Vinod Zutshi- Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India
WTM is an opportunity for India to reinforce its visibility worldwide
India is the premier partner country at WTM 2016 London tourism fair. It is experiencing a boom in domestic and foreign tourism, and will present ‘India, the Land of Eternal Heritage’, as part of a world strategy to position itself as a premium destination in all the growing segments, from religious to wellness tourism and Yoga.
What are the latest trends in terms of foreign tourist arrivals in India and what are your targets?
India has been growing at a faster pace in terms of arrival of foreign tourists compared to worldwide growth. In the current calendar year till September, we have registered a phenomenal 10.5 pc growth over previous year. We are going to finish the year with a growth of around 12 pc. It is a big jump compared to 2015 over 2014, which was about 4.5 pc in tune with the world tourism growth rate. But this year, we have shot up to over 10 pc, which is encouraging. We can see the difference. The hospitality sector is booming, after a brief lull last year and the year before.
Domestic tourism is also fantastically upbeat. We had registered as many as 1.45 billion domestic tourist visits in 2015. We are growing at more than 15 pc now in the domestic tourists’ visits and we are likely to finish the calendar year with around 1.7 billion tourists’ visits within the country. We are feeling the difference- the aviation industry is growing at the rate of 22 pc and medical tourism at 23 pc. There is a general upbeat mood, as far as tourism in India isconcerned.
What are the factors behind this upswing and what about the e-visa development?
The visa issuance policies adopted by the present government have played a crucial
role in the growth of FTA. India is now one of the most open and liberal countries in the world in terms of e-visa processing. In two years’ time, around 150 countries have been opened to e-tourist-visa. Getting e-visa is also very simple, as one can have it in seven days. A lot of tourists are shifting to e-visa. In a span of 12 months, this year, we had an increase of more than 200 pc and more than one million people will be travelling on e-visa in this calendar year.
Better connectivity, in terms of air travel, has also resulted in this growth. Thirdly, we have started projecting India as an all year round, 365-days destination. We are filling up the periods where tourists did not traditionally visit India with other forms of tourism in the country.
What about the arrivals of European tourists?
Europe is traditionally one of the biggest source markets and I see even more potential there. The US does top the list of inbound foreign tourists with 15 pc of the total arrival. Next is the UK. Then, we have a lot of tourists coming from Germany. France and Italy are also big source countries. India and France have so many commonalities.
What is your world strategy, notably to develop and promote tourism in newer territories such as Africa?
We have rolled out a media plan, with leading global news and travel channels like CNN, BBC, Discovery and National Geographic Channel. We are also focusing on channels that are country-specific, in the UK, France, Australia, Russia, along with travel channels and digital media. India shall also be visible on leading magazines and news publications of the world.
We have picked up all the beams because India has a potential to get tourists from anywhere in the world. There are tourists who visit and re-visit India. There are NRIs spread all over the world who also come to India. For many countries in Africa and other regions like Central Asia, which is also opening up for inbound tourism in India, though there are problems of connectivity.
How do you put the emphasis on religious circuits, such as the Buddhist one?
We are the land of Buddha. Buddhism was born in India. This year we have taken up promotion and marketing of India as the land of Buddha in a grand manner. Two weeks ago, we had the Buddhist conclave, where monks and delegates from 38 countries came. South-East Asia, China and South Asia are our main targets for Buddhist tourism in India.
What is your focus at the WTM 2016 tourism fair in London?
In WTM 2016, where India is the premier partner country, the theme of our presentation is “India, the Land of Eternal Heritage”. We have 35 world heritage sites in India. A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between the WTM and the Indian Tourism Ministry. We are taking a big team to WTM 2016, with as many as 25 states representing India and 55 private travel and trade representatives. We will organise many interactive sessions during the three days. In terms of branding, you will see India all over, with a lot of spaces and media coverage. This is a very unique opportunity for India to make its presence felt, not just in the Great Britain but all over the world.
How do you make some lesser-known Indian states more visible abroad?
We are not going to focus only on Taj Mahal or heritage destinations and the traditional Golden Triangle. India has so much to offer. We have the best of the beaches in India and the best wildlife sanctuaries. We also have MICE tourism, cruise tourism, golf tourism, adventure tourism with 73 pc of the Himalayas. We are going to focus and pick up those destinations which are not so wellknown, as per the specific demand of each sourcemarket.
What are the challenges in generating investment in the tourism sector and its infrastructures?
This is an area we have started working on. We hosted an event called ‘Incredible India Tourism Investors’ Summit’ in September 2016. It was very successful, primarily because we were able to provide a platform for the investors with a shelf of projects for investment. We prepared this shelf of investable projects worked out with the state partners and our knowledge partners. We could list more than 700 such projects. More than 250 investors from all over the world attended the Summit. We had B2B meetings, seminars and sessions in New Delhi, chaired by the Union Cabinet Ministers, and Chief Ministers and Tourism Ministers of various states.
We have a huge gap in the infrastructure particularly in accommodation, which can be filled up by the private sector. As per our estimate, there are as many as 200,000 hotel rooms required in this country. The public infrastructure is looked after very well by us and by the state governments. Just in the last one year, we have spent close to EUR 370 million in public infrastructures in various destinations. We have developed certain theme-based circuits, such as spiritual, coastal, adventure, tribal, heritage, rural, desert and wildlife. It is basically creating more and more tourism-friendly facilities and upgrading products in an integrated manner. If you are keen on wildlife, you don’t have to go to the Golden Triangle. You land in Madhya Pradesh and cover wildlife circuit in seven days. Similarly, there is inter-circuit linkage and one can move from one circuit to another.
Further, with so much of growth happening in India, we need to have the carrying capacity augmented, so that there is a qualitative improvement, as we are looking for world-class facilities both for foreign as well as domestic tourists. In order to fill the gaps, we need investments from the private sectors. We had road shows in China, in the US, in the Middle East and in European countries, in order to sensitise and create a climate that while India is one of the premium tourist destinations, it is also one of the most chosen destinations for investment in tourism. So, the demand and supply have to match with sustainable tourism in mind.
How do you develop wellness and medical tourism and what about the certifications?
Medical and wellness tourism segments are flourishing in India. We are registering an annual growth of 23 pc in medical and wellness tourism. We have very well-known wellness centres all over India, notably in states like Kerala and Uttarakhand. Tourism Ministry is making efforts to organise this sector further.
The database, the certification and the accreditation of these institutions will come under the Wellness and Medical Board. We have the most prominent doctors and physicians as consultants on that committee. We are also pitching for e-medical-visa, which will be a revolutionary move. This will intensify tourism. The best thing about India is the cost-advantage, while having the state-of-the-art hospitals and good doctors. The more infrastructureswe build, the more inflow will happen.
What are the results, in terms of tourism, of India’s push in yoga promotion worldwide?
We had two International Yoga Days which were a phenomenal success. It is not just international tourists who are taking keen interestin Yoga; the domestic tourists are also resorting to it. Yoga has both spiritual and health aspects. The health aspect is picking up now, as today youngsters are health conscious.
People are coming all the way to India as India is considered the land of Yoga. Another advantage is that Yoga, like leisure tourism, is a long-haul tourism product. When people go for wellness, Yoga and meditation, they make a stay for at least 15 days.
What is important for a country is the average length of the stay and how much money is spent by the foreign tourists. If you see in terms of foreign exchange earnings, India stands 14th globally, in terms of receipts of foreign earnings through FTAs. But in terms of the number of arrivals, it is ranked 40th. What matters economically to a country, as far as tourism is concerned, is the foreign exchange earnings and presently India is doing very well with growth in foreign exchange earnings at the rate of 15 pc.