If I ask you to tell me your dream travel destination, I am certain I will hear names of places such as Las Vegas, the Alps, the Maldives—the list of international destinations will go on. While I am not saying this is wrong, many of us do not explore the vastness and the beauty of our own country, reserving our adventurousness for foreign lands instead. I wonder, what stops us from exploring India with the same enthusiasm?
The major challenge that the industry today faces is that Indians prefer travelling abroad to exploring their own country.
Even though the food and beverages sector is vibrant in India and growing at a rate of 29% this year we are seriously lagging behind as far as domestic tourism is concerned. The major challenge that the industry today faces is that Indians prefer travelling abroad to exploring their own country. The number of Indian tourists traveling abroad grew from 3.81 million in 1998 to 18.33 million in 2014, according to data from India's Bureau of Immigration. This means that 1.5% of the country's population travels abroad every year.
In the domestic context, the hotel industry has expanded rapidly and the government has emphasized the advancement of specific tourist destinations. For example, Udaipur, among other prominent cities, has been proposed as a centre of development. The state government has recommended several projects for the advancement of tourism in the city, including establishing a golf course, enabling night-viewing of monuments to encourage visitors in the hot summer months, eco-tourism and enhancement of the Jaisamand Lake. However, a lot is yet to be done in this direction
India after China is the second largest tourism market in Asia and the country was also ranked (11th) in the 20 fastest-growing tourism destinations worldwide by the World Travel and Tourism Council, but at the same time not everyone feels safe while travelling in India. There are blogs galore that speak about how India is unsafe to travel, especially for single woman travelers.
When we travel abroad we feel safe to stay in bed & breakfast places, hostels and even homestays. This concept is far less developed in India. Homestays in particular are prevalent in very few places (Coorg comes to mind) and I believe promoting this concept in more places will not help tourism but will also help families make more.
In 2015, tourism generated 6.3% of the nation's GDP. It also supported nearly 37.315 million jobs, while this number is good there is a lot more to be done.
The one thing that is extremely important to promote tourism is improve connectivity through the country—frequency of flights to smaller cities must increase and we need to build more airports in such locations too. For example, if a tourist has to travel from Udaipur to Jodhpur by road they will spend over eight hours while the same distance can be covered in a matter of an hour if they take the flight.
Red-tapism is another web in which development gets lost. Approvals, paperwork, licenses and clearances take a lot of time. While the government emphasizes Digital India and speaks about progress we still deal with endless paperwork and bundles of files. A digital solution is the need of the hour where we have a single window clearance on all documents.
People need to take pride in their own nation and unleash its true potential.
Though we are making some headway by making visas more viable and running the Incredible India campaign the challenge remains that we lack skilled tour guides, travel managers, and facilitators of travel. The majority of the visitors who come to India and travel beyond a few destinations are either from the UK or USA or from neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Indonesia, for instance, has recently instituted free visa on arrival for citizens of 169 countries, post which there has been a huge influx of tourists visiting the country.
The image of India needs to change—we need to constantly reinvent the wheel, improve civic governance, pay more attention to safety and security. We need to change perceptions internally so that people are excited about domestic destinations. We need undertake major restoration work to preserve our monuments too—the onus of which cannot be on the archeologists and government alone; as responsible citizens we need to stop spitting and scribbling at every place we visit.
Like every other industry, taxation norms burden the sector, but with GST set to become a reality in April 2017 we hope to see some progress in this direction. Financial institutions need to have flexible norms, since by the time the entrepreneur starts seeing profits he is already burdened by the accumulated interest. The government has created tax brackets for startups under Startup India, but it must also go the extra mile to promote businesses that promote heritage and handicrafts—these should be taxed differently.
There are so many opportunities in the convergence of tourism with other sectors too—examples include destination weddings, medical tourism and so on. People need to take pride in their own nation and unleash its true potential.