IMTJ reviews the recently published federal government figures showing where Indian medical tourists came from in 2017: the reality is not Western Europe or USA.
India once had dreams of attracting many thousands of Western European and Americans for cut price medical care. This obsession lasted for many years, until reality struck and targeting shifted to key markets in Asia, Eastern Europe and MENA countries.
Federal government figures from the Bureau of Immigration and Ministry of Tourism for 2017 show that this change of emphasis has worked.
Big increase in medical tourists, Bangladesh dominates
Overall, the number of medical tourists saw an increase of more than double in these three years. While 233,918 medical tourists went to India in 2015, this increased to 495,056 in 2017 and 427,014 in 2016.
Bangladeshis accounted for 55% of medical tourists to India in 2017, and according to tourism ministry, the inflow of medical tourists from Bangladesh increased by 83% in the last three years. While 120,388 Bangladeshis went to India for medical treatment in 2015, and 210,142 in 2016, this number increased to 221,751 in 2017.
Over 188,000 from 5 other countries
The number of medical tourists from Afghanistan was 27,505 in 2015 and 61,231 in 2016. The number fell to 55,681 in 2017.
Other countries from where India received a considerable number of medical tourists include Iraq, Oman, Maldives, Yemen, Uzbekistan and Sudan.
For the Seychelles, only five people arrived on medical visas in 2015, compared to 939 medical tourists in 2017.
Pakistan saw a decrease in the number of medical tourists from 3,632 in 2015 to 1,785 in 2017. The number increased marginally for people from developed countries: USA (615 to 649), UK (609 to 755), France (56 to 97) and Germany (52 to 109). Kuwait sent more than 1,000 of its citizens to India in 2017 for medical purposes compared to 265 in 2016.
Medical tourists to India in 2017
Source- Ministry of Tourism and Bureau of Immigration
Market value estimate
Although there are no official figures for medical tourism income, the latest government estimates are that the sector was worth US$3 billion in 2015 and is projected to be $9 billion by 2020. However, this would put the revenue per medical tourist at around US$12,800, which seems unrealistic for a low-cost medical tourism destination.
Previous Indian figures have been based on medical visa numbers, but not all medical tourists apply for medical visas, so the new figures are based on total medical tourist numbers. The Maldives figure is suspicious, as the total population of the Maldives is only 445,000, but it could be that it is for the Maldives plus other offshore islands.