Mumbai: Ayurveda, an ancient healing method, has seen a resurgence as India vies for a share of the lucrative Asian medical-tourism market by offering traditional massages and beauty treatments to wealthy tourists.
Asia’s medical-tourism market is forecast to grow almost four times to $2.3 billion (around Rs100 crore) by 2012. The push is coming via luxury hospitals for foreigners and wealthy locals such as Apollo Hospitals, which offer low-priced surgeries—from cardiac to plastic—along with guided tours. But the revival of more traditional remedies, through treatment centres and beauty products, is also seen as a potentially-lucrative draw for tourists as well as newly-affluent locals.
Ayurveda (‘ayu´ means life and ‘veda´, knowledge in Sanskrit) is a holistic healing practice which makes use of herbs, metals and minerals. Traditional practitioners have always abounded, and now a growing interest in natural therapies is boosting ancient methods like ayurveda, homoeopathy and siddha, which uses minerals. India recently contested a move by some western companies to patent the use and healing properties of herbs like neem, turmeric and ashwagandha, or Indian ginseng.
The modern Indian market for alternative therapies is estimated at $200-300 million and is dominated by hundreds of traditional practitioners and small firms that peddle creams, syrups and pills in jars or wrapped in paper.
Analysts say the market for premium ayurvedic and herbal products can grow quickly, helped by speciality stores, spas and large firms. Hindustan Lever Ltd has more than 40 Ayush ayurveda centres that offer ayurveda therapies, yoga and meditation classes and is adding two more every month. Foreign firms are also keen on the market as interest grows in eastern philosophies.
L’Oreal recently said it was looking to buy a small Indian ayurveda brand to launch a worldwide foray in ayurveda.
But Milind Sarwate, chief financial officer of consumer-goods maker Marico, which owns the premium Sundari ayurvedic line in the US, said it may be hard to apply western standards and quality control to these traditional therapies and their natural ingredients.
“You can’t put a barcode on every amla (gooseberry),” he said