Hailing from Rangareddy district of Telangana, Gangapuram Kishan Reddy started his political career as a youth leader of the Janata Party in 1977. He is currently the Union minister for Tourism & Culture. Reddy joined the BJP after the formation of the party in 1980. He served the BJP in various capacities before being unanimously elected as the Telangana BJP president. He served the BJP as an MLA twice. Since 2019, he is the Lok Sabha MP from Secunderabad.
As tourism minister, Reddy has taken several initiatives to promote India as a global tourist destination. With a target to attract foreign tourists to India and improve the country’s ranking in the World Tourism Index, he took several steps to explore the untapped tourism potential of the country, especially of the lesser-known destinations in the country. In an interview with Anjali Bhatia of The Statesman, Reddy talked about the measures his ministry is initiating to achieve the tourism goals. Excerpts:
Q: What initiatives are being taken by the government to promote tourism in lesser-known destinations in India?
A: The Central government is taking several initiatives to promote tourism in lesser-known destinations. The Ministry of Tourism is working with states and industry stakeholders to promote such destinations through social media and trade promotion events. Specialised circuits like rural tourism, eco-tourism, tribal tourism, and spiritual heritage circuits are being developed as part of the Swadesh Darshan scheme. The government is also focusing on initiatives like border tourism and showcasing aspects of rural tourism and adventure tourism through events like G-20. Recently, a Chintan Shivir was conducted to promote tourism in a mission mode where stakeholders emphasised the need for a larger geographical spread and the promotion of Northeast Indian destinations.
Q: What is the government’s plan to attract more foreign tourists to India and improve the country’s ranking in the World Tourism Index?
A: The Ministry of Tourism has formulated country-specific strategies to attract foreign tourists through partnerships with Indian missions abroad. Tourism officers in 20 Indian missions are working on plans to promote inbound tourism in the country and engage the Indian Diaspora abroad. In this direction, India has extended e-tourist visas to 166 countries and is focusing on improving its ranking in the travel and tourism index. The government is also investing in training programmes for tourist guides, taxi drivers, street vendors, temple priests, and others to deliver an exceptional experience to tourists. Apart from these, India offers a wide range of tourism activities such as agri-tourism, green tourism, wildlife tourism, culture tourism, cuisine tourism, and festival tourism. The country’s rich cultural diversity, spiritual heritage, and natural beauty make it a perfect destination for tourists. The government is also taking steps to promote spiritual tourism in the country under various schemes. India has a tremendous opportunity to improve its rank in the Travel and Tourism Sustainability Subindex by focusing on renewable energy, the global climate risk index, forest cover loss, and wastewater treatment.
Q: How is the government planning to address the challenges faced by the tourism industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic?
A: The Covid-19 pandemic had affected the well-being of individuals, but now people are confidently planning to travel to rejuvenate themselves. Domestic travel is resuming in India, and tourist destinations are receiving a large number of visitors. There is a pent-up demand that can be tapped. The Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS) has been enhanced by Rs 50,000 crore and earmarked exclusively for enterprises in hospitality and related sectors. The Ministry of Tourism has organised various initiatives, such as the Dekho Apna Desh Webinar series, to create awareness of the unique tourist locations of India. Unsecured loans have been provided to tour operators and tourist guides affected by the pandemic. Digitalisation, sustainability, trust, and safety in tourism have become key focus areas post-pandemic.
Q: What steps are being taken to promote sustainable tourism in India and minimize its impact on the environment?
A: The pandemic has led to a change in consumer preferences toward wellness and nature-centric travel, and sustainability has become an important element in tourism. The government is formulating a new National Tourism Policy with sustainability as an integral part, and initiatives that promote sustainable and green tourism will resonate positively with tourists. The focus is on putting people and the planet first, decarbonising destinations, and empowering entrepreneurs. The government has also set up resource centres for villages to learn global best practices and is implementing Sustainable Tourism Criteria for India guidelines. Green Tourism will be one of the key priorities during India’s G-20 Presidency. The government aims to encourage NRIs and People of Indian Origin to bring at least five foreign tourists to India by promoting sustainable tourism.
Q: Can you tell us about any upcoming festivals or events that are being organised to promote tourism in India?
A: The Ministry of Tourism is participating in various national and international events to promote tourism in India. In addition, more than 200 G20 meetings are being organised across 55 cities, which get promoted at the global level. Various festivals and events are organised by States to promote tourism in India. The Utsav portal has been developed to showcase more than 50 live darshans and 1,000 fairs and festivals across India. The Ministry of Tourism is also organising a Global Tourism Investors Summit (GTIS) in New Delhi, from May 17 to 19, 2023. The summit will witness the Central ministries of the government of India and the state governments showcase, investable projects, highlight policy reforms, and attract investments in tourism and hospitality sectors. The summit will help align our aspiration and execution to develop tourism in mission mode.
Q: How is the government addressing the issue of tourist harassment, particularly with female tourists, and what measures are being taken to ensure their safety?
A: The Indian government has made safety and security of all tourists a special focus area with 360-degree sensitization campaigns for all stakeholders in the ecosystem, such as hawkers, vendors, shop owners, and guides. The Ministry of Tourism has been working with the Ministry of Home Affairs and states/Union Territories (UTs) for the deployment of Tourist Police, which have been implemented in many states and UTs. A 24×7 helpline is also available in various foreign languages. The Bureau of Police Research and Development has prepared a detailed report on developing the scheme for tourists, which may act as a template for states and UTs for setting up their tourist police. In October 2022, the National Conference on Tourist Police was held to steer the implementation of ‘The Uniform Tourist Police Scheme’ at a pan-India level.
Q: What role do you see technology playing in promoting tou rism in India, and what steps is the government taking to leverage it?
A: The government has recognised the importance of technology in promoting tourism and improving the quality of services. Post-pandemic, digitalisation, sustainability, trust, and safety in tourism have become key focus areas. To promote digitalisation in the tourism sector, the government is proposing to set up the National Digital Tourism Mission (NDTM), which will bridge the information gap among different stakeholders in the tourism ecosystem. The revamped NIDHI+ portal will be launched to register certified tourism stakeholders, including accommodation units, travel agents, tour operators, tourist transport operators, food and beverage units, online travel aggregators, convention centres, and tourist facilitators. The Incredible India portal will also be revamped to provide tourists with a one-stop digital platform that covers various cultures, geographies, and experience categories like adventure, heritage, MICE, spiritual, gastronomy, shopping, and more.
Q: What is being done to improve the infrastructure and facilities at various destinations?
A: The government is focused on improving infrastructure and facilities at various tourist destinations through a whole-of-government approach. This includes collaboration with various central ministries such as the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways, and Department of Telecom. The government has added 66 new airports since 2014 and aims to reach 220 by 2025, with 51 new tourism routes operationalised under RCS UDAN3 Scheme. It has also constructed new railway stations and launched various tourist trains such as the Ramayan Circuit Train and Buddhist Circuit Train. The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is building amenities such as toilets on highways and other locations, and the Department of Telecom is working to provide mobile services in uncovered areas. Through the Prashad and Swadesh Darshan schemes, funds have been provided to various states and UTs to improve infrastructure facilities at prominent destinations.