Sustaining The Growth In Tourism

Written by YRK Reddy | Updated: Jul 12 2004, 06:41am hrs
India is growing incredibly fast as a travel and tourism economy and is now rated among the Top Five hot destinations in the world. Tourist arrivals in 2003 were close to 3 million with earnings equivalent to over Rs 17,000 crore. The first five months in 2004 have reportedly shown a 24.9 per cent increase in tourists and 36 per cent increase in earnings over the previous year. Understandably, the new minister is showing great enthusiasm to take this industry to newer heights.

Behind this great news is the risk of sustainability of growth. The reasons for the increased attractiveness for India are less to do with the change in the quality of tourist experience and more to do with the current attention to India and the perception that it is a happening place. Sustainable advantage arises from improving the value for the tourists. Value in the service industry is mainly of the quality of experience than the price and range of packaged tours.

The experience chain for a tourist is a series of interactions beginning from the embassy/consulate giving Indian visas and passing through the airlines, immigration channels, customs clearances, the airport, eating places, tourist places, hotels, shops, streets etc till departure. If these remain the way they are, the Incredible India campaign will soon be interpreted as incredibly bad! The Experience India Society with which the ministry has now signed an MoU could soon be on the defensive to explain the harrowing experiences.

Many countries have realised the value of close monitoring of tourist profiles, their psychology, their expectations, their spending habits, their requirements and their feedback through painstaking research. They have been able to identify the ethnic groups that spend more than the others, what they seek, how they get satisfied and if they come back at all. This effort is backed by training at several levels and along the chain to inculcate a service-oriented behaviour and to render quality service. Thus, the island Malaysia attracts three times more tourist traffic than continental India.

Indeed, Indian tourists going abroad are far more than tourist arrivals into India and they spend more than the average incoming tourist. The real challenge for the tourism ministry is to attract the non-NRI and non-business tourists who also are from the high spending class. There is no point in attracting tourists who find living costs lesser than those at home and only burden the frail water, environment and sewerage systems here.

Some interaction points in the experience chain can be improved immediately, in tandem with the campaigns and offerings. The quality of experience improves if the Indian consulates and embassies become more friendly, affable and responsive. Stories of bureaucratese and snootiness among the officials dominate the tourist world. We need Indian Airlines and Air India staff and hostesses to be more service conscious than ego conscious to let the passenger occupy their mind than the crew and their baggage. Many of them miss the point that the person servicing must exhibit lesser ego and stature than the passenger by appropriate attention, construction of conversation, decibel levels, intonations and body language.

On arrival, the quality of experience can be disastrous if the counters are just a few, the queues long and officials slow. The brush with corrupt India may start right under the CVCs notice displayed over the screen. The three page disembarkation form has columns for foreigners, just as there are counters for foreigners instead of for other passport holders. The trolleys in some airports may be in competition with those used for carrying rubble.

These are simpler compared to the harder and sticky tasks of eliminating deeply impressionistic scenes that can horrify the unprepared tourists. First is the sight of open defecation, with swarms of flies to make it even more revolting. Second is the sight of food being made and served with bare hands and reused dirty water. Third is the mass of intrusive touts, brokers, beggars and friends who hustle and harass deriving weird satisfaction.

The valuable tourist is a global one who compares one experience with the other. To make the high spending tourists choose India, the challenge is not merely of campaigns, packages and tourist baiting. These will be short lived and India may get just the captive tourists NRIs and those doing business, even if in increased numbers. The challenge is to get the creamy, spending lot, and repeatedly.

Governments must now focus on the tourist experience by truly addressing the quality of interactions so that they are attracted and carry happy memories and experiences. Research shows that every happy tourist influences eight others positively while the unhappy one prevents about 22.

The author can be reached at yrk@yagaconsulting.com