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New Beginnings

There is a compelling need to improve India’s perception as a tourist destination, believes V N Dhoot, chairman - Videocon Group. In an exclusive for Express Business Traveller, he dwells on the current tourism scenario

Tourism has grown into one of the world’s largest industries with a growth rate in excess of five per cent per annum over the past 20 years. International tourism flow across frontiers in year 2000 reached 698 million while receipts from these flows reached US$ 595 billion (including receipts from international transport fares). Estimates prepared by the World Tourism Organisation indicate that global domestic tourism flows are at least 10 times greater than international tourism flows. Globally, tourism accounts for 11 per cent of the global GDP and eight per cent of the world trade employment.

India’s share of global international tourism at 2.64 million foreign arrivals through its borders in year 2000 is relatively small in volume (about 0.38 per cent), but almost twice as high in terms of US$ receipts (about 0.69 per cent). On the other hand, India’s share of global domestic tourism is much higher (around 4.6 per cent of estimated global domestic tourism). The tourism sector’s contribution to the national development priorities and strategies has so far been relatively limited.

India’s great competitive strength from a tourism point of view is its ancient and yet living civilisation that gave rise to four of the world’s greatest religions and philosophies, and brought travellers and trade together millennia ago. India’s contacts with other civilisations is reflected in the rich cultural diversity of its people through its language forms, cuisine, traditions, music, dance, religious practices and festivals, its holistic healing traditions, art and craft.

The main competitive constraints facing the tourism sector are the low priority that the sector has been given by government. Undue focus was laid on the international market at the expense of domestic tourism, the poor quality of the environments surrounding many of India’s main tourist sites, the security scenario in the region that affects the perception of India as a safe and secure destination, the quality of transportation service and related infrastructure, facilitation of entry to India by international tourists, and the complex and high level of taxation.

Key competitive opportunities are:

  • Leverage its strength as one of the world’s ancient civilisations in the context of its rich and diverse natural heritage.
  • Leverage India’s strength as one of the world’s largest economies for business, trade, and MICE-based tourism.
    Improving India’s perception as a tourist destination:
  • Visa on arrival
  • Computerisation of the system of visa issue by embassies /high commissions.
  • Open India’s skies for enhancing tourism through increased air capacity.
  • Improve the standard of facilities and services at the nation’s international and major domestic airports by speeding up the privatisation/ leasing of airports.
  • Create a special tourism police force for deployment at major tourism destinations.

Product development strategy:

  • Mountain-based adventure activities in the Himalayas, creating the ‘Himalayas’ as the brand and icon of Indian adventure tourism should be promoted.
  • Develop and position the Kochi and Andaman & Nicobar Islands as international cruise destinations.
  • India has 22 world heritage sites (16 are monuments). The conservation, preservation and integrated development of the area around these monuments provides a rare opportunity for growth of cultural tourism.

India is already the fourth largest economy in the world on the Purchasing Power Parity basis. Both India and China with projected growth rate in excess of six per cent annually, are heading towards super economy status.

As indicated earlier, volume of domestic tourism generally is 10 times the volume of international tourism. But if tourism infrastructure continues to be woefully inadequate, both in quantity and quality, the pent up desires of Indians who have been deprived of foreign travel for so long, may make the tourism industry in India a net foreign exchange spender, rather than a net foreign exchange earner, thus bucking the global trend. Since tourism is nobody’s baby, it suffers from neglect.

The Hon’ble Prime Minister had in the Chief Ministers’ conference held in October 2001 emphasised the great capacity of tourism to create large scale employment of diverse kinds. Time has come to translate this into action. Perhaps the first movement in this direction could be to entrust the tourism and civil aviation portfolios directly with a minister of state, holding independent charge in the PMO.

India’s rich cultural diversity is reflected through its people, cuisine, traditions, music, dance, festivals and its art and craft