Tourism in India Can Thrive, But There Are Certain Hurdles

“The leisure of one is the business of another.”

In the absence of any single globally accepted definition of tourism this is perhaps the simplest way to define the term, which was used for the first time in 1811. As per the GOI data for the year 2016, there were 8.80 million foreign tourist arrivals in India in the year 2016 and the annual growth rate was 9.7%. The forex earnings from this was pegged at 1,54,140 crore rupees. While this data paints an optimistic picture the real fact remains that despite of being a culturally rich country with diverse traditions India’s share in International Tourist arrivals is merely 1.18%. Countries much smaller in size than India such as Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore receive a much larger proportion of foreign tourists than India. This article charts the possible reasons for India’s failure to realise immense possibilities present in this area and what could be done to rectify them.

Tourism in India – An Unexplored Sector

The biggest crisis that India is facing today is the increasing burden of unemployment. The young and aspiring population of India with sky-high dreams is agitating because it is frustrated due to the lack of availability of jobs in the market. In this context, the tourism industry, if promoted sincerely, can become a real game-changer in India as it holds great potential to provide jobs to young Indians. It can especially play a pivotal role in changing economic landscape of the North East. Similarly, tourism can also serve as a tool to boost India’s forex reserves. Moreover, a less talked about facet of tourism is also its ability to act as a tool of national integration. Being a land of colossal diversities tourism can help in the process of nation-building by bridging knowledge gaps and breaking stereotypes. Last but not the least, tourism both domestic and international, propels service consumption in an economy. Being a country having ‘comparative advantage’ in the services sector, the increased demand for services can further give a necessary fillip to the economy.

However, despite such apparent benefits, why is it that policy makers in India have continually failed to give a boost to tourism industry? The are many underlying issues. The first is related to the rise of environmental tourism. With rapid urbanization in India certain ill-effects of urban living like increased stress levels are also grappling the population. In order to take a break and relieve oneself from the every-day tensions of fast-paced metro life, a new trend of environmental tourism is picking up momentum. People are increasingly turning to ecologically critical areas for leisure. While this per say is not a problem, the real issue is the poor civic habits of the majority of Indian people. Littering is a rule not an exception.

Another similar problem is that of defacement of cultural heritage and ancient monuments. Every Indian reading this would agree that no historical monument in India is free of heart (love) symbols. Here we need to learn from a relatively poor country, Cambodia, which is today known world over for its efforts in preservation of its rich cultural heritage. The third problem is related with the abysmal condition of basic needs and hygiene factors at the tourist sites. It is noteworthy that in many tourist locations in Europe, governments have installed facilities like coffee-vending machines etc. However, in India one cannot even imagine of such facilities as even the most basic ones like the provision for clean drinking water is missing. Being a tropical country, provision for drinking water is a must for Indian tourist sites. Similarly, the dustbin infrastructure is highly inadequate as only one example would be suffice to prove this – Taj Mahal, which receives a daily footfall of around 50-70 thousand tourists has only 21 dustbins in its complex.

Fourthly, the penetration of ATMs especially in Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns and cities is poor. In the age of plastic currency it is very important that the reach of ATMs is widened. Another area of concern is the low Tourist VISA-on Arrival facility. While India has extended this to over a hundred nations, only a couple dozen have reciprocated the favour. This clearly reflects poorly on our foreign policy as not getting this done is an outright case representing the failure of the Ministry of External Affairs as well as of the Prime Minister himself, who has traveled extensively since assuming the high office. Lastly and shamefully the worst of the problems that alludes development of India’s tourism industry is the failure to ensure the safety and security of foreign tourists. News of attacks on foreign tourists is a regular phenomenon (recent being an assault on a Swedish group) and their economic exploitation is rampant as they are exorbitantly charged.

The Way Ahead

The government of India has taken several important initiatives for promoting tourism and this includes schemes like “Incredible India bed and breakfast scheme”, NICHE tourism scheme, Golf promotion in Gujarat, establishing cruise connectivity to South East Asian countries and promoting wellness tourism in several parts such as Kerala (Ayurveda medicine), Uttarakhand (Naturopathy and Yoga), etc. While this recent realisation of the importance of developing tourism sector in India is laudable, what needs to be kept in mind is that promotion of tourism requires a long term vision and sustained efforts by all stake-holders and especially a behavioral change within masses. It is unfortunately here that India needs to improve as no real development can happen unless Union Minister of Tourism (Alphons Kannanthanam) will go around dictating the foreign tourists to “eat beef in their own country and then come to India”. Such myopic vision must be shattered and common citizens of India must the responsibility for rectifying the problem areas. We cannot complain of Europeans not welcoming us with warmth when we loot them when they visit our country. Real change will come only when every single citizen will feeling like an ambassador of this great nation and conduct him/herself accordingly. What image world will have of us is in our power to determine.

Are we willing to make the right choices?

– Kunwar Suryansh

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