Indian tourism, unexplored still
India is truly incredible
India is truly incredible. It has rich flora and fauna, beautiful landscapes, it has great potential to promote spiritual, health and temple tourism. It has glorious past and varied cultural trends. All this makes India a major tourist attraction. Yet we are at 34th position. Tourism has been constantly suffering a set back due to lack of focus on tourism sector by the central and state governments.
The political executive in most of the States is least bothered about developing tourism which could be a major revenue earner. It is only couple of States like Gujarat and Rajasthan which have realised the potential of tourism are doing better than other States and are encouraging travel by developing necessary infrastructural facilities.
The latest example of focus on further promoting Gujarat as tourism destination is launch of three projects on Friday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi which are connected to Somnath temple. Tourism sector in Gujarat made rapid strides during the regime of Modi as the Chief Minister and even now it is being further consolidated.
Modi in his speech highlighted certain efforts made to attract inbound international tourists by introducing measures like e-visa and visa on arrival and reducing Visa fees, exemption of GST on tourism and hospitality sector. But what the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers need to understand is that all this helps the big players in travel and tourism industry.
The policy decisions should be focussed first on improving the infrastructural facilities at all important tourism sites. The centre and State should sit together prepare a single list of all places of tourism which have best facilities, places where facilities can be improved in short period of their five-year tenure, and places which need time to develop. They should make adequate allocation in the budget. The management principles say that unless you invest, you cannot earn.
They should also decide to at least set aside a part of the revenue generated from tourism sector for improving the infrastructural facilities in places which need to be developed.
The PM said many efforts were made for the visiting tourists. He said, "Tourists, when they visit, want adventure and want to get thrilled by it. Keeping this in mind, 120 mountain peaks have been opened for trekking. Guides are being provided training through special programmes so that there is no inconvenience to the tourists. This will also provide job opportunities," the PM said.
But, what we have now in most places is filthy roads, rickety buses, overpriced taxis, delayed trains, improper connectivity and ill-planned tourism circuit/ All this makes travelling a nightmare in India. Moreover, the absence of decent and hygienic accommodations at a reasonable cost, often dissuades tourists from visiting India.
Beefing up the security is also very important. Such efforts will certainly make India the most favoured tourist destination in the world. Nowadays every State celebrates its festivals. But no state is viewing it as potential to attract tourists. When majority of Indians do not know about such events how then would the world know about it?
Prime Minister himself stated that from Kashmir in the North to Kanyakumari in the South and Arunachal Pradesh in the East to Gujarat in the West, India has great potential. True, but unfortunately, the share of revenue from tourism is not more that 10 per cent or so. There are many small countries which depend solely on tourism and have become developed countries while we despite having such high potential the governments have somehow been ignoring this sector. This is also a highly job creating sector still the centre and States are not serious in exploiting it.
"Our forefathers had the farsightedness to associate far-flung and remote areas of our country with our faith. They worked on giving a feeling of oneness with those places. But when we were capable and have modern techniques and resources, we just left them thinking them as out of reach. Our hilly regions are a big example of that, Modi said and it is very much true.
This gap can be filled only when the Centre and States sit together and come up with proper plan to identify and develop all potential tourist spots. Mere speeches in legislatures or from public platforms will not help. In fact, tourism should become a national campaign and States should put their political interests on back burner for some time and come up with development of this sector.
This will help in greater revenue generation for all States and address the huge unemployment problem. This would also reduce the need for doling out freebies to various sections of the people and will make them self-reliant.
While countries like Bhutan and Sri Lanka have registered a growth in tourism by around 18 to 19 per cent, the growth rate in India was below 10 per cent. After the outbreak of Covid-19 it was the worst affected sector with no hand holding from the centre or state governments till now.
PM spoke about reviving the glories of the past. The Ramayana Circuit, the Buddhist circuit. He also said that the tourism ministry is developing 15 destinations on different themes under the 'Swadesh Darshan' scheme. Through these, development opportunities will be provided to many of the disregarded places of the country," he said.
He also spoke of development of Baba Kedarnath, the construction of high-ways and tunnels in hilly terrains of Uttarakhand for Char Dham Yatra, development around the 'Vaishno Devi temple' or the high-tech infrastructure reaching the northeast.
It's time the southern States too, impress upon the Centre to help them take up multiple projects so that they can also develop their tourist spots on the lines of Somnath. Unfortunately, the state governments particularly in the two Telugu States are evolving policies purely with an eye on next elections and not focussing on this important sector which can be developed under PPP mode and become a major revenue earner.
Gujarat, Maldives and Rajasthan should be the role models for the two Telugu States. Gujarat is earning dollars from dust and so is Rajasthan. Even Odisha is ahead of us as it had taken certain short-term measures to promote beach tourism after seeing the Rann Utsav of Kutch in Gujarat and how Goa was promoting beach tourism.
To some extent, Tamil Nadu had been developing tourism and some of their tourist spots whether it be famous temples or hilly regions have been included in the national and international circuit. Despite having tremendous potential, neither Telangana nor Andhra is doing anything to develop this sector. They are not even in national circuit. They don't have a serious tourism policy in place.
The two Telugu States have all the right ingredients - good food, rich culture, beautiful historic monuments, spirituality, and diversity - to lure travellers from all over the world. Yet they lag behind Asian tourist hubs like Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and China.
If Centre takes measures to encourage the growth of budget hotels, domestic tourist footfall can also grow at a much faster pace. People are willing to explore new places, but no incentives are being given to hotels of 2 star category or above. Hotel owners too are not patronising building budget hotels thinking they will not be able to make money.
There is tremendous scope to get Buddhist tourists from Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka provided roads and infrastructure to these places is developed. Right now, they are in shambles.
Another area where special plans need to be evolved in providing security particularly in the area of crimes against women. The grey area which needs to the considered by Centre is to see that the airfare is moderated. All this possible only when both Centre and States sit together and come up with a joint action plan and see that they don't remain confined to papers or speeches.