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Kochi emerges as the medical tourist hub in Kerala

The emergence of Kochi as the ‘gateway’ of Kerala is costing Thiruvananthapuram dear, with the State capital losing out to the commercial capital in terms of medical tourism.

Thiruvananthapuram had been the central hub of medical tourists arriving in Kerala until recently, with the Maldivians accounting for the lion’s share of such tourists to the State, followed by those from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and, to a smaller extent, from Africa.

However, the drop in the number of flights to the Thiruvananthapuram international airport and a corresponding rise in the number of services to the Cochin international airport has aided the shift. The Thiruvananthapuram airport handles only three flights from the Maldives in a week presently, whereas the number of weekly arrivals at the Kochi airport is 14. There was a time when the Thiruvananthapuram airport handled two daily flights from the Maldives.

According to M.I. Sahadulla, managing director of KIMS Healthcare who gave a presentation on the topic at the recently held summit of heads of airlines in the State capital, connectivity, the larger number of high-profile hospitals and better promotion strategies often bring medical tourists to the State. Though there was a dip in foreign tourist arrivals after the COVID-19 pandemic, business is still predominantly from the Maldives, Gulf countries such as Oman, and to a smaller extent from Africa and other countries.

In the national scenario, Bangladesh, Iraq and the Maldives are the top three contributors to medical tourism in the country, and Chennai is the main hub of such tourists, followed by Delhi and Mumbai.

“The better connectivity of the Cochin airport with the Maldives, the West Asia and other metro cities in the country is key to the shift in the base of the medical tourism hub to Kochi. When medical tourism was at its prime in the capital, the hospitals in Thiruvananthapuram had registered at least 30% of their revenue from medical tourism,” said E.M. Najeeb, senior vice president, Indian Association of Tour Operators.

Though the Centre has introduced ‘‘medical visa’, which can be issued for specific purposes to foreign travellers coming to India for medical treatment, and extended the e-medical visa facility to the nationals of around 156 countries to promote medical tourism in the country, the inflow of medical tourist is yet to pick up after the pandemic despite the global reputation of the health care of Kerala.


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