Realising India’s true tourism potential

Vision India@2047 aims to make the country a preferred tourism destination, says Arvind Singh, Secretary of Tourism, Government of India

To revive international tourism post-pandemic and to ensure India is promoted as a holistic destination in the tourism generating markets to increase the country’s share in the global tourism market, the Government of India declared Incredible India! Visit India Year 2023 as its campaign tagline. It was over two decades back, in 2002, that the Incredible India initiative was officially branded to promote the country as a destination of choice for the discerning international traveller. Now, using the backdrop of India’s G20 Presidency, efforts are on to resuscitate the industry which went through a rough patch during the period of the pandemic. Incidentally, the man behind the campaign then, Amitabh Kant, is now the Sherpa of the summit which presents loads of opportunities for the travel and tourism industry to promote India as a global tourist destination.

“The Ministry of Tourism (MoT) promotes India as a holistic destination in the tourism generating markets to promote various tourism products and destinations to increase its share of the global tourism market. The objectives are met through an integrated marketing and promotional strategy and a synergised campaign in association with travel trade, state governments and Indian Missions. The Government continuously engages with industry experts and other relevant stakeholders and take their suggestions and feedback for promotion of varied tourism products of India,” shares Union Tourism Secretary Arvind Singh. Recently, MoT and various state tourism departments attended WTM 2022 with the theme, The Future of Travel Starts Now. During the event, the Ministry had B2B meetings with tour operators, travel agents and various other stakeholders and organised a press meet to apprise travel media of India’s preparedness to welcome international tourist post-pandemic. “The India pavilion showcased varied tourism products related to culture, heritage and niche ones like cuisine, wellness, yoga and wildlife,” he adds.

The Indian travel and tourism industry is, at present, undergoing a paradigm shift as the travellers demand curated and thoughtful experiences. “The millennials today make up the fastest growing segment in terms of spending money on trips and exploring new destinations. They are early adopters not only of technology but also experiences, exploring top-range options – the highest of all generations. This drives the growth of the travel industry and a major chunk of it will be driven by the Indian millennials. As a result, post-pandemic pent-up demand in this largest traveller segment drove the recovery in the travel market in 2022. While domestic travel made up the majority of millennial sojourns last year, the opening of international destinations and reducing foreign travel uncertainties are expected to drive travel market growth this year ie 2023,” opines Singh.

Driving the trend of sustainable and eco-tourism, rising environmental concerns have driven sustainable travel as a key driver of their travel decisions. As per American Express 2022 Global Travel Trends Report, travelling responsibly was of high importance for Indian respondents as 94 per cent stated that they would take a ‘green-cation’ and 93 per cent were more likely to book travel with a brand committed to improving environmental impact. The key themes attracting more engagement on social media platforms via user generated engagement activities included experiental tourism, heritage tourism, festival tourism and adventure tourism in 2023. 

“The MoT focussed and highlighted Sustainable Tourism initiatives as major focus areas during 2022. To educate the masses to be responsible travellers, a campaign titled ‘Responsible Traveller’ has already been initiated on social media. Domestic tourism has been the major contributor to the tourism sector in India. India being a large country has great potential for the growth of domestic tourism,” Singh informs. As per a recent report, domestic air travel crossed pre-pandemic level for the first time on December 11, 2022, when around 4.3 lakh people flew within India as compared to pre-Covid19 daily domestic average of 4.2 lakh. This shows that domestic tourism has huge potential and MoT is working continuously towards promoting and developing domestic tourism. 

India’s positioning in tourism sector 

The global tourism industry is continuously transforming due to changing tourist preferences, linkages with global economy, regulations and other dynamics. Thus, monitoring the evolving trends and the flexibility to adapt is essential to sustain and improve the nation’s tourism competitiveness. “Vision India@2047 aims to make India a preferred tourism destination, loved by both global and domestic tourists. The vision envisages to increase tourist arrivals, create employment opportunities and expand revenue generation from the tourism sector. The MoT plans to achieve this vision through formulation of new schemes and policies, institutional and structural reforms, improvement in ranking for benchmarking standards, creation of human resources, leveraging technology for promotion and delivery of tourism-related services,” avers Singh.

The MoT’s Travel Trade division holds meetings with travel and tourism stakeholders to seek inputs while framing guidelines or policy decisions and for addressing issues. “Also, for the recognition of the Travel Trade Service Providers, the MoT has set up a web-based Public Delivery System to ease the process of filing applications and getting recognition from the Ministry. This has been done to promote digital India and making the process paperless. The MoT had revised the guidelines for the scheme of Market Development Assistance (MDA) for promotion of domestic tourism in November 2020 to enhance its scope and reach so as to provide maximum benefits to the stakeholders. As per revised guidelines, the stakeholders are provided with financial support to promote domestic tourism,” he informs, adding the tourism departments of state governments / UT administrations are eligible for obtaining financial support under the scheme. Additional promotional activities have been incorporated including online promotions for the states of North East India including the UTs of J&K and Ladakh. The extent of financial assistance permissible under the MDA scheme has also been enhanced.

“The MoT takes up requests received from travel and tourism stakeholders for restoration of visa / e-visa from various source markets for inbound tourism. With its efforts, the number of countries whose nationals are grated with e-Tourist visa has been revised from 156 to 165 at present,” says Singh. Connectivity being the most important aspect for tourism, the  MoT approached Ministry of Civil Aviation to extend financial support in the form of Viability Gap Funding (VGF) under the Champion Service Sector Scheme (CSSS), with the purpose of further improving connectivity to important tourist places including iconic sites. After consultation with the travel and tourism stakeholders, the MoT initially got 46 tourism routes approved which has now been revised to 59 Tourism-Regional Connectivity Scheme (T-RCS) routes. Of these, 51 are operational till date. To promote domestic tourism, following initiatives were taken:

National Conference of State Tourism Ministers

The three-day conference in Dharamsala in September 2022 focussed on various MoT policies and programmes including development of tourism infrastructure, cultural, spiritual and heritage tourism, tourism in the Himalayan states, responsible and sustainable tourism, role of digital technology for marketing and promotion of tourism destinations, emerging importance of homestays, Ayurveda, wellness and promotion of domestic tourism. Other issues like wildlife tourism, responsible tourism, tourism related aspects of G20 were also discussed.

10th International Tourism Mart (ITM) 

The three-day event focussed on ‘Priorities of G20 for Tourism Track’ by introducing the sessions on green and sustainable tourism as well as investment in the North East. It facilitated interaction between buyers, sellers, media, government agencies and other stakeholders. 

Dekho Apna Desh webinars 

The MoT is arranging a series of webinars under Dekho Apna Desh theme to promote tourist destinations. The webinars include glimpses of culture, heritage, handicrafts and cuisines in addition to lesser-known tourist spots. A repository of all webinars is being maintained and their YouTube links made available on Incredible India social media handles of the Ministry. 

Yuva Tourism Club 

The vision is to nurture and develop young ambassadors who would become aware of tourism possibilities, appreciate its rich cultural heritage and develop interest and passion for tourism. Participation in tourism clubs is expected to facilitate development of soft skills like teamwork, management, leadership besides encouraging adoption of responsible tourism practices and concern for sustainable tourism. 

Public-private coordination to rebuild tourism in post-pandemic era 

The MoT’s hotel and restaurants division holds meetings with hospitality industry associations regularly to seek inputs while deciding important policy matters and addressing their issues. For hospitality sector’s benefit, the Ministry took the following measures:

i) System for Assessment, Awareness & Training for Hospitality Industry (SAATHI) – As underscored by Covid19 outbreak, it is important that all hotels, restaurants and other hospitality units follow suitable safety and hygiene protocol measures while providing accommodation and other services post-lockdown. To assist hospitality industry in their preparedness, the Ministry has partnered with the Quality Council of India. The SAATHI framework is based on the guidelines / SOPs issued by Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and the MoT. This initiative entails self-certification, webinars and site-assessment (optional).

ii) The MoT set up National Integrated Database of Hospitality Industry (NIDHI), a technology driven system, aligned with PM Modi’s vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat which is to facilitate digitalisation and promote ease of doing business for hospitality and tourism sector. NIDHI portal helps in assessing the facilities available at various destinations, requirements for skilled human resources and to frame policies and strategies for promotion / development of tourism at various destinations. 

iii) The initiative has been upgraded as NIDHI+ to have more inclusivity, that is, of not only accommodation units but travel agents, tour operators, tourist transport operators, F&B units, OTAs, convention centres and tourist facilitators. The new system envisages a larger role of state governments and UTs apart from industry associations and other stakeholders.

Plans for sustainable and inclusive tourism activities

The Union Tourism Secretary informs that the MoT has formulated a National Strategy for Sustainable Tourism and identified strategic pillars for the development of sustainable tourism in the strategy document. “These include promoting environmental sustainability, protecting biodiversity, promoting economic sustainability, socio-cultural sustainability, scheme for certification of sustainable tourism, IEC and capacity building and governance,” he says. A National Board for Sustainable Tourism has been constituted under the Chairpersonship of Secretary (T) comprising representatives from identified Central Ministries / organisations, state governments / UT administrations and industry stakeholders. The Board shall guide operationalisation and implementation of various strategic initiatives for the development of sustainable tourism and eco-tourism in the country.

The Ministry also signed an MoU with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Responsible Tourism Society of India (RTSOI) on World Tourism Day 2021 to undertake measures to actively promote and support ‘sustainability initiatives’ in the tourism sector of each other and work in a collaborative manner wherever possible. “The Ministry organised a National Summit for developing Sustainable and Responsible Tourism Destination and Responsible Traveller Campaign in association with Responsible Tourism Society of India and United Nations Environment Programme on the eve of World Environment Day. The same is being followed on regional level subsequently with regional workshops on development of Sustainable and Responsible Tourist Destinations at Khajuraho. Workshops for Southern and Northern regions are proposed in February and March 2023,” he says.

To create mass awareness, the Ministry in collaboration with IITTM (Central Nodal Agency – Sustainable Tourism) has launched Travel for LiFE Pledge on MyGov.in and monthly e-newsletters on sustainable tourism are being sent to state governments / UT administrations and industry stakeholders. “In addition, the Ministry has revamped its Swadesh Darshan scheme as Swadesh Darshan 2.0 (SD 2.0) with the objective to develop sustainable and responsible destinations following a tourist and destination-centric approach,” Singh informs.

Untapped tourism potential of the North East

The North Eastern region of India is endowed with forest resources, endemic flora and fauna, unspoiled trekking and hiking routes and great physical and human diversities. “It is one of the most promising regions in respect of tourism promotion with both physical and human diversities. With the potential it has, the region should go ahead with the development of tourism industry without delay and be projected as one of the most potential areas of the country in respect of tourism promotion. Financial assistance should be given to enable local populace to showcase their handicrafts, arts and culture, natural resources which in turn will economically uplift them,” he feels.

Role of pilgrimage and heritage tourism 

The growth of domestic tourism in India largely depends on pilgrimage and heritage tourism, shares Singh, adding the imperative driving factors in pilgrimage tourism are multitude of religion and faith, varying spiritual motivations, pilgrimage lineage, religious/ spiritual assets and evolving pilgrim needs. “Pilgrimage and heritage tourism are key themes for driving tourism footfall and to enhance tourism experiences by assuring active involvement of local communities through employment generation. It is bridging infrastructural gaps at identified pilgrimage destinations and throughout heritage cities as identified under holistic city heritage tourism development within the core tourism footprint,” says Singh.

Tapping the potential, the Ministry of Tourism launched the PRASHAD scheme in 2014-15 with the objective of integrated development of pilgrimage and heritage destinations. It recognised a critical need for integrated development of the selected pilgrimage destinations and of heritage cities in cooperation with various stakeholders. As on date, the scheme has successfully sanctioned 45 projects in 25 states / UTs with financial outlay of around Rs 1,600 crore. There has been substantial growth in footfall of pilgrims/ devotees and visitors after the implementation of PRASHAD scheme and integrated development of destinations at several locations in the country.

As the nation looks forward to a positive and successful year ahead, the hospitality industry eagerly awaits the nod of the Cabinet to the Draft National Tourism Policy formulated by the Ministry of Tourism which aims to enhance the contribution of tourism in Indian economy by increasing the visitation, stay and spend and making India a year-round tourist destination; create jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities in tourism sector and ensure supply of skilled work force; enhance competitiveness of tourism sector and attract private sector investment; preserve and enhance the cultural and natural resources of the country and ensure sustainable, responsible and inclusive development of tourism in the country. “Coming out of the Covid19 pandemic, the policy, over a period of next 10 years (2022-2032), is expected to provide a strong impetus to the growth of tourism sector in the country,” updates Singh.


This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BW HOTELIER - 8TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL'


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