Wellness Tourism in India: Blooming Opportunity or Pale Reality?
Reports may suggest that wellness tourism is booming in India but the ground realities seem to be different.
India seems to have created a niche for itself by becoming a preferred destination for yoga and meditation. The practices are so popularly known now that they are considered a ‘booming’ industry in the country.
India is among the top five destinations for wellness services, along with China, Brazil, US, and Indonesia, according to a KMPG report on tourism industry. Acupuncture, naturopathy and Ayurveda are among the growing sectors along with yoga and meditation. A FICCI report also shows that the wellness industry in India is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 12 per cent for the next five years.
However, industry professionals are wary about hailing it as a success yet, and point out that the opportunities coming their way are beset with challenges as well.
“Wellness tourism in India is very unorganized and unstructured,” says Gaurav Pathak, a marketing consultant at AyurUniverse, an online aggregator of wellness centers and ayurvedic therapies. “That is because most of the centers are run by Ayurvedic doctors and yoga teachers who don’t know much about marketing. So even though we have the potential to be one of the leading wellness tourism destinations, it hasn’t been utilized in a productive manner.”
Voicing a similar concern is Jasbeer Singh, the managing director of Rejuve India MediTour. Although Singh is not pessimistic about the current scenario, he adds that it isn’t looking good either. “There is huge gap between what it could be and what the industry looks like today,” he says. “There is a lot of interest in the West about Indian system of medicine such as Ayurveda and yoga has always been popular. But the potential hasn’t been tapped yet.”
Compared to the global scenario, India seems to be struggling to be at par with the many of the other wellness tourism destinations. Countries such as Indonesia and Thailand are among the top destinations for wellness vacations because they seem to have struck a balance between the much-needed marketing and government programs.
Recent large-scale Indian initiatives such as International Yoga Day also fall short when compared to other countries. Countries like Thailand and Indonesia are much more visible to tourists, giving them an edge over India, for which information is not that easily available.
Beyond Yoga and Meditation
The wellness industry today offers much more than before, and India has expanded a bit beyond yoga and meditation. Services such as naturotherapy, traditional spas and organic diets offer more diverse experience to customers. “The most popular themes are detoxification and rejuvenation,” Pathak says. “For example, ayurvedic detoxification, particularly Panchkarma which involves removing toxins from the body, is a popular 21-day program. The objective is to bring back your body into the right shape in three weeks.”
No wonder then that many people swear by the effects of Panchkarma. “I was tired of physiotherapy and medications which led to other complications,” recalls Anisha Badani. “One of my friend told me about wellness centers in India. I tried Panchakarma package and I feel much better now.”
While India is exploring the options to offer lesser-known therapies such as Unani, which are popular among people from the Gulf, there exist areas that haven’t been adopted properly. For instance, India lacks in wellness programs related to sexual health. “As sex is such a taboo in India, people are not aware of it. So such packages are rarely created and promoted,” says Pathak.
The potential in wellness industry is huge but growth has been sluggish in the country. Market experts believe that in addition to better infrastructure, steps such as vocational training and promotion of rural entrepreneurs can create a lot of difference.
Now, that’s a lot of prescribed measures for rejuvenation of a drowsy industry, which aims to become the leading destination for ensuring others’ wellness.