Intro: To woo tourists, the Indian government needs to take initiative to make tourism sector attractive for domestic and foreign investment.
India is potentially a great tourist destination of the world. The so called land of snake charmers, it has always fascinated global citizens by the sheer variety and kaleidoscopic beauty of both its geographical landscape and culture. But even after sixty seven years of political independence, our immense tourism potential still remains largely unexploited. The numbers speak for themselves in this regard. India is the 16th most visited country in the world with a share of only 1.56 per cent in the world’s tourist receipts. This has to be read in conjunction with the fact that domestic tourism contributes to 75 per cent of India’s tourism economy. The huge mismatch between tourism destination ranking and revenue share speaks volumes about the untapped potential we are talking about. Other than this, the importance of tourism as a creator of job opportunities can be understood from the fact that in India every one million invested in tourism creates 47.5 jobs directly and 85-90 jobs indirectly.
India registered 6.97 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2013, recording a growth of 5.9 per cent over the previous year. This has huge scope for improvement. The union government has done its bit by carving out a suitable policy for promoting tourism. Some of the commendable steps taken in this regard are—provision of special M visa for medical tourists, marketing initiatives like Atithi Devo Bhava or Incredible India, expansion of arrival visa facility and fiscal incentive under section 35 AD of IT Act for two stars and above hotels thus providing 100 per cent deduction on capital expenditure. We cannot but compliment our Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a truly unique step taken in this regard showing out of the box thinking—the proposal to construct the statue of Sardar Patel in Gujarat, which will not only be the tallest iron statue in the world, it will be a sure shot money spinner too.
This, we need to take a serious look at some very important issues that relate to tourism industry in India. The tourism industry development has been and remains by far a state subject. The apathy and indifference with which some of the state governments have dealt with tourism in the past is saddening. To see this, one needs to go to a place not very far off from the capital Delhi-the ancient city of Agra with its historical monuments including the exquisite Taj Mahal, which fascinates and attracts every foreigner to India. Agra today gives a dirty, dilapidated and dreary look. Its poor infrastructure, poorer transport facilities and inadequate hotels of global standards deprive it of tourism revenue every year. Even the facilities connected with the Taj Mahal like local transport, catering, tourist guides and shopping outlets are not properly regulated. Touts and thugs are abound.This needs to change.
What has been stated about Agra and its historical monument applies to many tourist spots across the length and breadth of India. It would not be improper to make a mention of the incidents of crime including sex crime in tourism cities and towns, of which foreign tourists have been victims. The state governments need to seriously improve law and order. The central government needs to increase its involvement for development and establish good support facilities at tourist spots in the country.
Tourism development has to be looked at as an activity showcasing India’s natural beauty spots, flora and fauna and its ancient and modern monuments. In a way it amounts to showcasing India itself. That is why; it needs much more attention and focus than given hitherto. It will need greater investment of money. To attract 100 percent or less Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in building hotels, resorts and recreational facilities in the country, we will need to improve the aspects as aforesaid to make tourism a more enjoyable experience.
India has huge medical tourism and eco tourism potential. Of late, some investment has gone into medical tourism but much more needs to be done, especially in the AYUSH area, which has been suffering neglect. Eco tourism can carve out fantastic tourist spots out of Himalayan eco system and coastal eco systems along our huge coastline which touches the beautiful Sundarbans delta and the picturesque Kerala-the God’s own country. Eco tourism is still in the nascent stage and should be developed vigorously further. Our cities like Varanasi, Patna, Puri, Rameshwaram and Mysore can make excellent tourist hubs if we invest seriously in their infrastructure and local tourist spot facilities.
(The writer is a senior columnist)