Agra, Taj Mahal, Tourism

The iconic Taj Mahal

Source: Wikimedia

The famed alternative hotel accommodation startup Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky was in India recently. He declared that there is a huge potential for his company in the tourism industry of India. Airbnb is one of the world’s high valued startups estimated at $31 billion and is a lead player in the global tourism industry. Yet India attracts merely 1 per cent of global tourists and 2 per cent of global foreign expenditure.

Tourism, which comes under India’s service sector, offers many job opportunities for India’s youth who can be employed in many activities connected with tourism. Backward linkages and multiplier effects of tourism extend to manufacturing industries which can cater to the demand for souvenirs, handicrafts and mementos and agriculture which supplies food products for tourists. Tourism generated 40 million jobs in India and contributed 7.2 per cent to the GDP in 2015. Its contribution is expected to grow at over 7 percent in the future. Tourism also generated $124.8 billion in foreign exchange. Recently there has been a boost to tourism in India after the Modi government made some changes in the visa regime. There is also a rise in the number of travel related e-portals also which is helping expand tourism. International air traffic to and from India grew by 10 per cent in 2016.  India’s tourist arrivals in 2015 were at 8.07 million.

Visa on arrival and e-visas, which now cover almost 150 countries, have facilitated business travel greatly.  Yet we have miles to go before we can catch up with smaller countries like Thailand in terms of tourist arrivals -- not to mention the big tourist spots of the world like the US (77.7 million), France (84.5 million), Spain (68.2 million), Italy (50.7 million) and China (56.9 million). There are many hurdles on the way to India’s reaching anywhere near the tourist arrivals in Thailand that were at 29.8 million in 2015. Yet today India may benefit from problems in some favoured tourist spots due to terrorism and security threats like Turkey, Syria, Egypt and Myanmar.

Read also | India’s Liberalised (Yet Restrictive) Visa Policy

First problem in the way of achieving mass tourism is the lack of adequate infrastructure. Most tourists arrive in big cities but want to travel around. The necessary infrastructure is missing in terms of good connecting roads, flights, railway transportation that is safe and reliable to their chosen destinations. Small airports have to be upgraded and big airports decongested by having more security check facilities.

Another problem is the big gap in the requirements of tourists and the availability of hotel rooms at reasonable prices. The demand clearly exceeds supply and the private sector has pitched in with a growing number of alternatives like budget guest houses and Bed and Breakfast hotels. Tourist spots like Goa attract many foreign tourists.  The recent case of an Irish-British woman’s murder on a Goa beach has created a very bad impression and recently The Guardian (UK) carried an article on the Goa murder quoting damaging statistics regarding the safety of tourists in Goa. According to the article, 245 tourists died under mysterious circumstances in four local districts of Goa in the past 12 years. Guaranteeing safety to women tourists is very important for clearing the air regarding the perception of India being an unsafe place for women. Molestations and rapes of foreign women tourists are indeed a big stigma that India has to strive hard to get rid of.

The old fashioned concept of showcasing only India’s historical heritage and monuments is changing and people around the world are more interested in ecotourism where they want to see the local flora and fauna. Increasing tourism in the Sunderbans area in West Bengal is  an attractive proposition. The region contains the biggest mangrove forest in the world and exotic flora and fauna and the Royal Bengal Tiger.  But for ecotourism purposes, only high end tourism and not mass tourism should be encouraged to prevent further ecological damage to the area.

Mass tourism is also not a good idea for many secluded areas in the Himalayan region because these remote places are facing problems of maintaining ecological balance. Tons of waste can be found in the mountains which spoil the pristine beauty of the Himalayas. Plastic bags clog beautiful streams and piles of filth can be found en route to many tourist destinations like Shimla.

Medical tourism is a new and lucrative area and increasing numbers from neighbouring countries are coming to India for medical treatment especially from Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Hence care should be taken that there are no cases of malpractice in the private hospitals and Indian healthcare remains inexpensive and reliable.

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Cultural tourism is also important because many people want to experience life in villages, yet our villages are not open to tourism. People in the villages should be encouraged to have facilities in their houses to let tourists stay with them and experience the local village culture, festivals and crafts. There is religious tourism as well, popular in India, which is increasing domestic tourism traffic exponentially.

While the Centre has been very active in promoting tourism through its various campaigns abroad (Incredible India 2.0), State tourism departments have also been promoting their favourite tourist spots and air travel. UP, a favourite tourist destination, will have three new airports soon.

In fact, domestic tourism is very important and there was an increase of 23 per cent in 2016. It will probably increase by 25 per cent in 2017-18. Around 10 crore people undertook domestic air travel of which many were tourists.  It is already the world’s third largest air travel market. Domestic travel paves the way for foreign tourism because not only do tourists demand alternative accommodations like Airbnb but they also facilitate the growth of good restaurants and eateries, guided tours, souvenir shops and efficient means of transportation. Since there is a huge increase in the number of young people in the middle and high income groups, there will be an increase in domestic travel in the future. Small wonder that the CEO of Airbnb thinks that in 10 years, India will be one of the world’s biggest markets.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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