India: Myanmar visa fee removal boosts prospects of healthcare tourism

India’s recent decision to remove $80 visa charge for Myanmar nationals (except in e-visa) improved prospects of healthcare tourism in India.

West Bengal may be a major gainer as Kolkata has the best flight connectivity to Myanmar among all major Indian cities.

Advantage India

India controls the expanding pharmaceutical products market in Myanmar. Indians, especially Bengalis, were a major service class in Myanmar (then Burma) till the country became independent in 1948. Accordingly, Indian education and medical system is still highly regarded in Myanmar.

However, barely one per cent of the 3 lakh medical tourists from the country visit India, primarily due to high peripheral costs and limited connectivity.

Air connectivity

Till a couple of months ago, Air India’s twice a week service between Kolkata and Yangon was the only direct connectivity between the two countries and, the average cost of round-trip air travel was $450-500.

The situation has partially improved with the introduction of twice-a-week Kolkata-Yangon service by Myanmar Airways international (MAI), as the cost of round-trip air travel is down to approximately $300. There is, however, not much connectivity with other Indian cities.

In comparison, there are 150 flights a week between Myanmar and Thailand with round-trip tickets costing $100. Naturally, most of the Myanmarese end up travelling to Bangkok for treatment.

According to Ravindra Jain, Managing Director of Yangon-based 4R Consultancy, reduction in peripheral charges improves India’s competitiveness substantially as India offers better quality healthcare than Thailand at lesser price.

Jain says a cardiac surgery that costs $1,500 in Thailand, is available at half the price in India. With reduction in airfare and removal of visa charges, he is looking forward to significant rise in business volume with India.

Indian medicare presence

Indian hospitals are also gearing up to tap the emerging opportunity. Fortis and Apollo have already offices in Yangon. Kolkata-based AMRI Hospitals is now planning to join the bandwagon. “We will open office in Yangon, next month,” says AMRI CEO, Rupak Barua.

According to Barua, AMRI has a track record of offering quality super-critical treatments in the areas of cardiology, oncology and kidney transplantation to Myanmarese patients. Meanwhile, Vikram Misri, Indian Ambassador in Myanmar, wants Indian healthcare providers to join hands with airliners and other service providers to offer Myanmarese patients all-inclusive packages.

This will allay fears about hidden costs and help Indian providers to unleash market opportunities to its fullest potential, Misri told BusinessLine recently.

The Indian ambassador is also keen on air-connectivity between Mandalay in central Myanmar and the nearest Indian medical hub at Guwahati in Assam.

According to him, Guwahati is barely 45 minutes flight from Mandalay, less than half of the travel time between Kolkata and Yangon.

Source: Business Line