Given its geography and rich cultural diversity, India has every reason to attract many more tourists than it at present does, but the sector remains largely unexplored, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Wednesday.
"Given India’s cultural diversity and its geography, tourism should have come as a natural activity to its people," Jaitley said while inaugurating the ‘Incredible India Tourism Investors Summit 2016’ here.
The three-day event will see participation from several ministers, senior government officials and investors from across the world.
The participants will deliberate on how to tap the immense potential of the country’s tourism sector, including religious, medical, educational and business tourism, as also how to make India a sought-after tourist destination.
Jaitley said till sometime back, connectivity was a major issue, which probably put off many potential tourists, but connectivity has improved substantially now.
"Today, our airports can be compared with the best in the world. We have 70 operating airports in India and plan to start 30-35 more regional airports."
"Besides, there has been an emphasis on improving the quality of railway services. Earlier, the focus was only on expansion," he said.
Jaitley said the national highway network was growing at an unprecedented pace, which will further enhance connectivity.
He also called for restoration and improvement of historical monuments and their marketing as tourist attractions.
Speaking on the occasion, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu asked Jaitley to give more concessions to the tourism industry in the next budget.
Union Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma said tourism has been identified as a prime focus area by the central government and it plans to extend e-visa facility to nationals of more and more countries.
"This is the time when we (central and state governments) have to join hands with investors to promote tourism in the country," he said.
Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha said private enterprise should step in to tap the country’s tourism potential as the government of India is trying its best to provide conducive environment for business.
Echoing the sentiments, Naushad Forbes, President of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), said: "Tourism is a driver of growth and employment. The sector has huge potential and its up to us to turn the potential into reality."