By G Kamala Vardhana Rao,
It was from the ramparts of Red Fort on August 15th, 2019 that Prime Minister Narendra Modi called out to the citizens to rediscover the beauty and diversity of our nation, to pledge to visit 15 destinations in three years as a means to rekindle our patriotism and pride in our heritage. Ministry of Tourism amplified this vision by launching a campaign titled ‘Dekho Apna Desh’, a boost to development of domestic tourism. Although Covid 19 mandated a ban on travel, leveraging digital, Dekho Apna Desh metamorphosed into a webinar series, with an aim to maintain a dialogue and introduce diverse citizens to the history, culture, cuisine, heritage and architecture of the country, creating an appetite to resume travel once restrictions lifted. Commencing April 14, 2020, the series has completed 150 webinars till date, creating a buzz with an LMS viewership of 108074, 368556 social media views and participation from 61 foreign countries.
Tourism enjoys a high priority on Government agendas, being one of the three T’s – Technology, Trade and Tourism. It is no ordinary matter that the Prime Minister himself gave a tourism-boosting mandate to the Indian diaspora during his recent visit to European nations. Calling the expatriate population of Indians ‘Rashtradoots’, he urged each one to inspire five non-Indian friends to visit India and experience first-hand the strength, diversity and beauty of the country. This is the starting point of a clarion call “Chalo India!” This move is a game-changer for the Indian tourism industry. The Indian diaspora overseas approximates 32 million. Countries with the highest number of Indians include USA (4.2 million), United Arab Emirates (3.4 million), Malaysia (2.9 million), Saudi Arabia (2.6 million), Myanmar (2 million), United Kingdom (1.76 million), Canada (1.7 million), Sri Lanka (1.6 million), South Africa (1.5 million) and Kuwait (1 million). If each Indian accrues five non-Indians travelling to India, the resultant potential foreign arrivals in India would be in excess of 150 million. The growth rate would no longer scrape the double-digit, taking a quantum leap into a three-digit bracket. The tourism sector which was the worst casualty of the pandemic now looks poised to become a thrust sector towards sustainable growth.
According to a WTTC report, India ranked 10th among 185 countries in terms of travel & tourism’s total contribution to GDP in 2019. During 2019, contribution of travel & tourism to GDP was 6.8% of the total economy, ~ Rs. 1,368,100 crore (US$ 194.30 billion). In 2020, the Indian tourism sector accounted for 39 million jobs, which was 8% of the total employment in the country. By 2028, Indian tourism and hospitality is expected to earn US$ 50.9 billion as visitor exports compared with US$ 28.9 billion in 2018. However, in view of the Chalo India movement, not only would foreign earnings increase multi-fold, so would employment generation, local economy and trade matrices, as well as economics of allied sectors namely civil aviation, transport and infra development. Not to mention the repositioning of Brand India across the globe as a first preference destination, versatile, safe and inexhaustible, compelling visitors to return yet again to experience something anew.
The top-driven approach is to activate tourism as a significant growth driver in both, domestic and international arenas. With school children being urged to integrate more deeply with their surroundings, local culture and heritage, to university students being urged to travel to the pristine and lesser explored North-east India, establishment of international airports and strengthening of the rail and road networks, there is a multi-pronged approach tackling inspiration and infrastructure simultaneously.
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Ministry of Tourism is taking concrete measures to amplify “Chalo India” through the Indian diaspora and overseas officials. Twenty Tourism Officers have been designated in as many embassies in top source markets across the globe. Indian Ambassadors and High Commission are driving this campaign leading from the front; many interaction sessions were held between Ministry of Tourism and the Indian Embassies to finalise strategies to improve foreign tourist arrivals into India. Active community or profession based associations of Indians in various countries are being tapped for their established potential and outreach. These associations have a reckoning of their own as they celebrate festivals, conduct social gatherings and are a unified voice of the community. Enthused by the Prime Minister’s confidence, they are gearing up to be the drivers for the campaign. The diaspora overseas consists of doctors, IT professionals, MNC employees, restaurateurs and chefs, as well as entrepreneurs, who have access to large groups of social, professional and business counterparts through school gatherings, medical associations, social clubs and clientele. There is already a Chalo India Gujarati Association formed in the United States of America who have started reaching out to their non-Indian friends. Inaugural sessions are being rolled out for diaspora communities to provide relevant information and elaborate on the role of the individuals.
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A materialisation linked reward and recognition matrix is also envisaged as the movement gathers momentum. Indian restaurants can play a vital role in popularising various tourist destinations of India by showcasing video-films and conducting regular culinary festivals. Many Indian festivals are celebrated in popular areas of mega cities such as Times Square, New York, Trafalgar Square, London etc. Indian Associations can also form Indian tourism clubs which can regularly conduct quiz competitions, photography competitions amongst school and college students in the cities that they live. Furthermore, Medical value tourism is emerging as an important sector leading many foreigners to visit India for regular treatments as well as Ayurveda and wellness. Indian diaspora can play a major role in providing sufficient information to their foreign friends on this aspect as well.
India has a plethora of tourism products to offer, ranging from adventure and skiing to wildlife and nature, spirituality, culture and heritage, MICE and eco-tourism. Post pandemic, wellness, yoga, Ayurveda and health tourism have taken centre-stage. Additionally, with tourism at a standstill in China, war situation in CIS region and the civil unrest in Sri Lanka, there is ample scope for India to gain traction as a preferred destination, and even rise to number one destination for foreigners. This is the time to align with Chalo India campaign, a movement based on Sab Pravasi Ka Prayas.
(The author is Director General, Ministry of Tourism and Managing Director ITDC. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)