India boasts of a rich history that has given it innumerable heritage sites. Nature also has been kind, dotting the country with lovely mountains, pristine beaches, many rivers and forests with a wide variety of flora and fauna. We have a stable democracy. We have requisite infrastructure in travel and hospitality. English is widely spoken. Still, even a small country like Singapore gets double the tourists that India gets.
India has always missed out on the holiday crowds and the dollars in this field. We just have the golden triangle (New Delhi-Jaipur-Agra), Goa, Kerala and to some extent, Pushkar, Varanasi and the Buddhist pilgrimage route that attract the foreign tourists. Apart from this, some states have tried to develop circuits within their areas, but these have not gained popularity with foreigners. In a diverse country with a rich heritage, this is an anomaly that needs to be corrected. The government is resolved to create 50 tourist circuits and promote them extensively to give the foreigners a real taste of Incredible India.
This is an excellent resolve due to two reasons: one, tourism is a neglected sector in India despite huge potential, and two, it needs huge numbers of semi-skilled and unskilled workers in addition to skilled professionals. Manufacturing creates 45 jobs per Rs 1 million investments while tourism creates 78 jobs in the same amount. Apart from that, tourism does less damage to the environment in comparison to industry. The wide diversity of our ecology and different food habits also offer immense scope for eco and food tourism. Our museums need to be upgraded to make them world class. As of now, they are dull and drab places not worth a visit.
But apart from focusing on investments in the sector, the government will also have to look into several other matters. Tourism has suffered due to the restrictive visa policies. The World Tourism Organization and the World Travel and Tourism Council estimate that if India follows a liberal visa regime, it can earn up to Rs 2,26,800 crore from tourism. The best part is that this amount will come in dollars, further easing the pressure on CAD. The government will have to liberalize the visa regime, increasing the number of countries whose citizens can get visa on arrival in India.
Then, law and order, especially rising cases of rape and other crimes against women, including foreigners, have created a negative image of the country. An American student, Michaela Cross, had written a blog post titled “India: The story you never wanted to hear” in iReport carried by CNN some months back. She graphically described how people tried to touch her, stalk her and even attempted to rape her in India. Her post was widely read and discussed on the Net. Foreign governments issue frequent advisories to their citizens to avoid India. To many foreigners, India is still the land where cows and elephants roam the streets and magicians show the rope trick in parks. People still ask “India, do you have toilets there?” This negative image has to be rectified.
Further, there is immense scope for medical tourism in India. WTTC estimates that this sector will grow at 30% per year. We have good doctors and modern facilities treating patients at one third of the cost compared to developed countries. The only drawback is the absence of recourse in case of medical negligence. Hopes have been aroused after the Supreme Court decision in the Anuradha Saha case, but the court had been lenient towards the doctors involved. A crystal clear law on medical negligence is necessary to give a push to this tourism. Infrastructure needs to be strengthened and best practices from across the world need to be introduced in our hospitals. If necessary, we can develop high cost facilities exclusively for foreigners where we can provide them treatment at par with what they are getting in their home countries at half the cost.
But the status of tourism sector in India remains unclear. It has not been accorded the status of an industry. Although the WTTC estimated that it contributed 6.6% of the nation’s GDP in 2012 and provided employment to 39.5 million people, and despite having a Ministry of Tourism, there are several long pending demands of players involved in this sector that have not been addressed. In the Travel Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013, India ranks 65th out of 144 countries. It ranks 39th in air transport and 42nd in surface transport. The sector is predicted to grow at nearly 8% per year for the next ten years. As of now, it ranks 16th in the world and 7th in Asia-Pacific in terms of receipts from tourism.
The Modi government is resolved to invest heavily in infrastructure. If airports, roads, waterways and communications services improve and our cities and tourist places provide world class facilities to tourists, they will look afresh at India. Along with this, if we are able to develop the 50 circuits, it will give a big push to tourism. The government will do well to tag an advertisement titled “Changing India” along with Incredible India, where it can show how India has changed in terms of infrastructure and facilities. For everyone knows India has heritage sites and rich history. They fear to encounter sub- standard facilities when they come here. This fear needs to be removed. Further, we need to follow the maxim ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’ in letter and spirit to make them feel welcome in the country. Crimes against foreigners should be dealt with fast and sternly.
“India: The Story you Never Wanted to Hear”