Today (22 January 2024) marks the formal opening of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. Opinion makers and politicians say that Ayodhya will be the largest religious tourist destination in the world in the non-Abrahamic religious category after Mecca and Vatican with an annual footfall of ~75 mil religious tourists annually. With this positive development, there are also thoughts and plans amongst the healthcare industry folks if Ayodhya can be one of the destinations for medical tourism. I can talk more about Mecca and Saudi Arabia as I was involved in the healthcare industry there in early 2000s and can draw comparisons on Ayodhya.
What is the Tourism Potential for Key Religious/Spiritual Destinations of the World?
The following table will outline and compare Ayodhya with Mecca and Vatican City for starters.
|~ 10 mil
|~ 20 mil
|~ 75 mil
|~ USD 0.5 bn (not including revenues from Rome)
|~ USD 12.5 bn (not including revenues from Jeddah)
|Yet to start (expected to be ~USD 5.5 bn)
|Well connected with Rome
|Well connected with Jeddah with a separate Haj Air Terminal to facilitate huge pilgrimage volumes
|Yet to develop an international airport. Rail and domestic connectivity being enhanced
|Adequate for the local population
|Jeddah has over 8500 hospital beds with more being added including a Medical University. Mecca has over 1000 hospital beds
|Adequate for the local population. Lucknow is the current Tertiary and Quarternary care location including AIMMS
|Medical Tourism Revenues
|~ USD 0.9 bn
India ranks 17th in the world as a tourism destination with a share of ~1.5%. However, its share of GDP is ~6.5%. There is a huge potential for growth for medical tourism if international tourism grows. Ayodhya can provide this growth impetus if planned and implemented astutely. We can learn from the Mecca-Jeddah experience on Medical Tourism on what worked and what mistakes to avoid.
Mecca-Jeddah Medical Tourism – Case Study
At the turn of 2000s, Jeddah and Mecca had a very poor medical infrastructure with limited bed capacity. During the Haj season, millions of pilgrims would land at Jeddah’s Haj terminal. However, the quality of manpower and care was not upto international standards apart from not being cost competitive. Saudi Arabia embarked on the Gulf countries, US JCAHO quality accreditation. Two hospitals in the Eastern Province (Dharan and Al-Khobar) took the lead in JCAHO certification. The Western Provincial government and Riyadh Crown Prince took the initiative in boosting the bed capacity in Jeddah and Mecca which doubled in 5 years. In addition, a Medical University and four private medical colleges were established to increase the supply of doctors and nurses. Special travel privileges and visas were also provided by Saudi Arabia. Prior to the Haj Pilgrimage, specialist doctors were allowed to practice in Jeddah private hospitals as Locums/visiting doctors with accelerated credentialing. As a result, Jeddah’s hospitals earn around USD 1 bn through medical tourism.
Building a Case for Ayodhya Medical Tourism
India’s learnings from other medical tourism destination can be replicated here in Ayodhya. Here are some pointers
Learnings from Delhi-Agra-Jaipur Triangle
The golden triangle as a largest hub for medical tourism developed as these became as a go-to destinations for historical monuments. Delhi and Jaipur were the landing points and also significant healthcare infra which was eventually expanded. Ayodhya as a destination will need to add other co-locations either Lucknow or Delhi to grow the options and choices.
Uttar Pradesh Health Infra Diversity
Our State Health Infra Health Map 2021 States Heat Map | Kapil Khandelwal KK had listed Uttar Pradesh as one of the hottest emerging states for investment in health infra. However, the Uttar Pradesh macro and Ayodhya micro health indicators have improved slightly since, but not radically. It seems that all focus was on planning for tourism and relevant infrastructure but not for healthcare infra. The Jeddah-Mecca case study is an example in the making for coordinated planning and development between the Western Provincial Government and the private Medical and Tourism industry. The nearest JCIA accredited international standard hospital is in 150 kms radius.
Niche Positioning of Ayodhya – Promoting Integrative Medicine
Indian traditional medicine and allopathic care needs to be integrated to provide unique wellness care experience along with the ambience and spirituality of Ayodhya to promote healthcare and tourism.
Geriatric Care is another Axis
Assisted living capacity can be built up for the senior citizens. However, this should not be on a push with real estate development without Golden Hour medical back up. Malaysia has promoted several locations for foreigner under the Malaysia My Second Home around Kuala Lampur along with golf tourism for the Asians expats. Ayodhya My Second Vaas would encourage HNI Indians and expats to explore this avenue.
With the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the transformation of the destination from a Spiritual Hub to a Medical Tourism Hub can be envisoned. However, we are still far away from being the Mecca of Medical Tourism. We are ranked 10th in the Medical Tourism Index (MTI), 12th in top 20 wellness tourism markets globally, and 5th in wellness tourism markets in APAC.