In an exclusive interaction with KJ Alphons, Tourism Minister, Government of India, TravelScapes learned what’s on the horizon for India’s tourism industry till 2020 when the government has set the target of receiving 20 million tourists. The minister expressed his hope of consolidating the strengths of brand India in the international itineraries while he asserted that the country still requires better sanitation, aggressive safety measures and improved infrastructure to hit the bull’s eye
TS GAGNEET KAUR
As the per capita spend by an international tourist in India is higher than spend on a lot of other countries, it is therefore hard to make any judgment on the quality of the tourists. We are already observing high-end tourism at destinations like Kerala whereas the other places like Goa and Himachal Pradesh mostly attract the bag packers. Additionally, today’s backpackers can be tomorrow’s big spenders so we see them as a potential segment as well. Adventure has been one of the key segments for India and for the adventure travellers; the country offers plenty of possibilities. And for catering to this these particular segments, we need to have a larger number of budget hotels which we are under progress. Currently, there is a shortage of around 200,000 budget hotels in the country but Airbnb and the promotion of home stays in various states are making up for it to a certain extent. The whole idea is that we want to generate revenues and be a huge contributor to the economy and we cannot compromise with the quality of attending to the tourists in any way.
We can’t be waiting for everything to be perfect to get the number of visitors; the part of adventure is to see India the way it is, however, we are identifying the loopholes and planning to improve the infrastructure dramatically. We have excelled on the aviation front as we have some of the finest airports in the world including the ones in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Through the very effective UDAN scheme, we have even been able to reach the district headquarters of the places that were once not well-connected. Additionally, for the road connectivity, a huge amount of money has been spent by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to improvise the existing road conditions and build the new ones. If we talk about taxis, they are easily available on a call and are safe and affordable. Basic infrastructure is there in a lot of places but for niche tourism areas like adventure tourism, we need to create better infrastructure and have a proper supervision as we can’t take risk the human lives.
India is beautiful and there is an amazing scope for opportunities but we need to be a little more careful while handling the visitors. In a lot of places, things are in place, we have issued various guidelines. We have created cruise terminals in Mumbai, Goa, Kochi and Chennai. Eyeing the huge potential of this tourism segment, we are creating a massive cruise terminal in Mumbai with a budget of INR 300 crore out of which INR 197 crore is being spent by the port trust itself. We have two flagships schemes called SWADESH Darshan and PRASAD under which we are creating infrastructure at the key tourist attractions. These are mostly religious and the heritage sites. We have 74 projects under SWADESH Darshan at an outlay of INR 5992 cr and under PRASAD; we have 24 schemes with an expenditure of INR 727 cr. We are creating basic infrastructure in these places and are aiming to take these developments a notch up to provide better services to the tourists across the country.
Overall, last year, we crossed the 10 million mark in inbound tourists but yet have a long way to go. India needs improvise in terms of welcoming tourists and achieve the set target of 20 million in the next two years.
We already have a good number of convention centres and business hotels in the country but we definitely need more to meet the target. Delhi is already coming up with a massive convention centre complex in Dwarka which can seat around 10,000 people. However, there are cities that have five star hotels with all the amenities and a decent seating capacity, we still need to attract more corporates. We don’t want people to just come and attend the conferences; we want them to combine the work with leisure and experience the Incredible India in true sense and therefore, we are constantly trying to locate the MICE destinations near the key attractions so that people could spend more time in our country.
I believe we just need to tell the world that we are an incredible destination to visit. We want the world to visit India and leave with a fresher perspective. To make sure the people gain experiences here, we are putting a lot of focus on the Ayurveda and Yoga. We have made the 60-seconds promotional videos, some of which are on air already and have reached 193 million views. We also won the award for the second best promotional advertisement in the world. We have been doing a lot of roadshows across the world including China, where we make people aware about our newest products and what best the country has to offer. A lot of our time and thought is spent on promotions as we consistently try to create experiences for the tourists that they want to take back home with a hope to come back again. I think India is just incredible and people love it anyway.
The India Tourism Mart (ITM), the maiden event by Ministry of Tourism was organised with aim of promoting India to the world as we had around 225 hosted international buyers who came to India to interact with the Indian sellers. India is so vast that there will be something new for everyone to see and experience in this country with its varied geography, culture, traditions, architectural marvels, religions and that is what an event like ITM will promote every year. ITM, therefore, will be an annual event hereafter in line with other International Tourism Marts and it will be held in the month of September.
Talking about this year’s response from ITM, the edition was successful and we made it the responsibility of majorly the private sector and I was glad this was basically driven by the hospitality industry and we were only chipping in. We have although done a review of a few things and would definitely like to improve and work on a lot of things as we are always in the process of learning and are open to getting ideas from the private sector. We don’t believe that we know everything but it is a mutual learning process.
The India tourism offices overseas have a number of problems, including lack of information among the allotted officers. What is the ministry currently doing to change that?
Currently, we are posting senior officers there who are facing issues with the visa. We are constantly trying to sort this out and are in the process of recruiting the officials. Eventually we would like to have some Foreign Service Officers working with us who are familiar with the language like in China some officers who can speak Chinese.
In terms of cleanliness, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has dramatically changed things in the last four years, in terms of personal, neighbourhood and country’s cleanliness. Around 95 million toilets have been constructed, change has been historic and people are becoming more conscious about the personal and public hygiene but I still feel that our cities need to be cleaner. Some cities such as Indore, Dharamshala and Vizag are the perfect example of the most well-maintained and cleanest in our country. Overall, the city and local government should realise their first and primary responsibility is sanitation. Many of the cities can still make a lot of improvement in this sector.
Talking about security, I believe every person who travels to India, be it a man or a woman, should feel safe in the country. Unfortunately due to fake reports circulated by international media like the Thomson Reuters survey which projected India as “most dangerous” country for women is untrue. It was purely based on incorrect facts, had no methodology and was merely drafted on the basis of a few people’s opinion who are mostly the left wing feminists who might not be in favour of the government. The survey results were skewed; India is absolutely safe, although we believe that every place in the country needs to be safer. We completely disapprove of things and incidents that happen and are consistently trying to work towards the tourists’ safety as we’ll be creating helpline in various languages as well as the tourism police will be assigned in the various states of India.
People today, want to have a Virtual Reality experience before they make choices and technology is used much more than ever before. Tracking the changes that are happening today, we have shifted our focus towards digitalisation to drive tourism. Our website is now one of the best in the world.
I am happy that UNWTO is working with us; these platforms help us to create awareness that India is truly incredible as most people are still ignorant about the country and only talk about snake charmers and puppet dancers. We need to dramatically change their perception that India is a modern country and market ourselves in that direction. We are the fastest growing country in the world and this opportunity should be leveraged.
My focus is to get the tourist numbers and drive revenue. I have an aim to reach USD 50 billion from Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) by 2020 and 100 billion by 2023. I want to see the number reach 20 million by 2020 and 30 million by 2023. We need to elevate the numbers in order to achieve growth in tourist influx.