India’s growing reputation as a major medical tourism destination is attracting more and more visitors from Gulf countries. And many travel agents are now offering packages combining treatment with a vacation. “The Gulf is one of the most important markets for India’s tourism industry. In the last two years, there has been a significant growth in the number of visitors from this region going to India for medical tourism,” Kamal Lochan Das, India Tourism’s regional director for Middle East and Africa, told reporters here. He said that though the West has been the traditional medical tourism destination for Gulf citizens, the trend changed after the 9/11 terror attacks. “And with the Indian government launching the Incredible India campaign, the total concept of India in the region has changed,” Das said. “They have also realised that top hospitals in India like Apollo, Max or the J J Hospital in Mumbai can carry out major operations at a fraction of the cost in the West.” While a heart surgery costs $30,000 in the US, it can be done for just around $6,000 in India. A bone marrow transplantation comes for just $26,000 in India compared to $250,000 in the US. Replacement of a heart valve in India costs less than half of what it costs in the West. “In fact, travel agents here are making innovative packages combining medical treatment and pleasure trips,” Das said. Such packages usually include flights, transfers, hotels, medical treatment followed by a post-operative vacation. Though exact figures were not available to show the rise in the number of visitors to India from here for medical tourism, the overall figures show a growing trend in the number of tourists from the Gulf to India. In 2007, the Indian missions in the UAE issued a total of 60,814 visas compared to 50,076 in 2006. Similarly, the Indian embassy in Oman issued 21,843 visas in 2007 as against 18,476 the previous year. Overall, Indian missions in 12 Gulf and Middle East nations issued 172,689 visas in 2007 compared to 149,568 in 2006, a rise of 16 percent. Medical tourism apart, Das said two sectors in India attract more visitors from the Gulf. “While Arab tourists like going to Mumbai, Goa and the golden triangle of north India – Delhi-Agra-Jaipur – a majority of expatriate Indians in the region go to south Indian tourist destinations,” he said. A large chunk of the 5.5 million-strong expatriate Indian community in the Gulf come from south India. To exploit the full potential of the Gulf market, India’s tourism authorities are now stepping up the Incredible India campaign in this region. “We are organising a special campaign under the Incredible India programme with road shows, workshops and seminars in collaboration with travel agents, airlines and tour operators,” Das said. He added that the Dubai-based regional headquarters of India Tourism is also supporting local travel agents by financing them in bringing out their India brochures. An Indian film festival was organised in Kuwait under the campaign and India will be a big participant in the Arabian travel market being held here in May. “We’ve got a 400 square-metre stall space in that event and there will be around 35 participants from India including state tourism boards and travel agents,” Das said.