Tourism can boost the economy. With theme tourism and business travel on the rise, Indian tourism holds lot of promise and potential. Suchayan mandal takes a look at the credibility of Incredible India 

lessed with mountains, desert, forests, plateaus and other landscapes, India is indeed diverse. With Rs 200 crore being contributed directly to India’s GDP (according to Oxford Economics Survey) and the direct, indirect and induced contribution reaching Rs 670 crore, the country&’s tourism sector contributes around 6.4 per cent of the GDP. This places it above automotive manufacturing, education and mining sectors. The foreign exchange earnings accounted for 9,201 million dollars till June this year. Compared to its 37th rank in 2002, India had globally achieved the 16th position last year in travel and tourism, thereby proving the credibility of Incredible India. 

 

The industry 

Travel and tourism industry has always been a critical component of a country&’s growth. Travelling, apart from giving people a chance to experience other cultures, also provides a platform to discover a commonality and bring international co-operation. While previously it used to be family tours to known destinations like Shimla, Nainital or Goa twice or thrice a year, with an increased budget and a desire for comfort, travellers are opting for romantic getaways, medical tourism, business travel and destination weddings. India travelers also prefer visiting various parts of the world depending on the season. Be it Dalhousie in winter, Kerala in monsoon or Sunderbans in West Bengal in mild autumn, the travel preference has changed drastically. Besides  ease and comfort, what matters the most now is also convenience. Gone are the days of local travel agents or making one&’s own plan, as online portals offer discounts and promise better trip ideas ~ the allure never seems to stop. According to Hari Nair of Holidayiq.com, "Compared to the festive season last year, this year overall holiday budget has increased by 29 per cent, and budget per person per night has increased by 50.4 per cent, signifying that travellers are spending higher to stay in better accommodation options. Trip lengths have also increased by 9 per cent, suggesting people are planning longer holidays this festive season. However, group sizes have decreased by 17 per cent, indicating that this year travellers are planning trips but in smaller groups. Data suggests that in 2013 there is a drop in travellers preferring to stay in regular hotels and more travellers are exploring resorts as preferred accommodation options."  Not only Indians, foreign tourists’ preference for India has also increased. The land of snake charmers and naked fakirs in the eyes of the “occident” has evolved gradually. Besides Europe, Japanese and Korean tourists are traveling to India often. As Sharat Dhall of yatra.com points out, "This can also be attributed to the weakening rupee, making India an attractive option for international tourists."  "Over the years, the tourism board has really pumped up its efforts to promote India globally as a holistic destination. Going by the statistics, Goa stands as one of the top destinations in India for sightseeing, lip-smacking food and wide range of water sports," he further added. 

 As dollar flirts with rupee and economy seems to tear into common man’s budget, there has been a drop in Indians’ travel abroad. For Swagata Basu, a Kolkata-based TV actress, who was regular in her foreign trips till last year, travel is ruled out this time. "A trip of 10,000 dollars which would’ve cost us Rs 4.8 lakh will now cost us Rs 7 lakh. The difference is very high," she cites as a reason. "Though Goa can be a substitute for Pattaya and Kashmir for Switzerland but infrastructure, safety, good roads, low-cost air-connections, clean hotels for budget travelers need to be there." 

People still keen on foreign holidays are opting for South-East Asian countries with Thailand and Singapore topping the chart.  India, contributing 2.86 per cent of total tourist inflow in Malaysia, is "definitely one of the potential markets contributing to the revenue derived from the tourism industry for numerous reasons," said Manoharan Periasamy of Tourism Malaysia. "The tourists from Malaysia find India the most diverse and vibrant country in comparison to others and, therefore, are attracted to the various experiences they gather from every region, every part of lndia. Besides the famous historical monuments like the Taj Mahal and the deserts of Rajasthan, Bollywood is another area of interest for Malaysians visiting the country.”  

Tourism possibilities 

“If India wants to establish itself as a solid travel destination and increase tourism, government and business should take steps to make the country more hospitable to foreign travellers by improving the transportation facilities, accommodation facilities and modern infrastructural developments," said Periasamy.  Travelista, a tourism event to be held at Dilli Haat next week, wants to promote backpacking, solo traveling and independent travel filmmaking. To fit into commoners’ pocket is their sole concern. "Our  festival wants to promote the fact that there are hundred other ways to explore a new destination or culture than just booking an expensive tour package,” said Akshuna Bakshi of Travelista. “Everything, from a destination’s food to fashion, music and traditions, has a tale and we want people to develop an inquisitiveness to explore these tales like famous travellers Ibn Battuta, Fa Hein and Columbus did. We want people to become travellers not tourists." 

 

Looking ahead 

World-class hotels like Fairmont Jaipur are coming to India, not just for business travelers but for the guests seeking leisure as well. Government needs to act as a facilitator to ensure more inbound traffic. Easing visa facilities is an important step on this front. India has an agreement with many countries for Visa-on-Arrival and enabling the same for others as well will certainly help improve tourism in the country. Promoting India’s art and culture aggressively is another area that needs to be worked on. 

In addition, government should also focus on infrastructure development to make some of the more difficult to reach destinations more accessible, thus further boosting tourism in the country. Ensuring safety for women tourists and fraud by local hawkers are issues that need emphasis and vigilance. 

 

 On the part of the hoteliers, they have their own wish list. "Getting ‘commercially viable’ land for resorts is extremely difficult, because  the prices/expectations of sellers have shot up beyond the economic returns that the projects can generate,” opined Gauruv Jain of Aamod who owns resorts in Himachal and Uttarakhand. “Therefore, only people with existing land parcels will be able to develop new projects (looking at returns from a combination of operations and asset value appreciation). Which is why we see most of our growth coming through taking over existing properties or working with land-owners to develop projects in partnership."  Talking about future, the optimism shimmers as Aditi Balbir of V Resorts put it: "As demonstrated in the past, the growth in the Indian tourism industry will continue to be fuelled by domestic travellers in the next five years."