The first half of 2009 has been sordid thanks to the invasion of the recession, terrorism and new health concerns that have left many key industries across India and the rest of the world in a lurch. The ghosts of 2008 just refuse to die down and continue to haunt the world economies! While the global tourism industry and the Indian tourism industry in particular is no exception to this, experts see this as an opportunity in crisis. The key lies in identifying the problems, fixing them and this is just the right time to do it! However, it will take a concerted effort by India, the winner of three awards of the United Nations World Tourism Organization including Asia’s favourite tourist destination in 2007, to see through this turmoil. All this makes the World Tourism Day on September 27 this year even more challenging and exciting like never before!
This is the time to clean up the system
Globally, the tourism ministries in many countries and in India are gearing up to do well out of this world economic calamity. These efforts assume significance as the global travel and tourism industry is one of the world’s largest industries, employing nearly 231 million people and generating over 10.4 per cent of world GDP. And according to the Ministry of Tourism in India, in 2007, 5 million tourists visited India and spent nearly $11.5 billion. The World Tourism Organisation 2020 vision estimates that around 5.08 million tourists will visit India by 2010 which is likely to touch 8.9 million by 2020. India and China have so far been resilient during recession and the recent World Bank report has not only endorsed this but predicts a decent growth for the two Asian giants. Thus, as far as the tourism industry is concerned, India is well poised to cash in on the global recession only if it makes up its mind to roll up its sleeves and work around a host of domestic and international tourism related issues.
The international and domestic issues that affects tourism in India
A weaker American and European economies that are already stung by recession has a spiralling effect on the global corporate world which is on a cost-cutting spree. This means lesser business and personal travels to India. The country is also facing newer challenges in health scares like the Swine flu, racism scandals, and poor protection for foreigners in certain tourists’ locations, climatic changes, inadequate manpower and the monsoon failures. Estimates have put that India would need at least 200,000 people to cater to the country’s growing tourism needs. Then there are the proverbial infrastructure problems like poor road connectivity, non-modernisation of airports, lack of world class food and accommodation facilities in hot tourism spots and the sluggish pace in identifying and developing tourist destinations and circuits. All these could have far-reaching impacts on the tourism industry in India.
Internally, India’s domestic tourism industry is on a boom. Literally a money spinner, the domestic tourism industry too faces similar issues and these will have to be sorted out simultaneously. Hence, it will take collaborative and focused efforts on the part of the Indian tourism ministry and other related ministries to tackle these issues and set up new standards.
Tackling the issues
Tourism is multi sectoral. It has to coordinate and work with other industries and ministries to remove bottlenecks in infrastructure, travel, health, food and accommodation and other facilities. The key is to offer a world class experience for tourists visiting India.
1. Creating a healthy environment, literally
On one hand, the medical tourism industry is on a roll. The country is witnessing a huge influx of tourists from all over the world for medical treatment purposes. This calls for steadying up the healthcare facilities and switching on the ‘always on the ready’ mode in terms of modernisation of equipments and qualified manpower. The invasion of new health scares like the recent H1N1 scare could make a dent on the tourists’ visiting the country. These health scares will have its impact on the domestic tourism scenario as well. The health ministry will have to roll out promising measures and work with the public in creating a safer, healthier atmosphere for all tourists visiting India.
2. Infrastructure woes
Presently, the thrust remains on the construction, maintenance, and development of roads, rails and airways that connect the various tourist destinations in the country. For this the Ministry of Tourism has to coordinate with the ministry of road transport and highways, the civil aviation and the railway ministry. The source of funds for these all-important development activities could also come from the various IPOs. However, this could happen only when the present rule of not allowing banks in India to accept deposits beyond 10 years is relaxed. The finance for infrastructure is a long term plan and runs for 15-20 years. Hence only if banks are allowed to have long-term funds, this mismatch could be removed.
3. Development of world class hotels
Accommodation continues to be the central plank of the development strategy of tourism in India. This is an area where the Government will have to spruce up its coordination with not only the states and union territories but also with private players. Tourists from foreign countries not only will expect safety and world class facilities in the hotels they stay but also close proximity to the tourists’ hotspots. Hence, there is an increasing need to identify, set up and maintain world class accommodation facilities near the heritage sites, and other tourists’ destinations in the country.
On the food front, though it is a fact that tourists’ visiting India loves the spicy Indian food, the lack of stringent food laws and restrictions, however, remains an issue. In addition to the variety, there has to be quality and safety too in the food offered.
Research, plan, and perform!
Tourism is not just about visiting a country. A tourist may visit a country for various reasons. For example, many tourists from different parts of the world see India as a hub of medical tourism. So is the adventure tourism sector which offers mountaineering, skiing, ice skating, paragliding, and rock climbing opportunities in some of the country’s finest landscapes, seas and ice capped mountains. Further cruise tourism which is very popular in the Caribbean, Latin America and some South-east Asian countries is gaining foothold in India’s vast coastlines and unexplored jungles and destinations. Rural tourism, eco-tourism are also good potentials for India’s tourism sector. It is high time the Ministry of Tourism focuses more on eco-tourism as it will serve as an educative tool for domestic and foreign tourists in observing wildlife, learning about the environment and understanding and conservation of the environment. Hence, understanding and solving these issues becomes all the more important. For this, the country needs well chalked out plans, funds from different sources, adequate manpower, and updated technology, round the clock concerted coordination between the various ministries and private players and above all the urge to make India the most favoured tourist destination in the country.
The World Travel & Tourism Council declares that the World Tourism Day is to foster awareness among the international community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic values. And India, being an important member of the global tourism industry, has to make concerted efforts to understand, draft plans and ease the impact of the repercussions of the recent challenges in the social, cultural, political and economic spectrums. This will not only prove to be an antidote for its own domestic tourism troubles and unemployment concerns but also set an example for the rest of the world. Only then the real meaning of Atithi Devo Bhava, the slogan for Incredible India, will serve its full purpose!