Open Skies May Shower Tourist Traffic

Updated: Dec 14 2003, 05:30am hrs
The Union governments decision to inch its way toward an open sky policy could not have surprised scribes trailing the mandarins of the mantralays. Speeches and policy-talk of other hues are always a cakewalk into the minds of the decision-makers at the ministries.

Aviation and Tourism: Synergy for Success brings together 21 such speeches delivered at an international conference in New Delhi, organised by the Foundation for Aviation and Sustainable Tourism in December 2002. The speeches reiterate, among other things, government intentions of involving the private sector in modernising airports.

Indian airports need to be elevated to international standards to be able to attract foreign tourists and privatising the airports could help do that. Since trade unions and some politicians continue to oppose the privatisation of the Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata airports, a more

flexible model becomes necessary to upgrade their technology and management standards. Modernising airports entails an investment of Rs 16,000 crore. Since the government does not have the funds, the private sector needs to step in.

Once tourists land at metro airports, they would need good connectivity with important sight-seeing spots, opening up avenues for non-scheduled operators. An efficient flight experience can be totally ruined by inept and inefficient group handling and services. As the passenger traffic in the world is expected to double and triple in the next few years, airport terminal facilities, support services, surface access systems, hotel accommodation etc. have to keep pace.

The National Tourism Policy has a very interesting model for a symbiosis of civil aviation and tourism. To accommodate a million additional tourists, Air India will have to invest Rs 10,530 crore and earn Rs 1,936 crore in foreign exchange annually. This model strengthens the argument for opening up the Indian skies to enhance tourism.

Indian policy-makers are convinced that civil aviation policies could go a long way in promoting tourism in India. Once policies for civil aviation and tourism begin to walk hand in hand, development could follow too, leading off from the creation of millions of jobs. Globalising economies, liberalising air transport and technological developments have galvanised civil aviation and tourism worldwide. Privatising airlines, cross-border acquisitions, merger of airlines, market and strategic alliances, sharper focus on the open sky policy and similar initiatives are leading towards a market oriented international aviation environment.

The conference organised by the Foundation for Aviation and Sustainable Tourism focused on an ideal synergy between civil aviation and tourism, in planning future strategies for each sector. India is a vast country. Even so, Spain attracts at least 25 times more foreign tourists than we do. China attracts 10 times more tourists than we do. Our market share of world tourist traffic is less than a per cent and tourism generates only 5.6 per cent of our GDP (gross domestic product) compared to 10 per cent worldwide.

Foundation for Aviation and Sustainable Tourism;
Rs 390; Pp 214

Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani had suggested at the December 2002 brainstorming that apart from the already established niche tourism areas like architecture, history, art, an untapped market existed for promoting faith tourism. He spoke of the urgent need for a balanced development of civil aviation and tourism for socio-economic development of the country. Although significant work has been done to strengthen civil aviation, much more needs to be done to improve air connectivity at affordable cost and to increase the confidence and comfort of the travelling public.