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The Healing Touch

With the per capita spend on beauty, preventive and health segment growing steeply, wellness therapies will be the drivers of growth in the spa sector of the future. By Kahini Chakraborty

The spending of urban consumers as well as inbound tourists on health and wellness tourism has witnessed a steady growth of 10-12 per cent over a period of five years and it stands at around 15-20 per cent currently, is forecasted to be in the range of 35-40 per cent by 2025. Current market trends indicate a trend of 70 per cent outbound and 30 per cent inbound tourists contributing to the Indian wellness industry. In the future there will be a paradigm shift of the inbound market growing up to 40-50 per cent in embracing the spa and wellness culture.

The major wellness and tourism products offered in India are Ayurveda, traditional Indian therapies, Yoga, Swedish massages, Aromatherapy and traditional Thai massages. There is a younger generation who is well travelled, have already experienced wellness at a personal and peer level who will drive the spa and wellness business over the next decade. While this was considered exclusively the domain of women, men are increasingly becoming more conscious about their fitness, health and looks and this combination is creating a new audience segment for spa goers. Social ‘spa-ing’ is also a new trend with small groups of like minded spa travellers going to health retreats for complete detox or rejuvenation while enjoying the sense of camaraderie. “Everyone will prefer the wellness culture in the years to come. But the age group of 25-45 years is the main segment. This is the age group that is working very hard to set up their career or business. These are the people who are coming or will be coming for spa treatments for complete relaxation and rejuvenation. This includes both men and women,” says Pradeep Kumar, spa head, Amatrra.

So spa, so good

“Everyone will prefer the wellness culture in the years to come. But the age group of 25-45 years is the main segment”
Pradeep Kumar, Spa Head, Amatrra

Looking at the growth of this segment, today there are many foreign brands and companies which have entered into the market and comprise of about 20-30 per cent of the entire pie. Growth in medi-spas and therapeutic spas on the back of increasing disposable incomes and accessibility of people has also formed a strong trend in India. “Per capita spend on beauty, preventive and health segment has grown steeply. Common man has begun to explore options available under the wellness and alternative ambit. Fitness, slimming services, health and wellness food and beverages continue to grow upwards. Rejuvenation is in infancy but is a rapidly growing segment. Alternate therapy is a larger and more established market in India,”adds Kumar.

In the future, result oriented wellness therapies will be the drivers of growth in the spa sector and hotels catering to this segment will be the preferred choice for inbound tourists and high end luxury travellers. Elaborating on the most favoured wellness treatments opted by travellers and patients, Dr Manjula Shettigar, spa manager, Goa Marriott Resort & Spa says, “Body massages like Swedish, deep tissue, Shiatsu, Balinese, Thai massage and Kalari, Abhyanga have their own importance. But apart from these, medi spas are coming up with new technologies. Ready to use products with herbal ingredients with natural preservatives are in demand. Natural mud and marine products are the upcoming spa products, which are in demand because of their valuable benefits. Treatments ranging from plasma therapy (in which a patient's platelet-rich plasma is extracted from their blood and injected into wrinkles), botox, whitening and brightening facials using pearls, caviar, diamonds, etc, and facilities from infrared saunas to oxygen therapy and salt rooms, are also giving a boost to the spa and beauty industry.”

Kumar adds, “The medical/spa services offered in India are currently as good as any other Asian countries or even at par with many European countries, but still we need a government authority to have regulation in the ever-growing spa and wellness sector to ensure the product quality, hygiene and services are met as per international standards at all levels.”

The challenges

Dr B Rajesh Srinivas, president, Sohum Spa believes that one of the current problems plaguing the industry is lack of support from banking industry and governmental finance bodies who do not provide loans towards initial capital and working capital expenses. Finding trained staff is also a problem leading to slower growth. “While these are being addressed, it is important that the government further strengthens the positioning of India as a wellness destination. In order to promote health and wellness tourism, the government should provide funding for wellness projects on easy terms, provide tax breaks for wellness facilities, provide legal provisioning for insurance companies to cover wellness therapies and work with spa operators to provide training and thereafter jobs for youth to work as therapists and managers,” adds Srinivas.

“It is important to have a government licensing authority to implement standards and accreditation of spas and monitor their functioning, to open government accredited spa training institute, to create uniformity in traditional treatments and standardise the import of spa and wellness products and finally the government sustenance to make our country a global spa destination,” states Kumar.

Multiple central and state taxes, total applicable taxes for all inclusive wellness programmes in several states now stand at 20 per cent, which is a serious deterrent to the global traveller. “If we need to compete on this stage, we have to be able to offer value pricing for the superior services India has to offer and this can only be achieved through lower tax rates,” feels Mahesh Natarajan, VP - Marketing, IHHR Hospitality.

“The main challenge we face today is that the spa industry is not regulated by a common governing authority to maintain standardisation”
Dr Apoorva Shah, Richfeel

Adding to the same, Dr Apoorva Shah, Richfeel opines, “The main challenge we face today is that the spa industry is not regulated by a common governing authority to maintain standardisation. Many common therapies are done differently and in different spas with change in techniques and products, through the origin of the technology is one and common for all.”

Besides this, the main problem is the lack of educated staff. With spas mushrooming everywhere, untrained people are being hired which is a very dangerous trend. “These novices with no knowledge of the human body or hygiene or any information on the various treatments are taught the basic moves and left to work on guests. It is scary to say the least. However, we cannot always keep pace with demand hence many hotels and companies tend to poach from more well established brands. A lot of times, staff get lured by higher salaries, but their training and development needs are not met and they tend to stagnate whilst their peers who choose cutting edge companies develop at a much faster rate,” adds Natarajan.

Another issue that needs immediate check is unauthentic wellness therapies introduced in the market and fast mushrooming wellness and spa outlets in the Indian market. Even though the accreditation process is stringent enough, the flaw is in implementing the law. Closing the loop on the same, Kumar adds, “The spa and wellness industry should be placed under one umbrella and create standardised operating procedures for training as well as therapies, strict monitoring of the functioning of existing wellness centres, ensure to make the government authorised licenses mandatory for the existing and upcoming spas and finally continuous professional development programmes run for the spa professionals helping the industry to be constantly updated to the latest developments in the global spa industry.”

Spending of inbound tourists on health and wellness tourism
2015 (Projected)
Rs 4500 Crore
Rs 10800 Crore

Filling the gaps in medical tourism

Growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 40 per cent, the inflow of medical tourists in India is said to cross 32 lakh by 2015 from the current level of 8.5 lakh, as per latest study of Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM). The Indian medical tourism industry is currently poised at around Rs 4,500 crore and is likely to be worth Rs 10,800 crore by 2015. And if this report isn't enough to state the segment's potential in the country, FICCI in its latest report also states that the wellness industry will be a US$ 685 billion industry which is a part of the medical segment gamut. With numbers and statistics showing the growth of this segment, industries such as retail, healthcare, hospitality have also been busy assimilating wellness as part of their value proposition, opening up huge opportunities towards growth. The other reasons as to why India could in the future emerge as a leading hub for excellent medical treatment is because of its strength of highly qualified medical professionals and equally higher qualities of availability of nurses. India is estimated to have over 7.5 lakh qualified doctors and numbers of qualified nursing graduates and diploma holders are equally good.

Treatment costs (US $)
  Bone Marrow Transplant Bypass Surgery Liver Transplant Knee Surgery
USA More than 2,00,000 1.50,000 to 2,00,000 3,00,000 16,000 to 17,000
UK Upto 2,00,000 Around 2,00,000 2,50,000 15,000
Thailand Upto 62,500 Around 14,250 75,000 7,000
India Around 20,500 4,000 to 6,000 4,000 4,000

But even though India has it all to make it a successful medical and wellness destination what we severely lack is presentation of overall treatment of packages which are available through proper communication mediums which could facilitate potential patients to visit India. As per industry veterans there has yet not been any concrete effort from the Indian government to promote the health sector as a potential medical destination. Patients coming to India still face bottlenecks to obtain M-Visa which takes 15 days to a month. But if we take Singapore as an example, the government has gone out of its way to promote medical tourism as it thinks of the sector being as one of the major revenue generators for the country, along with publicising about their products in Indian magazines. Only if the government wakes up and takes corrective measures to get its strategies right and promote medical tourism in a big way then hospital revenues can increase by up to 30-40 per cent which could amount to approximately US$ 10-12 billion.

Holistic health and nature go hand in hand
Ashok Khanna
In today’s world, with the rising stress levels among all, there is a growing need for wellness centres of all kinds. These will grow in leaps and bounds in the years to come. The higher strata of society have higher stress levels, very little time and plenty of disposable income. People have realised that the less time they are able to take out of their busy careers should be meaningfully spent on recharging their batteries.

Holistic wellness is the underdog that some may have forgotten, it is the root from which modern medicine has evolved. Holistic wellness puts you on a path to sustained good health, it is a way of life, a prevention rather than a quick fix cure. At Ananda in the Himalayas, this is at the core of what we do. Besides the spa programme for which we are best known, we teach people to look within and determine the changes that need to be made in order to live a healthy life. This may be their diet, aspects of their lifestyle and other things.

Holistic health and nature go hand in hand. Nature plays a very important part in human beings and as cities expand and grow, it is nature that is sacrificed first. The first step to effective rejuvenation is to be able to breathe fresh air and be amidst natural surroundings as this immediately brings mental peace and clarity. Therefore it is essential for truly holistic wellness centres to be located in such surroundings in order to aid effective holistic health. This was primary in my mind when I identified the palace estate of the Maharaja of Tehri Garhwal near Rishikesh in the Himalayan foothills as the perfect location to create Ananda. I foresee that there will be a movement towards holistic health and the demand for this will increase significantly from where we are at now.

But even though there are bottlenecks where product awareness and effective promotional activities need to be sorted out by the government, according to ASSOCHAM, India holds major advantage as a result of which movement of patients from various developing and developed countries would shift towards India as its hospital infrastructure is not only confined to large metros but is equally getting better in tertiary towns in which the cost of living is still lower with quality of supreme nature.

While top notch healthcare facilities in sectors like cardiology, joint replacement, orthopedic surgery, ophthalmology, transplants and urology offered at a low price are certain key factors making India a favoured destination in terms of medical tourism, states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, West Bengal and New Delhi have been fast emerging as India’s best medical centres with several hospitals and specialty clinics coming up in and around the prominent cities in the past few years. Keeping this positive development in mind, India is definitely at par with its Asian peers in all aspects of medical and wellness tourism. Patients from across the world also visit India for facelifts, dental treatment, botox treatment, tummy tucks, eye care and other such medical services at hospitals, treatment centres offering modern medical facilities. Also by the next decade hair, cosmetic procedures and cosmetic dentistry will also be widely adopted. The number of people coming in for surgeries related to cardiac and orthopedic ailments might also increase.

Currently India attracts large number of travellers seeking medical treatments from the Middle East followed by Americans, Europeans and people from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan and others. But it is still facing tough competition from Australia, Belgium, Cuba, Costa Rica, Hungary, Greece, Malaysia, Poland, Singapore, South Africa and Thailand that are actively promoting healthcare tourism worldwide, as per ASSOCHAM.

While India barely attracts patients from Middle East, Bangladesh, apart from cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Vellore, Chennai which are known for best medical treatments, it is the tier two cities which have started offering competitive rates. The increase in health GDP ratio would amount to proliferation of new health facilities as well as their centres for patients and such centres of excellence will finally be able to accommodate overseas patients as with increasing health facilities, its health infrastructure would still move for better and find acceptance in great deal of patients.

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