals are tapping several virgin markets. The emerging markets for tapping medical tourism include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE from GCC Region, West Indies and the Caribbean Islands, Africa (Congo, Mozambique and Malawi), Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

Patients from the GCC have been travelling to US, Germany, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey and Jordan. Singapore and Thailand is an old time favourite for patients from the East and South East Asia. Patients from CIS have been going to various parts of Europe and Russians
also travel to Japan, point out experts. Says Renu Malik Vij, Associate Vice President- International Business and Corporate Sales , Gleneagles Global Hospitals, “We see traction from East and South East Asia as well. Indonesia, Mongolia and Myanmar have really
emerged as new markets. CIS is another region to have started looking at India as a treatment option. Patients  from Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Russia are
travelling to India. Chinese are also travelling for selected  treatment options. From East Africa, Ethiopia has opened up. Ethiopians travelled only to Thailand earlier.”

Adds Anas A Wajid, Director- Sales and Marketing, Max Healthcare, “We see opportunities in CIS and Eastern European countries, South East Asian countries as well as the far Pacific. We are also seeing more patients from war-torn countries in the Middle East. We are also exploring possible opportunities in Northern African markets. Some opportunities are also emerging in the Scandinavian countries.” Citizens of these countries prefer India for clinical excellence and surgical outcomes. Cost also plays a role but definitely it’s the medical outcomes. Since these are emerging markets, they are coming for niche treatments
and procedures. These patients prefer India due to quality of care, expertise, infrastructure, technology, affordable cost and treatment from accredited facilities that are at par with developed countries.

The strategies to tap these emerging markets vary as each country is different, some are state covered, others not. In some countries, insurance sector is strong and in some it’s all self-paying patients. So, the strategies depend on the market’s policies and dynamics.
Says MS Guru Prasad, General Manager – International Marketing, Narayana Health, “West Indies and Caribbean Islands are markets where the expectation of service levels are very high and are to be managed accordingly. Cost is never a factor for these patients but their priority is only luxury and satisfaction.”

The strategies are charted out as the per the group’s expertise. Take, for instance, Gleneagles Global Hospitals, whose strength lies in all the very complicated surgical work like transplants and high-end neuro and onco treatment. For Gleneagles Global, markets such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE from the Middle East, Myanmar from South East and Ukraine from CIS have emerged as potential markets. “The patients from these countries mainly travel for all high-end procedures like heart, lung and liver transplants. BMT, oncology and neurosurgical intervention to Global,” says Vij.

The group has devised several strategies to get a foothold in these emerging markets. In GCC, it is aiming at the ministry tie ups, as the state covers all the patients. “Since all the high-end procedures are very expensive and patients don’t want to pay from their pockets, our 3 focus is on collaborating with ministries by offering them not only treatment in India but helping them in their own capacity building by establishing similar programmes
in their countries,” says Vij, Besides ministry tie-ups, leading groups are focusing
on training of doctors, nurses and paramedical staff as a part of capacity building programme. Gleneagles Global, for instance, took its first step by starting liver transplants
in Oman and has already performed a few transplants. “The idea is enable them to get self-sufficient in a few years’ time,” explains Vij.

Groups are also forging local tie-ups. In Myanmar, Global has tied up with hospitals to extend its support in terms of performing surgeries there. It also has a strong patient support groups in all the countries and these groups are in constant touch with doctors.
Hospitals are also opening representative offices in many countries. This helps the patients to know the brand better and they get first-hand information without any delays, point out experts. Operations and management contracts with local hospitals are also being forged.

1. Africa- Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi and
2. Middle East: Iraq, Yemen, Oman, UAE
3. Francophone countries: Burundi, Djibouti, Congo

1. East Africa: Somalia, Ethiopia, Eretria, Sudan, Zanzibar
2. West Africa: Benin, Togo, Chad, Burkina Faso, Gabon,
3. Southern Africa: Zimbabwe, Botswana, Madagascar, Zambia, Mozambique,
4. Middle East: Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iran
5. Francophone: Cameroon, Comoros, Ivory coast


One of the major challenges to these emerging markets is that the citizens don’t recognise India as a preferred destination. Their first preference still remains Singapore, Thailand, Turkey and Jordan. Air connectivity, visa restrictions, increase in competition from small non accredited small hospitals, global security issues, lack of willingness to pay are some of the other obstacles to growth, says Vikas Tyer, Head-Strategic Business and International Marketing, Manipal Health Enterprises.

To improve the influx of MVT patients from these countries, India needs to actively promote India as a health tourism destination as well as get support from the Government for setting up helpline centres. International insurance should support MVT with the help of Indian
Government. “India has to go a long way in establishing the service level expectations for these medical tourism patients. The Ministry of Tourism has to set up kiosks at various locations for the comfort of these patients. Also, we need to work on making visa processing easier as well as introduce arrival visa for the potential countries and have medical visa to be issued without delays,” says Guru.

India needs to improve air connectivity and airport service at the immigration section should be streamlined to help reduce the time spent by patients for clearances.