Its decades long ethnic conflict over, Sri Lanka is steadily emerging as a major competitor to Kerala’s ayurvedic system of medicine, a leading industry expert says.
But officials are quick to point out that as long as Kerala sticks to its pristine form of ayurveda school, no challenge from anywhere can upset what is clearly the biggest tourist draw to the southern state.
“Sri Lanka has slowly come up as a threat to our market,” said Sanjeev Kurup V., Secretary of the influential Kerala Travel Mart Society who also runs the Paithrukam Hospitality Group.
“I was in Sri Lanka only last week, and I estimate they have taken away 30-40 percent of our business,” Kurup told IANS at the Perumbayil Ayurveda Mana, an idyllic centre located near the famed Guruvayoor temple.
Ayurveda plays a key role in attracting close to one million foreign and over one crore domestic tourists every year to Kerala. Almost 70 percent of the foreigners and 30-40 percent of Indian tourists come to Kerala for ayurvedic treatment.
Thanks to ayurveda, the average stay of a foreigner in Kerala is 18 days – one of the highest in the world.
According to Kurup and others in the industry, even earlier Sri Lanka was doing well in the business of ayurveda. But the long running conflict between Colombo and the Tamil Tigers did cast a shadow on tourism in general.
“After the war ended in 2009, ayurveda business is picking up rapidly in Sri Lanka,” said Kurup, who saw for himself that ayurveda clinics had sprouted along the island nation’s southwestern coast, the tourist hub.
For one, as the Sri Lankan rupee is weaker than its Indian counterpart, ayurvedic treatment is cheaper there compared to India.
Another reason, Kurup says, is that in Sri Lanka many clinics allow men to provide ayurvedic massage to women.
“Well, ladies from countries like Germany, even if they are 45 years of age or more, are pretty strong physically, and they somehow don’t seem happy with our women,” he said.
“But in Kerala we follow the authentic system of ayurveda, and that only permits same-sex treatment including in massage.”
Sri Lanka is willing to deviate – if only to woo the Western tourist, mainly from Europe.
“We need to be aware of the emerging trends,” Kurup said. “Our costs are going up, but we cannot and do not compromise on quality. Sri Lanka is able to market an entire ayurveda packet for about just 90 euros a day.”
In comparison, some clinics in Kerala charge up to 300-400 euros a day.
Kurup said the Kerala government as well as the private industry were both aware of the Sri Lanka threat.
A senior Kerala government official said the Sri Lanka challenge was real but it need not be overstated.
“Yes, Sri Lanka is also making a pitch for ayurveda,” Suman Billa, Secretary in Kerala Tourism, told IANS in a telephonic interview.
“But their growth won’t be at our expense,” he said. “Our ayurveda is so unique. And there is enough space in ayurveda business for more players to get in.
“Sri Lanka will certainly draw tourists. As long as we stick to our quality and play our game well, we will not only be able to protect ourselves but grow too. But we should not get into a situation of price wars.”