By Puneet Chhatwal
As one of the fastest emerging tourist destinations in the world, India’s travel and tourism sector will be the key axis of development in the coming years. Prime minister Narendra Modi’s reiteration of the importance of tourism in driving growth in the post-budget session is a testimony to the immense possibilities of the sector. Budget 2023, at the beginning of Amrit kaal, or the period of robust growth, has outlined the path to develop tourism in mission mode.
India’s G20 Presidency, together with prime minister Narendra Modi
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There is a clear tilt towards collective action between industry stakeholders and government to shape an ever-brighter future for the sector, which is a pillar of development, accounting for 10% of the total employment directly, and providing 8% of the overall GDP.
Redefining tourism through collaboration
The basic premise for the Centre’s push to tourism is acknowledgement of the fact that the travel and tourism sector needs multiple means of support to prop it up. The Union Budget has listed six themes for the development of the sector, viz. convergence, public-private-participation, creativity, innovation, digitisation, and development of destinations.
The power of collaboration between the government, private sector, and local communities in developing and promoting tourism cannot be emphasised enough. It stimulates some creativity, enhances competitiveness, and achieves visionary results, which may be difficult if all parties were to operate in isolation.
The prime minister gave the examples of Kashi, Kedarnath, the Statue of Unity, and Pavagadh to show how a unified approach put the winds in the sails of these regions. The Kashi Vishwanath Dham temple, for instance, saw footfall increase from 80 lakh a year on an average to 7 crore last year. The newly-developed site around the Statue of Unity saw 27 lakh visitors within a year of its completion. This approach is aligned with the PM’s call for Atmanirbhar Bharat and the initiative of Dekho Apna Desh that spurred domestic tourism.
Technology and tourism
Travel experiences are becoming more personalised, immersive, and interactive. The last two years have given us a glimpse of how blockbuster digital technologies, AR/VR, and artificial intelligence will revolutionise the travel and tourism industry. AR/VR can help travellers explore destinations before they arrive, providing virtual tours and simulations of famous landmarks, historical sites, and cultural experiences. AI-powered chatbots, and digital assistants can help travellers plan their trips, recommend personalised activities, and offer real-time assistance while travelling.
A coordinated approach, boosted by adoption of technology, can also help India beat the bug-bear of low-spending foreign tourists. On an average, we find that foreign tourists spend 33% less than what they would in the US; when compared to Australia, it is lower by more than 60%.
The new 6 Ps
Unlocking India’s immense tourism potential requires a comprehensive strategy that addresses the six key pillars—planning, place, people, policy, process, and promotion. The Budget session addressed all these 6 Ps effectively, by covering destination planning and management, infrastructure development, sustainability and safety, development of human capital, policy, and process interventions to align the Centre and the states as well as promoting the narrative of Indian tourism.
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Constitutionally, too, tourism remains a state subject, and the central tourism department has been batting for it to be moved to the concurrent list for policy-making at the central and state levels. Granting tourism infrastructure status will provide further impetus to the growth of the sector. It is understood that the idea of a National Tourism Board is under consideration by the government.
Now is the time for India to turbo-charge its efforts, with the right policies and initiatives, to feature among the top three travel and tourism economies globally.
The writer is president, Hotel Association of India (HAI) and chairman, CII National Committee on Tourism & Hospitality
Views are personal