“Will you provide accommodation to two ‘crazy’ foreign couple for some months?” Many of the tourist resorts in Kerala are receiving strange queries such as this nowadays. And understandably, their first response would be, “oh sorry we can't!” Just chill, the offer is not so bad after all!
They are referring to normal persons with a history of mental illness. After successfully undergoing treatment for psychological problems in hospitals in America or Europe, they are looking for a peaceful and serene tourist spot that can also serve as a psychological and mental rehab and recovery centre.
We are talking about an emerging segment with huge potential in the tourism sector called mental health tourism.
Apart from helping those who are recovering from depression and other psychological problems, it also opens up lucrative job opportunities for nurses, counselling psychologists, and psychiatrists. If a nurse, whose job is relatively easy, can earn about Rs 20,000 a month, take a wild guess at the salary of the other staff.
The operators of resorts can also make big bucks. The patients are in fact tourists who want a calm and quiet location that may help them to unwind. All they want is a place to read, write, chat, jog, as well as to eat food and take medicines on time.
Handsome return on investment is also ensured as destination mental health treatment programmes tend to run several months or longer. The ‘patients’ can only return home after obtaining a fitness certificate from the authorities concerned. When one patient leaves after completing the rehabilitation programme, another one will fly down to occupy his place.
Obviously, resorts will queue up to cash in on the new opportunity, but not many are equipped to meet the demands. An incident taken place at a beach resort in the State is a good example of the unprofessional and casual attitude of many operators in our hospitality industry.
A foreigner, who was looking for a place to undergo rehabilitation, booked a room in the resort through an agency. But when the man came down hoping to re-establish the rhythm of life, he was left fuming as he took a look around the resort. Half-constructed structures, an open pit for dumping garbage, wires protruding dangerously from plugs and sockets... The man did not think twice to cancel the contract and pack his bags!
The only positive thing that happened was the nurses, counsellors, psychiatrists and other supporting staff, who had already signed the contract, were paid by the management.
Being a sunrise industry, which is expanding rapidly, mental health tourism has the potential to transform our economy. There is no shortage of expert counsellors and postgraduates in psychology in Kerala. Let foreigners who had once struggled with mental illness visit the ‘God’s Own Country’ and make use of the services available here to recover quickly.
There has been a sudden spurt in flow of Arabs to Munnar and Thekkady in recent times. Interestingly, most of them visited Kerala under an odd tour package which mixed tourism and dental treatment!
Lots of people are coming to Kerala all the way from the Gulf to go in for root canal treatment to save their teeth. Treatments such as the root canal therapy usually takes two or three visits and the patient will have to wait for 1-2 weeks after the dentist takes measurements and impressions to get the tooth filled or crowned. After the preliminary visit, he/she will be sent to a tourist spot by the hospital authorities. When the patient returns after enjoying the cool climate, green-top mountains and rains, that are a rarity in the Gulf, the new tooth will be ready.
They have another reason to smile.
Root canal treatment in the Gulf can cost up to Rs 3 lakh, while the same is offered by the hospital here for a meagre Rs 20,000.
The cost of root canal therapy is very high in European countries as well when compared to the fee charged by the hospitals in Kerala. Even if a westerner, who visits the State to treat his dental disease, holidays for weeks here, it will not burn a hole in his pocket.
Unfortunately, Kerala does not have most of the features mandatory for a tourist destination to lure travellers such as bars, night clubs, or mega shopping centres. So, mental health tourism is the best way forward. Those who are coming for rehabilitation programmes do not expect a hospital-like atmosphere here. What they need is a holiday atmosphere. Individuals with suicidal tendencies should be made to fall back in love with their life. Those who had a history of aggressive or violent behavior should be allowed to be calm and happy. Undoubtedly, Kerala is an ideal place to sit back and relax! Endnote: Israel is a hot destination for home nurses, both male and female, from Kerala. It is learnt that they get a salary of Rs 40,000-60,000 per month. If that is the case, why can’t they persuade those patients to come to Kerala and live here? Of course, the salary will be lesser, and seemingly most of them prefer to go abroad than living in their native place doing the same work!