Indian Ztate Seeks Quack-Free Spas

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM ~ Spa owner Sadasivan is doing his bit to reassure tourists coming to India’s resort state of Kerala they won’t get rubbed the wrong way when they get an Ayurvedic oil massage.

Sadasivan said he has just spent US$3,000 sprucing up his Divine Spa – buying new towels, a treatment table and other equipment – to secure a license to oil-up mainly Western tourists, using an ancient Hindu healing method said to help balance the body’s chemistry.

“I’ve got a license from the health department,” said Sadasivan, 61, at his spa in Thiruvananthapuram, capital of the southern state known for houseboat cruises and low-cost seaside holidays, pointing to a framed piece of paper.

He is one of many spa owners who rushed to comply with the law passed by the state late last year requiring licenses for spas offering Ayurvedic treatment.

Ayurveda, which translates as knowledge of life, operates on the principle of balancing doshas, or aspects of the body – vata (related to movement), pitta (digestion) and kapha (body fluids) – using herbs, metals and minerals.

The law stipulates each spa must have a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner and be clean. Until now many spas offered dirty towels, shabby rooms and bogus oil treatments, said state Health Minister P.K. Sreemathy.

During the December-to-March high season, tourists flood Kerala to visit Ayurvedic treatment centers that have sprouted everywhere in the communist-ruled state of 32 million.

Even with the new law, many rivals still offer treatment without any formal knowledge of India’s rich Ayuruvedic traditions and fleece tourists, said Sadasivan.

“The majority of Ayurvedic spas operate without qualified practitioners,” Sadasivan said. “The quacks are killing the industry.”

Anita Jacob, director of the Indian Systems of Medicine in Kerala and one of the licensing regulators, said many Ayurvedic spas which have sprung up “do not have adequate treatment facilities or trained staff.”

Health Minister Sreemathy, however, said the law to “control unhealthy practitioners” would be strictly enforced.

To be recognized as an Ayurvedic doctor, practitioners must have completed a five-year course at a licensed centre.

The new legislation aims to ensure quality services to all who undergo Ayurvedic treatment in the state, Sreemathy said.

Unlike expensive spas elsewhere in the world, Ayurvedic treatments are generally available at low cost, with a traditional hour-long massage for around 300 rupees ($8) at a reputable establishment.

One client, 55-year-old Swedish tourist Britt Marie Oloffsson, said such treatments offer “a great sense of mental and physical strength.”

Sreemathy said licenses would only be issued after facilities were inspected and staff credentials checked.

Ensuring a good reputation for Kerala’s Ayurvedic services is vital to the state’s fortunes as it seeks to brand itself as a health destination in tourism roadshows in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere, he added.

India, like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, is pushing for a big slice of Asia’s lucrative medical tourism market, projected to nearly quadruple in value to around $2.3 billion in five years.

The government is keen to boost tourism revenues to cut high unemployment in the state which has little manufacturing or other industries.

“Ayurveda is one of Kerala’s USPs (unique selling points),” state Tourism Minister K. Balakrishnan said. “In the interests of the tourism industry, we must assure quality services and get rid of the quacks.”

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