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Indian Tourism - A Piece of my Mind

Indian Tourism sector is going through a very exciting phase. There is huge spurt in demand from all over the world. Our USP is that we present unique experience which one may not get in their own country. We also offer value for money products. The variety is the key word. One need not travel beyond 500 km to see a lot in a travel circuit concept. Each circuit is self contained with architecture, wild life, mountains, lakes, festivals and fairs, Rural Tourism experience, unique food, handicrafts and tiers of accommodation. This makes India package most exciting. All stake holders constantly try to innovate and revaluate the way they can offer the best service to their customers. They try to give plethora of options to choose from. Each circuit has so many things to offer and they need to see the maximum within the limited time at disposal. Take for example one chooses to see Southern Circuit with Thiruvananthapuram as the entry point. He has the options to have beach holidays viz Kovalam Beach Resorts and also have a day visit to the tip end of India, Kanyakumari where three oceans meet – Indian ocean, Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal  can see excellent Sunset view or visit Vivekanenda Rock Memorial. In the itinerary one can add back water drive from Alleppy Quilon on a Country boat or visit to colam waterfalls or Periyar wildlife Sancturay, Munnar Hills, Tea and spice gardens visit Kathakali Art centre or learn Yoga or get Ayurvedic Massage at any Kerala Ayurvedic resorts. One can also learn some lessons about South Indian unique cuisine or musical instruments, join festivals or some cultural events, visit temples, mosque – churches and see the religious harmony.  15 to 20 days will go so fast that one may find he has covered only 500-550 km but saw so much that he would have never seen in a visit to any other country.

That is the charm and magic of India.  In addition it is the human touch that makes the difference.  English language is commonly spoken so communication and comprehension is much better.  Tourists are not required to jump from one airport to another. One remains in one southern circuit of Kerala. Same could be for Tamilnadu Circuit with Chennai – Mahabalipuram – Thanjavur-Tiruchirapalli. Madurai, Kanyakumari (12/15 days itinerary to explore Tamilnadu comfortably) or Karnataka circuit with Bengaluru, Mysore, Hampi, Halebid –Hassan – Pattadakal – Jog falls Hampi and can have exit out from Goa with 5 days beach holidays. One can visit Hyderabad as entry point and cover Visakhapatnam – Arakurvalley (day visit) Tirupathi – and combine Chennai. So options are varied. Same applies for East India, North India, West India, North East or one can have thematic holidays like Rail Heritage Tours, Wildlife Tours, Rural Tourism visits, Photo Safari  tours or visit to World Heritage sites (16 of them are must for any visitor). In short, one can see the world in India – whatever be his interest, he will get a lot to satisfy his interest. It is the country for all reasons and all seasons. Now there is acceptable infrastructure at all these places mentioned in the article and tourist can reserve the packages from tour operators and even State Tourism Corporations have readymade packages on offer at an affordable price. Please note that accommodation is of one star or no star category but clean and comfortable. Good hotels are also available.

Ministry has now identified 30 such of Tourism circuits for integrated development and work is in progress. North India and South India Circuits are ready for tourists and already attracting thousands of tourists every year. Even charters are coming to South India and Goa Circuits.

Another area where India has made an impact is Medical Tourism. Here the USP for India is the state of art hospitals with world class facilities and Doctors of International repute. All type of treatments at an affordable price and no waiting. All these have made India a choice destination for medical treatments from both developed and developing countries, over 350,000 tourists visited India in 2014 on Health Tourism and wellness tourism purpose at a rough estimate as made known by experts.

India is now focusing itself on Spiritual Tourism. Whole world is looking at India for mental solace. They are coming for lessons in yoga and meditation. Often they visit catholic pilgrimage places viz Goa, Chennai, Pondicherry or Buddhist Circuits in UP and Bihar Sufi centers or Islamic heritage centers (Ajmer, Hyderabad etc) Jain pilgrimage, Sikh Pilgrimage Places Char-Dham, Sai, Timpath, Vaishnodevi among hindu centeres. They attend religious discourses and get mentally satisfied. Religious journey to India is an added attraction which is combined with regular leisure tourism by overseas tourists especially with Indian origins.

Responsible Tourism which is often called Eco-Tourism is also being focused, as new breed of tourists would like to visit a place which is sensitive to nature and environment and they only visit those Countries. It is about engaging with the mountain destinations enjoying a range of winter activities in beautiful surroundings and having a fun and memorable experience but not at the cost of the environment or ignoring the local population. Keeping these tourists in mind and the above objectives, Ministry of Tourism is now promoting Rural Tourism. This is based on customers growing demand to be in nature and to achieve the key objective to provide an unique experience. Over 139 such rural tourism centers have been developed all over the country. Here the focus is on development of Sustainable Tourism by involving all stake holders, understanding of the contribution of tourism to the local economy, society, preservation of culture environment and though research and training to enhance the ability to manage tourism more sustainably with local participation. This niche segment of tourism has made some beginning now and hope to do well when the western world has become concrete jungle. Whereas India offers an unique rural experience in natural surroundings. All these efforts have helped increasing in international tourist arrivals which is now progressively maintaining double digit figure since the last two years this also spicing up Foreign Exchange Earnings which is having an average since last year and this upward trend to continue.

As today the consumers is more experimental and aspirational and customers are willing to pay more for such unique experience we are moving at the right direction by promoting Niche Tourism. But we have to keep on innovating new products. With such mix of culture and tourism destinations we can always put something new   as many places remain unexplored till this date like – North East Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand. Chattisgarh, Orrisa and all these have enough ingredients to keep tourists for 10-15 days in each state. Food itself can be a big attraction in course of visit to India and shopping as real bargain which can be combined in packages in these places.

Indian Tourism - Our Large Challenges

We have been thinking about the possible reasons for sudden downward trend in  international tourist arrivals. The prime Question was why we are not getting the regular tourists and how to substitute those markets which were more severely affected by the recession and which are largely the US and the European markets. These are India’s so called major markets.

Infact lot more Asians are travelling now with Europeans and Americans. So we need to diversify products to reach Japan, China, South Korea, South East Asian Countries which is the need of the hour. Infact this is to attract intra-regional travelers with better connectivity to India and in addition to course our regular market of Srilanka, Maldives and mainly Gulf countries. Here we need to continue with our enhanced marketing plan. They are not affected by recession and they are our round the year clients.

Lack of Infrastructure remains the biggest challenge. Here pace of development is very slow, Government approval, regulations, laws are not intune with the changes of the time. Laws are pre-historic. There is no common Land Law in India. It differs from State to State. It is so much time consuming that it takes 4 to 5  years to complete a hotel, which may take one or two years in China or Thailand. Every successive Government had been talking about single window clearance but no positive action is visible till date.

Though the next challenge looks non-existent but in reality it exists. It is the challenge to make all Government agencies to understand the value of tourism. Tourism needs lot of synergy between Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Finance and even Ministry of Home Affairs, Civil Aviation, External Affairs. Though tourism is the largest generators of employment and even good quantum of Foreign Exchange for the national exchequer is earned there is no priority to tourism in the central or state budget. We need to sensitize all the concerned ministries about the value of Tourism In this respect, media can play a big role.  Leap sympathy in tourism, does not work. Even the politicians are divided on tourism issues and as such there is no industry status to tourism or Infrastructure status to hotel industry. If there was a political will, tourism should have been given large priority in the National budget and industry’s request for industry status would having been achieved. Infact, tourism industry is most taxed in India. With the result outbound has flourished. We can’t match the price offered by our competitors Inspite of all potential which India has to attract tourists, we don’t get the tourists in that number. Today Tourists are very much cost conscious. Eeven for a few dollar savings may move to any other destination ignoring what special attractions you have on offer for them.

Recent Visa issues are very discouraging for tourists. They now need to fill application on line.  Generally senior citizens from overseas (above sixty form a big bulk opting for India holiday packages) and they find it difficult; first of all they may not be that computer savvy and if they may they have to start again if there are some mistakes committed in filing on line. This time consuming process and this has been bothering them. Added to that, the visa application forms are in English language and not in the languages of the country say not in French language in France or German language in Germany. It is difficult for them to comprehend the Questions asked in the application form. Even Questions are very irritating like asking for school leaving certificate etc. Group bookings have really come to a halt as everybody has to apply individually on line. The restriction for today’s gap from the last exit from India visit is also very dampening for business visitors. Thus it is hampering MICE segment.  Simple application form is the need of the hour. But we made it the most complicated process. Tourists prefer to move only  to those places which are friendly than break their head on obtaining visas. Also it takes 4/6 days to get India visas as reported by many overseas tour operators who have India holiday packages in their holiday. How to create confidence in them is also a big challenge now. Tour operators have been pleading for withdrawal of such confusing system. Also they are pleading for them to submit passports together at given hours in the Embassy so that group movements are not disturbed. But nothing concrete on this account has been achieved till date. The loss is ours.

As if this is not enough, progressively increase in aviation fuel cost and sales taxes on Air Turbine Fuel by states in India have made air travel very costly. Air travel cost is nearly 40% of India Holiday packages and domestic air travel components are more in India packages and price increased further due to taxes have made India packages over priced and cost prohibitive for tourists.

Even surface transportation is costly due to increase in petrol cost and arbitrary road taxes (differs from state to state) has made even golden triangle package of Delhi-Agra-Jaipur very cost prohibitive. This sector always done on surface transport and due to cost escalation has become out of bound for budget tourists. Students and budget tourist are now travelling by rail.

The biggest challenges now we feel is the “Advisories” issued by the developed countries. All the more worrying is that these are our main traffic generating countries like USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and Japan.  These advisories are informing their citizens not to visit India because of potential terror threats. But as a Nation, we could not put up any counter challenges to say this is not the real situation in India.  Unfortunately we do get potential threats and our Media glorifies such events without any reasons. Our own media is more damaging as western media takes reference from our media reporting’s only.  Government is only a silent spectator and ultimately tourism industry suffers. Till we become pro-active, such advisories will continue and tourists will avoid India as they don’t get insurance cover for those countries against which Advisories are issued or the insmance cover cost is double.

The industry has often found that when they are about to take off after the hard work they have done by under taking marketing globally, something  negative happens (either Natural Calamities, terror attacks or epidemics  etc) that negatively impact Tourism business.  They have to start from the scratch again. All earlier efforts become unproductions.

Unfortunate part is that there is no special relief from the Government at those critical time either by providing discount on air tickets, visa relaxations etc.  All the more at a slightest opportunity, Government  adds tax on tourism sector which totally ruin the tourism growth. It has happened repeatedly year after year. This total neglect of tourism and how to educate all about tourism benefits is the most important challenge. Even in last 60 years, we could not make any change in this scene do that another challenge is to draw out a contingency plan or “Crisis Management Plan” by having partnerships with all stake holders by the Government.  Inspite of having such repeated negative events, till date there is no effective crises Management Plan. There is something on paper may be but how effective it will be during crisis yet to be seen. We need to be very sensitive on this subject to keep India as tourist friendly destination to give the message we care for you.

Safety and security is also a big challenge as often overseas tourists ask the question whether they will be safe in India. This is mainly due to recent spate of attacks on tourists, molestation, rape which have been widely reported in western media. Rail accidents, sudden fire etc have also gave lot of negative publicity all over and our counter acting such negative events were very weak. We became rather protective and just telling everyone that we are the safest country “Atithi Devo Bhava” is our motto.  This does not help to create the right confidence. Tourist needs proper action. In general India is termed as safe destination but recent events have been very negative on India’s image as safe destination. We need to do a lot to create confidence. All safety measures undertaken should be made visible which can create confidence. In our Media/TV Campaigns, this aspect should be projected to create positive decision by tourists.

Our marketing efforts are not modern with technological innovation. May be in some part we are quite up to date but our presence and visibility is very negligible in overseas travel trade exhibitions. This is essential to create confidence to counter act any negative comments. We need to give clarifications on the spot and clear the confusion. Thus increased presence in global travel exhibitions is a must and how to meet increased expenses is also challenge. Here Government must provide financial subsidies  to tour operators by increasing the allocation under Marketing Development Assistance (MDA) and the applications should be simple for reimbursement. There should be no restriction to force member for reimbursement claim to travel by Air India only. Let them use any airlines of  their choice and create business for India.

Brand Incredible India needs re-branding showing modern India and not generic but should be thematic and trade must ensure delivery. The delivery was lacking so Incredible India was not successful in creating proper awareness. Even our promotional materials are not focused with information about actual travel itineraries. So proved not users friendly.    

We also lacked many other essentials – like lack of trained manpower at all segment of tourism. This resulted in rendering quality services. Even there is total lack of language guides like Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Spanish etc and supporting language brochures to give in sights of the places being by tourists. The general up keep of places by tourists specially frequented our monuments are of poor standard and there is even lack of basic facilities. We have problems  of language guides. To begin with ASI can provide pre recorded tape at important heritage monuments. Even ASI should consider proper parking space for cars and coaches at monuments and there is no night tours of the monuments. This could be a commercial proposition if this is combined with some night entertainments (Indian dance etc) and dinner. The entertainment part is also lacking and is one of the challenges we need to meet to boost international tourist arrivals.

We always think for tourism to grow and feel everything is at proper place but nothing is in order and every aspect has become a challenge as you have seen from the explanations in previous paras.

If we can meet these challenges in time our international tourists arrivals will show positive grow the other wise, without no timely action we will stagnate 5 to 6 million for another  half decade. Ministry’s goal to achieve one percent of global tourist arrivals ie from 0.60% at present to 1% will remain only on paper. Tourism is business and it needs professional approach. These facts we must remember. It should be boom time in tourism with positive decisions and we should not allow any excuses for making it doom time in tourism business.


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India’s Domestic Tourism Growth Story
Domestic Tourism: Key to India’s Tourism Future
Transformation through Tourism
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Enhancing India's Tourism Performance
Understand the Reality of Tourism
New Trends in Tourism
Heritage Tourism in India
Indian Tourism - A Piece of my Mind
Tourism Crises Management Plan
Tourism and Culture
India Tourism Retrospective
Cruising High: Cruise Tourism Scene in India
Opportunities through Agro –Tourism
Flights of Indian Aviation – An Overview
Boosting the Buddhist Circuits
Spiritual Tourism Looks At New Opportunities to Boost Tourism and India Be The Gateway For Global Spiritual Tourism
Medical Tourism To India Gaining Popularity
Reasons for Downward Trend in International Tourist Arrivals/Tourism Business of Tour Operators
Why less Tourists to India
Product Innovations Will Be The Key To India’s Sustainable Tourism Growth
Tourist Inflows is Expected to improve in 2017
Talking About Responsible Tourism
India Increasing Tourism Awareness Poised for a Giant Lip
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