Tourism Between India and ASEAN Is Thriving

From the beginning of the first millennium up to the 20th century, the chief groups of Southeast Asia had adopted ‘Indianized’ traditions of religion, administration, philosophy, languages and arts. There are some historical records, both Indian and Chinese, which talk about some states being influenced by Indian cultural tradition, like Funan located at the lower Mekong river delta where present day Cambodia and Vietnam is situated. Thus, it becomes evident that both Indian and South East Asian tourists are bound to find the same comfort in each other’s territory as they would find in their homeland.

South East Asia, with its rich and diverse culture has the potential for becoming an important hub of tourism. With the existence of the beaches of Bali, Boracay and Phuket, to the skylines of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and the palaces and temples of Bangkok and Angkor Wat, this region could be a versatile tropical destination. For ASEAN, the tourism sector has been recognized as a key engine of economic growth and integration leading to the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).To enhance the tourism sector, ASEAN had introduced the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan for the period 2011-2015. Promoting ASEAN as a single tourist destination, chalking out a plan for a single visa for the tourists visiting the region and establishment of an uniform tourism standard that will allow tourism personnel to work in any of the ASEAN countries are the few key points of the tourism development plan. Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, owing to their diverse cultural heritage, attract a large number of tourists from all over the world. India is the fifth largest contributor to the tourism industry of the ASEAN countries. ASEAN has been witnessing a sharp rise in the number of tourist, arriving from India to the ASEAN region.

Similarly, India has an eye-catching tourism industry. Starting from the Taj Mahal in Agra, to the temples of South India, the hills of North-East India to the Ghats in the Western Part of India – all have an immense scope of attracting foreign tourists. Owing to the affable connection between India and ASEAN countries, there is an enormous inflow of South-East Asian tourists to India every year. Malaysia, among the ASEAN countries has the highest number of tourist arrival from South-East Asia to India.

Connectivity plays an integral role in boosting the tourism of a region. With increased connectivity and development of infrastructure to connect the ASEAN countries and India, the tourism sector has been benefiting substantially. Development of tourism although superficially seems restricted to the inflow of tourists, but it leads to the growth of numerous ancillary industries which are directly or indirectly linked with tourism.

Both ASEAN and India, have the scope for inter-regional tourism, with the development of their physical connectivity. The establishment of a network of highways across maritime destinations is a viable option that will pave the way for greater exchange of tourists between the South Asian and South-east Asian countries. For the purpose of promotion of tourism, apart from developing physical infrastructure, the two groupings require a series of tourism campaigns. The tourism business via MICE -Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions increases the scope for enhancement of the tourism sector.

India is keen on enhancing rural connectivity in the ASEAN countries which would develop digital villages in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam. The success of the project in these countries will pave the path for a similar plan to be implemented in the other ASEAN countries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also proposed a plan to declare 2019 as the ‘Year of Tourism’ between India and ASEAN. This initiative will not only enable the intermingling of the cultures of the region but also benefit the economies of India and the ASEAN grouping. Furthermore, the Indian government has plans of enhancing tourism, by connecting India and ASEAN through Cruise Services. India is keen on initiating cruise tourism, with 80 to 900 ships per year. The plan attempts to connect Mumbai and Cochin via waterway to Thailand, Philippines and Cambodia.

Needless to say, the India-ASEAN tourism can flourish only if the infrastructure needed for tourism is well developed. For this purpose, the several physical connectivity schemes between the two regions have to be completed and implemented on time. Furthermore, opportunities via sea, rail or air, has to be expanded so that connectivity is not simply restricted to roadways. India has already proposed a $1 billion-line of credit to promote ASEAN connectivity through road, air and waterways. Therefore, it is obligatory to complete the already existing projects and also spearhead new ones, to create a massive international tourism market linking the neighbours in Asia.

– Contributed by Rajeshwari

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