Blueprint For Tourism

Updated: May 28 2004, 05:30am hrs
Union tourism minister Renuka Chowdhury recently made some interesting public comments. They may have been made on her very first day at office but reflect a clear understanding of the job at hand.

The minister wants to focus on promoting the domestic market; on making Incredible India a global brand through private operators; and on medical tourism, religious tourism and the international student community.

Tapping the growing domestic market, actually, dovetails well with the promotion of religious circuits.

A recent study by the National Council of Applied Economic Research notes that the vast majority of leisure trips by Indians have been pilgrimages! Ms Chowdhurys predecessor Mr Jagmohan has doubtless been instrumental in developing new religious circuits and revamping existing ones.

Focussing on the vast hitherto untapped student community abroad reflects new vision and progressive thinking and must be pursued vigorously.

The tourism ministry should, in conjunction with the ministry of external affairs, rope in personnel at Indian embassies as informal cultural ambassadors.

Marketing Brand India in conjunction with hotels, airlines, tour operators, travel agents etc is also welcome as it reflects the tourism ministrys primary role of a facilitator.

Here, the thrust on medical tourism is a tad puzzling. Much like the IT sector, medical tourism has thrived in India due to the absence of direct governmental involvement and on the back of private sector initiatives.

Indias super-speciality hospitals, which have engaged highly-qualified and well-trained doctors along with professional managers, have marketed themselves successfully abroad to emerge as cheaper options for foreigners desirous of world-class medical treatment.

Centres of medical excellence such as the Apollo group have got the necessary international accreditation and are actively tying up with international insurers as well.

Of course, traditional healing, spas and yoga centres alike also enter the medical tourism spectrum but it is modern, high tech medicine which is the driver of big business spearheading the 30 per cent annual growth and drawing in one lakh foreigners last year.

A greater role for the tourism ministry, beyond flagging the sectors potential at international fora and in brochures, is neither necessary nor desirable.

Given Ms Chowdhurys charm and political smarts, we suggest a far more important agenda for the tourism minister: She should demand co-operation from key ministries such as home (for a friendlier visa regime), finance (after all, students need budget hotels!) and civil aviation (for ridding public sector airlines of State shackles). Successes notched up there would be nothing short of spectacular for Indian tourism.