After a long wait of 14 years, India is all set to welcome a new tourism policy expected to be announced anytime this month. The new policy will be epoch-making as it aims to set up a National Tourism Authority to clearly separate policy making from execution of policy decisions. In an exclusive interview to Financial Express Online, Suman Billa, joint secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, elucidates on the sweet surprises awaiting the Indian tourism sector. By Steena Joy
When is the new Tourism Policy expected?
The draft policy is ready. The government has invited comments from the industry then with some inclusions, we will finalise it. More or less the draft policy will be the final one. We plan to announce it on the first anniversary of the Modi Government, which is this month end.
What new direction can the tourism industry expect from the new policy?
Broadly the new policy is very ambitious. In terms of concept, unlike the last policy in 2002, which was a statement of what a policy should be, the new tourism policy will be different in that it will not just be stating the intent but it has also detailed out how it will be implemented. So there are two parts to the document – one the policy itself and second the action plan. All with clear timelines and allocation as to who will execute the work.
Administratively, we are suggesting a separation of policy making from execution. The executing functions will be moved to a National Tourism Authority (NTA) to be set up. The NTA will have representations from the government and also from the private sector. In India, the biggest bottleneck is that when you operate in the ministry there are a lot of hurdles; the decision making process is very laborious. You are not supposed to be in the business of doing this. The ministry is getting unnecessarily hamstrung. So if you have this Tourism Authority and you put some of the stakeholders also into it, then it will lead to two things – firstly, the NTA will truly reflect the aspirations of the trade and industry. Secondly, it will give us the ease and flexibility of doing things without being bogged down by the executing function.
Will it have a focus on enhancing India’s MICE image?
MICE is one of the focus areas but the policy is more about overall growth. We are pitching for India to grow at a rate commensurate with its potential. At present India accounts for roughly 0.68 per cent of international tourist traffic and by putting things into action we want this figure to convert to one per cent by 2020 and to two per cent by 2025 because a lot of groundwork needs to be done, the administrative structure needs to be put into place for tourism to yield results. We cannot do it overnight. So we don’t want to commit to something conservative, nor something overly ambitious but at the same time we want to be indicative of what we can do. The document itself is a lot more ambitious.
What are the tax incentives the policy is offering to drive hospitality investments to emerging tourist destinations?
As the GST has been announced, once that is nationalised it looks like that there are going to be two slabs for GST. So what we want to pitch for that the government fix a lower slab for tourism to incentivise growth in the sector. Secondly, we want the government to treat tourism like physical exports. For instance, like en exporter of goods who gets tax rebates, a hotelier who provides accommodation for international tourists and earns forex should also get the tax rebate. When we are on the growth path, this will boost the competitiveness of the sector.
We are talking of Buddhist circuits, Kerala, Goa, Rajasthan. We want to go beyond all that. If we want to take tourism to destinations like Bihar, UP, etc., we will have to create composite townships like what we have done in Bekal. Plan tourism townships with good infrastructure facilities, security, etc. What we have said in the policy is that we should not limit this to corporations or govt entity but income tax rebate for 10 years to any company which does tourism development over 25 hectares of land. Adventure tourism is something as per its its potential because of safety aspect. Here equipment is very critical so we have suggested zero duty on imports of such equipment.
What about medical tourism?
We need to make a concerted effort which is not happening now. To begin with, we will be creating a Medical Tourism Promotion Board. AYUSH is basically doing Indian medicine. The board will be broader to include Allopathy. The idea is to create synergy between tourism and the health care sector. The board will work with the industry to action out a clear gameplan to work upon. The board will have representations from the ministry of healthcare, the medical industry including hospitals, AYUSH as well as from tour operators who deal with medical tourists. So that all stakeholders will have a voice.
What needs to be done to improve connectivity to the North East states and how does the MoT plan to grow tourism in this region?
We have addressed the issue of better connectivity in this region but as this involves infrastructural solutions, here the policy will take an advocacy position. Hopefully the PM’s active policy for this region will pay out and have some dividends soon.
Is the MoT planning any new Incredible India promotional campaign this year?
There will be a campaign. Some ideas are being discussed. We will hear about them as we go along. We ahev not put a number but what we have mentioned in the policy is that one promoting Incredible India is also about projection of horsepower. It is not only about selling your rooms but also about how you position India and how people the worldover look at you. So we need to take a broader perspective.
The mix is changing slowly and surely from television and print to online. It is getting more digital. This also gives us the opportunity to cater to very niche clientele. Like for example, tourists who are keen on elephant tours specifically, we cannot focus on them in a general campaign on television; but we can use digital promotions to target them better.
As for our overseas offices, we have suggested that we must not try to do everything by themselves. But rather act as a nucleus and offload most of the activities like public relations, organising roadshows, etc, which can actually be outsourced to professional agencies. They can then focus on vendor management so that this can give a little more effective and more market oriented push towards tourism. In the 14 international offices we have, we will move immediately to this module and in places where we do not have offices like specific markets like Scandinavia we will appoint marketing representatives who will act on our behalf.
Will the MoT give a new push to tribal and rural tourism?
In many ways this policy will make a striking departure from earlier policies because it talks about community and responsible tourism and sustainability. Rural and tribal tourism will figure prominently. All this growth mentioned in the policy has to happen within a framework of responsibility and sustainability and therefore if that is the framework in which we need to grow then we should built up on our strengths in rural tourism and will have to make the community the centrepiece of tourism.