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Goea goes sun, sand, surgery

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goa beachBy Mayabhushan Nagvenkar 

If you thought Goa was only for tourists looking for fun, think again. If the medical fraternity and the state government here have their way, Goa, conventionally known for its beaches and music bashes, may well pip big cities like Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai as an attractive medical tourism destination as well.

With a strong hospitality industry-oriented lineage and sound infrastructure in place, especially for a tier-II town, the state is being aggressively positioned by public and private players as a haven for medical procedures – with a dash of fun and relaxation – for domestic and foreign patients.

“We want to bring medical tourism to Goa because we believe that infrastructure here is good. We want to bring international patients here because they should not have to go to polluted and crowded cities,” Ajay Bakshi, chief executive officer and managing director of Manipal Health Enterprises, said on the sidelines of an event here earlier this week.

“Medical tourism is 50 percent about medical facilities. The other factors which make it work are the ease of getting a visa, honesty of the local population and the climate, among others. We are putting in place a coalition of partners to boost medical tourism, of which the hospitality industry is a major partner. They are already taking care of one factor, we will take care of the medical part,” Bakshi said.

Medical tourism is an emerging concept in which people, especially from the West or from countries with a poor health infrastructure, travel overseas for cheaper and cost-effective healthcare, along with a vacation thrown in.

A recent study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry reveals that over three million foreigners are expected to travel to India for medical tourism by the end of this year, even as healthcare experts have pegged the market in the country at over $2 billion.

Goa, which is already on the global tourism map with its half a million foreign tourist arrivals every year, is in the best position to tap in on this trend – a fact which has been acknowledged and endorsed by the Goa Investment Policy unveiled last year.

“While medical tourism is growing in Goa, the government is keen to attract investments in new facilities and draw more medical tourists for high-end and complicated procedures. For medical tourism to take off in a big way, uniformity and quality of services offered are critical,” the policy says, in addition to making several recommendations that could help take forward Goa’s pursuit of medical tourism.

Bakshi claimed that patients from Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Russia, Iraq, the CIS and the Middle East form the bulk of India’s medical tourism patients – and also pointed to domestic medical tourism as a newish trend.

“A few years ago, the trend was that patients would travel from places with no medical facilities to places with medical facilities. For example, patients from Bihar would travel to Delhi, those from Kolkata would travel to Chennai or Bengaluru, for treatment,” Bakshi said, adding that of late, high-spending patients wanted to travel to places which offer quality healthcare, as also a bit of relaxation.

“To go and get surgery done in Delhi can be quite stressful. Here in Goa, in its relaxed environment, it is different. This is a case of a higher-end customer who is by choice coming to a place known for good quality medical care and good infrastructure facilities, for which Goa is already very well known,” Bakshi said.