Tourism: Chasm between ‘Incredible’ and ‘Credible’ India

• Endowed with an uncanny diversity in geography, historical lineages, ethno-linguistic communities and gastronomic delights – India is truly a melting pot of cultures.
• Despite a larger number of tourist attractions, India fares poorly in terms of foreign tourist arrivals compared to countries like Mexico, Thailand and Turkey.
• A lot of work needs to be done in terms of infrastructure, safety & security and health & hygiene, as India ranks particularly low on these parameters.
• A bottom up approach will help augment the government’s aim to build more world class tourism sites in India. Encouraging domestic travel will also play a major role.

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Brimming with magnificent visual spectacles and nonpareil cultural experiences, India is a land of marvels whose glory has proliferated across the length and breadth of the world. From attracting the famous Moroccan scholar, Ibn Battuta in the 14th century, to drawing the popular wildlife enthusiast, Bear Grylls to go on an expedition in the rocky forests of Jim Corbett with the Indian PM Shri Narendra Modi, India has enticed foreign travelers throughout history.

However, India’s actual tourism numbers have been well below the potential, given the myriad attractions the country has to offer. Professor Pralok Gupta notes, “We have nature tourism, eco-tourism and cruise tourism in our country. We have more World Heritage tourism sites than Turkey, Thailand and many other countries. But we receive lesser foreign tourists than say Singapore & Thailand. This can be attributed to macro- & micro-economic reasons like the rating of the country, its media perception as a travel destination, and the kind of marketing & facilities available for tourists”.

Indeed as numbers for 2017 suggest, destinations like Mexico (39.3 million), Thailand (35.4 million) and Turkey (37.6 million) cater to over twice the number of foreign tourist arrivals compared to India (15.5 million including NRIs) on an annual basis. If one looks at the top 10 destinations in 2017 of tourist arrivals in the world, India features nowhere in the list. On the other hand, its other South Asian counterparts like China & Thailand have carved a niche for themselves on travelers’ itinerary.

Recent reports suggest that the performance has been quite lackluster this year so far. There was a mere 1.9% yoy growth in foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) YoY until April’19, rising to 3.93 million. This is quite disappointing as compared to 2018 when foreign tourist arrivals rose 5.2% to 10.5 million, and 2017 when there was a 14% growth.

The tourism sector has a huge potential as a contributor to India’s economy in terms of GDP and employment generation. According to World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2018, there has been a growth of 7.5% in the tourism sector’s contribution to the country’s total GDP and 3.1% growth in terms of the total jobs it generated. The agency predicts that in 2028, out of 185 countries, India will rank third in terms of the growth in direct contribution of tourism to GDP of the country (7.1%). But for this estimate to come true, the government must arrest the decline in tourist arrivals in India.

Weather vagaries too have dealt a blow to India’s FTAs last year. According to the Ministry of Tourism, Kerala (rank 7) features as one of the top 10 tourist destinations in India in 2018 in terms of FTAs. Floods in Kerala have been one of the reasons for the decline in tourism. Moreover, the high rate of GST (28%) on luxury hotels as compared to other countries also discourages FTAs in India. The world is headed for another global recession due to the tensions created by the US-China trade war. Its ripple effects can already be seen on the economies like Singapore. Moreover, Brexit too, is likely to cast dark clouds over Britain’s economy.

ESTIMATES & FORECASTS PERTAINING TO TOURIST ARRIVALS IN INDIA:

INDICATOR 2017 (%of total) 2018 (growth registered) 2028 (estimated growth)
Total contribution to GDP 3.7 7.6 7.1
Total contribution to employment 8 3.1 2
Visitor exports 5.8 8.8 5.5
Domestic spending 7.5 7.3 7.4
Leisure spending 3.5 7.6 7.1
Business spending 0.2 6.7 7
Capital investment 6.3 6.7 6.7

Source: World Travel and Tourism Council

The great fall:

In addition, if India looks at its rankings in terms of vital parameters such as safety and security, health and hygiene and tourism infrastructure, it does not fare well on a global scale. This is evident in the 2017 assessment by World Economic Forum – Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index. Out of 136 economies that were evaluated, India was ranked 114 in safety and security, 104 in health and hygiene, and 110 on tourist service infrastructure. It is clearly a huge perception issue that needs to be addressed in promotional activities for Indian tourism abroad.

While there is little that the government can do to safeguard itself from the harsh effects of global factors like global economic slowdown, there’s tremendous scope for it to attract international tourists. Issuing of visa on arrivals, e-visas, launching of schemes like Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive (PRASAD) & Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) are steps in the right direction.

A larger push to catapult India to the ranks of the world’s top tourist destinations entails addressing structural issues like paucity of proper infrastructural facilities, absence of last mile connectivity and provision of a safe & healthy environment for travelers.

Lastly, it should popularize more campaigns like “Incredible India” on an international India to market the country as a destination for foreign travelers. While doing this, it must remember that one size does not fit all. So, India should be depicted as a destination to meet varying needs of travelers – business, leisure, sight-seeing, spiritual, adventure, medical & so forth. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi made a pertinent point during his Independence Day Speech from Red Fort this year, “Why shouldn’t our country develop 100 great tourist destinations? Why shouldn’t every state prepare two, five or seven world class tourist destination?”

Ten important tourism sites including Ajanta Caves, Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri will now be converted to world-class destinations by the government. Also, the PM urged Indians to travel more domestically, which will provide an impetus for a boost to the myriad tourist destinations across India. Around 50 million Indians are estimated to travel overseas this year, a huge jump compared to 23 million in 2017. In the drive to take Indian tourism forward, this domestic target audience certainly cannot be ignored.

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