Taking Indian Tourism to New Heights
With tourist arrivals increasing in India, the ministry of tourism is launching new strategies to focus on niche tourism areas like coastal, wildlife, golf and films, along with promoting Yoga as the USP of Indian tourism. Upgradation for e-visa scheme and safety of the tourists are also considered to attract the tourists.
How has been the growth in international and domestic tourism in India?
We have been growing in terms of foreign tourist arrivals at the rate of almost 7 pc in the last four years compared to around 4-4.5 pc which is the cumulative average growth rate world over. And the best part was that in 2014, we registered almost 10 pc more arrivals as compared to 2013. 2016 has also started on a positive note and we have registered 7 pc growth in the first month compared to the corresponding period in 2015. So, the level has gone up. The government and the ministry are aiming at not less than 10 pc growth rate in the foreign tourist arrivals in the next three years.
The scenario of domestic tourism is astounding. As far as domestic tourists are concerned, we had a mammoth of 1.45 billion Indians moving around in 2015. And the best part is that this growth has been up to the extent of about 13 pc. We are aiming at 15 pc and may be beyond as far as domestic tourist visits are concerned.
We are also on the verge of launching a new tourism policy and this policy is going to take us much into the future generation. It is based on our present requirements and we are going to cater to all changing aspects. We are going to have a national tourism authority and a national tourism board. On the one hand, we have an advisory body that will advise, drawn from the private sector as well from the travel trade and hospitality all over, and on the other hand, the national tourism authority will give some faster decision making.
What are the focus areas of India tourism for 2016 ?
In the last 6 months, we have sanctioned projects that are basically circuits. We have identified different themes, for example coastal circuits to promote coastal tourism, cruise tourism and beach tourism. We have made circuits of wildlife. Anyone who is keen to see wildlife will go into that circuit and he can see all the possible places. So it is not just single destination based.
Almost USD250 million have been sanctioned over the last six months. I am sure that the next decade will see that people from foreign countries are shooting here. We had conference with the film world in November 2015 when we had the International Film Festival in Goa and they said that if you bring in a single window system to facilitate the procedures and make it more film world friendly, we don’t have to go anywhere else. So this is also one niche area, which we want to tap. We also have the best of golf courses that are unparalleled and we have had some tournaments also held here.
Medical tourism is another area that is developing fast. The medical treatments in India as compared to a similar kind of facility elsewhere in the world, is the cheapest. We have some of the best state-of-the-art hospitals and more than that we have the best physicians and doctors. If someone identifies some illness or a disease and they want to treat it as early as possible, the wait period is the minimum in India. People from Middle East, Europe and many other countries come to India for medical treatments and we are doing very well. We are going to be the leaders and the growth rate is really high.
Two years after the launch of the e-tourist visa, what is the assessment and the new reforms planned?
E-visa regime which has been lately introduced by the new government in 2014, has been a game changer. Suddenly from a handful of a few dozen countries to 113 countries is a big jump and we are going to increase this number to almost 150 in the near future. In 2014, around 39,000 tourists made use of the tourist visa, whereas in 2015, we had almost 450,000 people availing the e-tourist visa. And if we consider the figures of January, we are going to touch almost 1 million tourists who would use the e-visa facilities. The validity of the e-visa at present is for about 30 days and we are trying to make it longer. The application time is also 30 days and we are trying to get it to more than 30 days, may be even more than 3 months so that people who plan much in advance can also avail e-tourist visa facilities. Also, we are trying to get the e-medical visa.
What steps have been taken for tourist safety?
We have launched a very ambitious information cum helpline which is 24×7 and which is multi lingual. It has 12 languages including Hindi and English. There is not a single language which is uncovered. We have Chinese, Russian, Italian, French, German and all other possible languages. You just dial 1363, and there is a dedicated person available sitting 24×7 to address you. At times there are issues about security and safety of the tourists and here is a number which is available round the clock for any person in distress. This has inculcated a feeling of safety in the minds of the tourists.
You are organising an Investor’s Meet in order to attract foreign investments in the sector. Can you tell us more about it?
We need investments in adventure tourism and in golf. We also have a long coastal line and we need investments in those areas; and also in areas where we are spending money in public infrastructure. Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) are also very important for us, and, we are not looking for the bigger investments only. Tourism is an employment generator as well. We are not looking only for five star hotels, but for budget hotels as well.
We also need road side amenities as India is a large country and people travel by roads. So we need mid ways and resorts. Talking about the hospitality sector, there has been a lot of gap between the demand and supply. It was estimated by the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI) that we still have a gap of 190,000 hotels rooms in India and so we need to bridge this gap.
We do have homestay arrangements and we are going to take it further. But more than that the hospitality sector has to come and invest.
What is being done for responsible and sustainable tourism?
With more and more eco-tourism zones coming up, the issue of responsible tourism and sustainability is automatically generating. We are very conscious of being a responsible tourism state. We are making all possible efforts through launching special media campaigns, activating the private sector and everyone is becoming aware of the fact that if tourism has to be sustained, we need to be responsible. This feeling of responsibility is further endorsed by Prime Minister’s campaign of Swacch Abhiyan (Clean India) that we are also a part of. So Swacchta Abhiyan and Clean Ganga Campaign are also helping us to be more responsible and making tourism sustainable in the country.
Yoga is the main theme of Indiatourism in Europe, how do you promote it?
In the last couple of decades, people are getting conscious of their health and spirituality also. People are getting peace through spirituality and good health. So this product of Yoga has become important. We have identified Yoga as one of the USPs of Indian tourism because we can impart Yoga in a more professional manner than any other country. And with International Yoga Day being started last year, it has given a big boost to India. Every country celebrated the day because they know that this has become very important for their health. That’s the reason why we have been promoting it at international tourism fair such as WTM in London, Fitur in Madrid and ITB in Berlin.