Do you know which sector has emerged as the fastest growing in the tourism industry in India?

Well it's none other than MVT or the Medical Value Travel sector.

The MVT sector is what we colloquially call the medical tourism sector. What exactly does the term imply?

 Medical Tourism refers to people travelling to a country other than their own to obtain medical treatment. In the earlier times these were those people who travelled from less developed countries for treatment unavailable at home.

However, in recent years the connotation of medical tourism has changed. These days medical tourism includes people from developed countries, who travel from their country to developing countries for lower priced medical treatment.

 As per Ministry of Commerce, India is the fastest growing medical destination in Asia, and is expected to become a 9-billion dollar industry by 2020.

 The reasons for India being an attractive destination for medical value travellers from across the world are many. One, it has highly qualified medical professionals; two, the waiting time for treatment is much shorter, relatively speaking; and three, the costs are much lower than those in any developed country, which offer equal clinical outcomes.

Another exclusive attraction is the growing popularity of traditional and alternative medicine techniques such as yoga, Ayurveda, acupuncture, homeopathy and the like.

 So what are the kind of treatments that foreigners seek?

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 Medical tourists to India typically seek joint replacement surgeries, heart, liver and bone marrow transplants, spine and brain surgeries, cancer and kidney treatments, and in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

 The number of medical tourists to India is huge, as reflected in the recent data published by FICCI and QuintilesIMS, which says that over 5,00,000 foreign patients seek treatment in India each year.

 As per the Tourism Ministry, the number of people entering India on medical visas jumped 166% from 75,688 in 2014 to 201,333 in 2016.

Now what does that mean for the country?

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 The fact that India ranks 5th globally and 2nd in Asia in the medical tourism sector, indicates that it has enormous potential to become a future leader in the segment.

But reaching that Numero Uno position doesn't come easy. It really needs focus on building infrastructure, technology & services, and thus providing a seamless experience for buyers.

And it's easier said than done.

There are challenges aplenty in reaching the top and let's take a quick look at the hurdles that lie in the path of attracting medical tourists to the country.

One, Awareness is a key challenge for the Indian market.

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While people realise the economics of sourcing medical treatment from India, there isn't really much awareness on how advanced we are in offering certain niche surgeries. For example, doctors say that most foreigners aren’t aware that we also perform Robotic surgeries in India.

The target markets do not have comprehensive information about India’s capabilities, infrastructure and cost advantage in the health space.

 Lack of information apart, there are misconceptions about India’s traditional systems of medicine such as Ayurveda and Yoga. These may be misconstrued to be exclusive to Indian culture or even related to religion.

Two, medical visa issuance

Experts also say that though the govt is trying to expedite medical visa issuance, there are some impediments that come up on the way. The issuance process has been a difficulty for many.

Three, competition from new players

Countries like Malaysia, Poland, and few South American countries with low cost option threaten the inflow of medical tourists to India. When there is an option of getting the same treatment done at a lower price in another country, the medical tourist would naturally choose the cheaper destination.

Four, domestic policies of other countries

Few countries are entering into capacity building and placing restrictions on their citizens, not allowing them to travel to foreign lands for medical treatment. They are thus creating policies against medical travel.

Five, lack of cohesion among domestic stakeholders

Another roadblock is the lack of adequate cohesion among major players in the industry. As a result, on the world platform, we are not able to emerge as a collective representing the country. And this leads to failure in acquiring newer geographies.

Last, fee structure and billing is not transparent.

Inconsistent fee structure and lack of transparency in billing to foreign patients, coupled with absurdly high margins to trade to refer patients, all prove to be a deterrent in the mind of a foreigner seeking medical treatment in India.

Plus, the market continues to be largely unregulated. There are several informal agents and intermediaries connecting prospective patients to health facilities. Some of them may actually be swindlers fleecing unsuspecting customers. This creates an adverse image about the country in the minds of those seeking medical tourism.

How can you increase the potential of medical tourism

Notching up the numbers with respect to the inflow of medical tourists may seem like a Herculean task after having seen the list of problems. However, all is not so bleak and within the problems lie the solutions.

The government has certainly taken several progressive steps concerning medical visas, but there's much more that hospitals and clinics can do at the micro level to ease the provision of medical facilities to medical tourists to India.

So let's now take a look at how you can become a key player in attracting medical tourists even as the entire medical sector in India expands rapidly to facilitate the momentum of medical tourism.

1. Brand yourself

Brand yourself

Branding implies giving your services an identity, to stand out amidst a sea of look-alikes. How are you different from the others in the same field and why should a patient come to you and only you for treatment? That is where branding comes in.

Branding is much more than just a pretty brochure with strips of information. You need to weave together many strands of marketing mix which would include a digital presence, advertising, marketing, PR to make a positive dent on the imagination of the target audience.

Medical Tourism like any other product will involve the stages of pre-purchase, purchase and post purchase. Make sure your pre-purchase environment to the buyer makes you win his trust, be it with respect to super-specialists you have or the latest technology in your clinic or the comfortable experience of human touch that you promise. A lot would depend on what you come across as a brand to your potential customer.

To that effect you must ensure that your site content shows you as someone who is especially tuned in to the needs of foreigners looking for treatment. Highlight those key surgeries or treatments that are most sought after in the field of medical tourism.

Use the right words to appear humane and reliable in offering the services that you have.

The appearance of your website, how easy it is to find information within that, how pertinent that information is and how authentic, reliable and trustworthy your brand appears on account of that information - all of these are the pre-purchase influencers that would propel the buyer to the purchase stage.

2. Make a business image, be available 24/7/365

Make a business image, be available 24/7/365

Besides the usual functional and responsive website that emerges on the top of searches, you must have a commercial address and telephone service.

Add to it the fact that this phone line answers 24/7/365, that is, at all hours of the day or night, makes you available to potential customers from other time zones and countries.

You wouldn't want to lose calls or leads just because you aren't there to provide information that people want immediately.

3. Boost awareness with Search Engine Optimization

Boost awareness with Search Engine Optimization

Your state of the art medical services are of no use if no one can find your website.

According to latest research and survey, 87% travellers use the internet for their travel planning. You need to take advantage of this to capture consumer attention.

What should you do for that?

Naturally you have to increase your search engine optimization (SEO) to increase your chances of being spotted online.

But how do you enhance your SEO and what affects it?

The website content, how fresh and inviting it is, the keywords, links, social networks - all of these shall influence your brand's SEO. Use paid search like Google AdWord to up your SEO and expand the reach for your clinic.

Most importantly, engaging and relevant content will be the biggest element in enhancing your SEO.

4. Have engaging content on your site

Have engaging content on your site

We just spoke of engaging content. What would that mean?

Take a look at your website. Does it have videos - of your medical professionals or your patients talking of their experience? What do the pictures on the site look like?

Do the pictures have enough visual lure to entice your medical tourist to his destination?

Potential customers should be able to access all the information they need for their medical needs, and your website, blog and social networks should have all of that.

Now ask yourself a question.

If you were a potential customer would you be hooked to the content on your site? Does the content create an element of trust? Does the site have information presented in a way that it appeals to different audiences?

You need to ensure that all the answers are in the affirmative.

5. Be smart in marketing your content

Be smart in marketing your content

Ensure that your facilities keep popping up as prospective clients and patients search the internet for options for their medical treatment.

Another thing you could do is have a library of great content, this ensures that your brand will find its way into more qualified leads and reach the serious, interested clients.

This further leads to greater reach at lower cost, a long term strategy to keep your clients engaged so that they are convinced to recommend your name to others as well.

6. Use visual media to the optimum

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Medical tourism has a serious component (health) and reading lengthy articles can get tedious for your audience. Provide the essential breaks needed with eye-catching visuals. These visuals are a necessity especially with decreasing attention spans with long text.

7. Make social media your ally

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It shall not suffice to have these enticing visuals only on your website and blog.

You got to put them up on social sites such as Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Trippy and LinkedIn. This would give your brand an even far reaching presence as people further share these visuals with their own network.

This in turn triggers genuine awareness about your service to others.

8. Make your patients your brand ambassadors

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There isn't a more effective marketing tool than word of mouth.

Consumers across the world trust recommendations that come from people who have experienced the facility or experience. Their word beats all other forms of advertising.

Therefore you need to make this your trusted source of brand information and messaging.

Motivate your patients or clients to write online reviews about their experience with you.

Health is serious business and with positive feedback from patients, prospective clients see you as a worthy place to trust their treatment with.

9. Get one on one with the prospective client

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Would you like to have a real human answer your query or refer to some inanimate script put together by a bot?

People want to have a dialogue with real people. Make them get into a conversation with your brand. Build trust by giving individualized attention to enquiries and establishing a rapport even before people set foot into your hospital.

The next question - how do you go about doing that?

Find out where and when your customers are online. Be present there.

Being responsive and conversational is the next step. If you can engage in face to face calls, it would be a very powerful instrument in building trust to the next level.

Before scheduling a medical procedure, any person would have several questions and if he/she finds someone who can give reliable and complete information, it works as a great precursor for that person to walk in to your clinic and subscribe to your facilities.

Engaging with your customers one on one will reap dividends far beyond any other marketing tools.

10. Stay competitive with respect to pricing

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Costs are a huge factor in choosing a hospital.

Keep an eye on the pricing strategies of health facilities of clinics/hospitals of the same calibre as you with respect to medical specialists, technology and other medical services offered.

Foreign patients will have a certain budget for the medical help they need. Nendeavour to remain within the competitive pricing of other hospitals without compromising on your quality. Try and offer the most cost-effective treatment after having studied others' health care packages and recuperation costs.

11. Collaborate

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In today's world where different streams of businesses are linked to each other, you as a lone player cannot make huge shifts in thoughts, processes or business enhancement.

Medical tourism involves a gamut of government policies at the home as well as the foreign front. It would do well for you to get into a strong partnership and collaborate with a number of key players.

You could partner with catering facilities, food vendors, travel operators, airlines, and even international health office representatives to offer a complete package to your potential clients.

Being part of the larger network of medical tourism facilities will help you understand the needs of your target audience and enable you to get equipped with better medical and non-medical facilities.

Participate in conferences and seminars on medical tourism to get an understanding of the current factors influencing medical tourism.

12. Go one step ahead of what the others are offering

Go one step ahead of what the others are offering

By providing facilities which go beyond the ambit of a regular hospital, you could probably be offering that one extra bit that makes the foreign patient choose you over the others. Vacation programs which are in sync with their post-recuperation program can be offered.

If the patients and the people accompanying them do not speak or understand English, you could offer translator facilities. You could also help in providing them with legal aid facilities that need to be fulfilled before arrival.

Conclusion

In the whole gamut of establishing yourself as a brand, getting the right content on your site and using social media to your advantage, do not lose sight of what is the core deliverable at your end. You must endeavour to deliver what you have promised. Remember only a distinctive value proposition will make foreign patients choose your hospital over others. Besides competitive costs you need to ensure that world class facilities and coordinated care is part of the package that you offer. These patients will be the carriers of your reputation and how you have treated them medically as well as humanly will determine the image that they will build of you for the outside world.