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Wellness, beyond Ayurveda 

Where does India stand in a market that is projected to be in the region of US $ 1.5 trillion sector globally as per a McKinsey report? We are talking of wellness market. There is tremendous consumer interest in wellness today worldwide and that interest is only growing as is its market size. India’s healthcare market is projected to be in the region of US$ 240 billion, and barely two per cent of this market, or about US$ 4 billion, is estimated to be the share of wellness. However, given the country’s rich legacy and tradition of different medicine systems and wellness practices, from Ayurveda and Yoga to Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy, India has few rivals and is well placed to be one of the wellness capitals of the world. To this end, taking right steps is the need of the hour. There have been little efforts made in this direction. But that, it looks like, is changing. 


SATTE 2022 witnessed an engaging business session on ‘Ayurveda & Wellness Tourism: The Big Opportunity for India’ moderated by Vasudha Sondhi, MD, OMPL. Speakers on the panel included Indroneel Das, Manager, Invest India from Ministry of Ayush; Indrani Mahto, Manager, Invest India from Ministry of Ayush; Shoba Mohan, Founder, RARE India; Dr. KP Khalid, Owner, Au Revoir Resort and Mukut Chakravarti, VP - Sales & Marketing, Tamara Leisure Experiences.


 Beyond Ayurveda and popular hotspots 


So far Ayurveda has emerged as the India’s mainstay in wellness offering, but there are plenty of other school of wellness tradition. Similar is the case with the wellness hotspots. Just a few places come to the mind recall when we think or speak of wellness tourism.



While opening the discussion, Sondhi remarked that India is at the cusp of wellness windfall. “The country has traditionally been offering wellness treatments, but it is currently restricted to a few states. Our perception is as such that we associate Rishikesh and Uttarakhand with wellness, or Kerala that’s been associated with wellness since time immemorial, however, there are wellness offerings in many other states of India,” she said. 


“One of the things that bothers me about wellness tourism is that it is heavily tilted towards Ayurveda. Whereas every bit of our country has a wellness tradition. It’s only in the last two years that I am even hearing ‘Siddha.’ Now what does this do to your wellness identity? It basically says that you can go just anywhere in India, and you can get an Ayurvedic massage, which is actually quite against the very tradition of wellness. There is a Khasi community that has a great wellness tradition. Siddha is another tradition. We are actually closing our eyes to the beauty and the dynamism of the other products that we have,” Mohan said. 


As a continuation of what Mohan said earlier and drawing similarity with the hidden treasure vaults in possession of lakhs of crores worth of gold and precious stones at Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum that was discovered a few years ago, Khalid also stressed that India is home to many wellness traditions barely known and even yet to be discovered with tremendous potential and a crying need to intervene and protect such tradition before they are forever lost and extinct.



To drive home his point, Khalid mentioned a tribal community in the jungles of Wayanad that he said are capable of treating Piles completely with a single dose of their traditional medicine. He said, “These kinds of things are getting vanished. It has to be the Ministry of AYUSH that should conduct something on it. It has to be researched. It has to be retained, and not just Ayurveda, Siddha and other traditional disciplines.”


As a diversification mantra, Mohan further added that ‘forest bathing’ that has its traditional roots in India creates wellness experiences around forest and around nature reserves and that is something nobody talks about. “In all our medicinal streams, we have some very good post-childbirth tradition. These are things we don’t even talk about. There is so much more to explore than just Ayurveda and I am glad that streams like Unani, Siddha and others are being talked about. Wellness as a whole has a lot of traditions and streams. I was in Kerala recently and the most effective wellness centers are actually not known to anyone,” she pointed.  


Ministry of AYUSH 


Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Sidhdha and Homeopathy) that was formed towards the end of 2014 has a critical role to play if India is to be positioned as a sought-after wellness destination. The Ministry was formed with the vision of reviving the profound knowledge of India’s ancient system of medicine and it is focussed on the traditional forms of medication and study of these systems.  


Putting a question to the panel, Sondhi noted, “With a rich tradition of knowledge of such medicine system India is well placed to be the focal point of global health wellness. Today, Ayush is perceived largely as focused on traditional medication. However, there is a crying need for the Ministry to look at building a strong policy framework for the opening of new age wellness centers. How is this being addressed by the Ministry?


 Indroneel Das, Manager, Invest India from Ministry of AYUSH, said, “We have been part of a lot of discussion in the last year or so where we have seen the focus shift to hard core medical value travel to wellness travel and Ayush. What has happened is that the wellness tourism industry in India has grown very organically. There has been very little strategic marketing that has happened. There has been very little awareness push that has gone into it. In terms of policy support also it’s been on the sidelines. However, that is changing now. There are schemes that the Ministry is thinking about that will support it from the point of view of information access as well as from the point of view of infrastructure.”



 Initiatives, Schemes & Policies 


Das further informed that at the recent Global AYUSH Innovation and Investment Summit in Gujarat the Prime Minister has spoken of AYUSH Visa that will help facilitate wellness travel. Another initiative that the PM spoke about was multi-thousand crore opportunity in dedicated AYUSH Parks. “These Parks will be hub of manufacturing as well as services that will directly aid the medical wellness travellers coming to India to benefits from the country’s traditional medicinal systems,” he added. 


Das said, “It is this lack of umbrella body like Ayush Parks that has kept the industry very fragmented up until now. That is something that the Ministry is looking to change through policy initiatives. We believe that it is only a question of time now given the focus of the Ministry, of the Honourable PM and we are going to see very-very targeted initiative in the years to come and this industry will transform.”


To a question posed by Sondhi that how is Ayush accommodating the demands of world-class new age medical wellness centers with the right ambience and wellness retreat like experiences that is in sync with international standards and demand expectations in its policy framework ambit, Mahto informed that there is already a scheme in place that is called the Champion Service Sector Scheme which incentivizes promoters, individual and organisations to open not just Ayush Hospitals but also wellness centers. “The Ministry is also working very hard in terms of expanding the scope of the current scheme so that such wellness centres that you just mentioned are covered,” she informed. 


Mahto also pointed that wellness tourist generally come for a longer period of time that could be go up to a couple of months as they might need treatment, therapies or even rejuvenation, that require long stay and therefore the new Ayush Visa is a step in that direction and will address such issues.  


She also informed that the Ministry is working to bring standardization of services in this area. “These conversations are at a very preliminary stages but it might not be a very long shot if we also come up with some kind of feedback mechanism for these wellness centers so that when the travellers plan to come to India we have some kind of, let’s say, portal, videos or recommendations and guidance, which they can refer to because otherwise there are all kind of information all over the place. It takes a lot of efforts for anybody to understand what kind of they have or what kind of wellness centers there are that suit their needs.”


 Marketing & Opportunity


 We must also look at the size of the opportunity in the market today and what are some of those numbers that we are looking at and really see the market for what it is. “We are a country of 138 crore people almost matching China with a population of over 141 crore. The need for healthcare has significantly therefore changed at a 20 per cent CAGR to US$ 240 billion, size of healthcare business in the country. Out of which Ayurveda is valued at about US$ 4 billion, which is barely two per cent of the business. So, if India was to truly achieve their healthcare goals, then they have to manage the preventive or the pre-emptive healthcare which is the healthcare that is to do with dealing with symptoms,” said Chakravarti while drawing attention to the market size and potential new opportunity in the wellness tourism arena. 


Mohan pointed at the need to better tap the short vacation wellness tourism market segment which she said is one of the lowest hanging fruits arguing that reason why wellness centers have spas that help in restore and rejuvenation. 


Khalid drew attention of the policy makers and stakeholders to new emerging health concerns in the post-Covid world and post-Covid recovery challenges pointing that discipline like Ayurveda and others offer a number of treatments, therapies and detoxification programmes aimed at rejuvenation and blood purifications that help build immunity also amongst people who have been affected by Covid. “We have to market it and promote it like what we have done with Yoga. Today the world knows about Yoga and India. We have, no doubt, done some good campaigns on Yoga. Similarly, we have to bring some good campaigns on post-pandemic and post-Covid treatments through wellness,” stressed Khalid. 


So, what has the Government done so far about that? Well not much so far, but there are now ideas, efforts, initiatives and policies and support on the table which is begging to unfold. AYUSH Visa is one example, AYUSH Parks is another. The Government has also, to some degree, says Chakravarti, extended the NABH (National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare) Guidelines. 


Tamara Vice President says, “Let’s look at the five big players in the healthcare business per se. There is of course the medical tourism side such as the wellness centers. And then there is products side where 75 per of the US$ 4 billion belongs to products and 25 per cent of the US$ 4 billion belongs to wellness Hospitals and Hotels and things like that. Then there are three major pivots that are sitting at the bottom as sector enabler, namely, Ministry of AYUSH, the insurance sector and lastly the association and other such education bodies in the sector. The one thing that has happen more recently, in 2015 – 2016, is extending insurance to alternative medicine. So that was one element that was brought in.”  


Further continuing, he adds, “The second thing was the focus on brand Ayurveda. But really where can we see per cent which Ayurveda claims today and how does it enable total vision of what we are trying to achieve in healthcare as well. I think AYUSH needs to understand that. Do we have an opportunity to really claim this business where I think globally people are moving on to competition? Sri Lanka is owning the origin of Ayurveda. They are saying they are the originator. China is saying this, Acupuncture, is our alternative healthcare system and it’s valid and it works. So, we have to be competitive. We are not owning this (Ayurveda).”  


“The US$ 240 billion of healthcare and the fact that Ayuveda is barely two per cent of it, is a massive gap and that’s where this academic discussion has to move to by engaging with more people from four domains – products, services (Wellness centers), accreditation (NABH) and Government. Everyone who is there in the Ayurveda business is in for opportunity,” he stressed.  


Sustainability in Wellness 


The two are intrinsically linked. Wellness is inherently linked with tree cover, forests and nature as is sustainability.  


While noting that the important aspect is that what is the wellness tourism doing in terms of Sustainability, Mohan said, “If you are not tuned in to the sustainability part of wellness, you are not tuned in to the fact that having a healthy ecosystem or having a healthy tree cover contributes to your personal wellness. It is said that your body is a part of nature and here we are completely cutting down tree covers and building large resorts and creating exotic landscapes and we are putting people there and saying that you are going to get well over here. This is my big grouse against the wellness industry.” 


According to Mohan, “One of the important things to do is to highlight five or six wellness tradition from across the country. Otherwise, it puts a huge pressure not only on Ayurveda, but also on the products used in Ayurvedic treatment. As you know that the products used in Ayurvedic treatment come from forests, it puts a huge amount of stress on forest and other productive areas for these things.”

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