The biggest success factor of North East, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh or Kerala in the tourism sector has been the emergence of home stays because staying with local people is an experience in itself, says Satyajeet Rajan, Director General (Tourism), Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, in conversation with Souvik Goswami of Elets News Network (ENN).
What are the focus areas for the government in promoting tourism in India?
The Government of India has put in place favourable policies to promote tourism in the country. Special attention has been given to the North East India and also on attracting more and more international tourists. For that, some new markets have to be tapped. We are focusing on short haul markets like China, Gulf and South East Asian countries as we believe that the biggest jump in the number of foreign tourists visiting India would come from these markets in the coming decade. For example, the Chinese outbound market is estimated to be around 13 crore and our aim is to increase it many folds from miniscule three lakh Chinese tourists presently.
To attract more foreign tourists, India should have woFrld-class infrastructure in place. What is being done on this front?
Development of tourism infrastructure is being prioritised to provide better experience to foreign tourists. Theme based circuits are being developed under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme spanning the entire country. A total number of 76 projects worth Rs 6,102 crores have been sanctioned till date under the scheme covering 30 states and Union Territories. Various projects under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme have been inaugurated in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya and Kerala till February 2019. Besides, integrated development of identified pilgrimage destinations is being initiated under the ‘National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual, Heritage Augmentation Drive’ scheme. Besides, infrastructure in temples is improving under PRASHAD scheme. We are trying to ensure linking of smaller places like Hampi, making them more attractive to tourists so that tourists have wider choice. Facilities like tourist facilitation centres, eco log huts, sound and light show, helipads, cafeteria, wayside amenities, water sports, craft villages, tribal thematic villages, illumination, nature trails, jetties, boat club, adventure zones, interpretation centres, etc. have been developed.
Most importantly, 17 sites in 12 clusters have also been identified by the ministry to transform them as iconic tourist sites with world class facilities. Nongovernmental sector is being encouraged to adopt tourist sites to channelise non-governmental funding including CSR funds.
How Smart Tourism can be ensured by leveraging Smart Cities Mission? What is your opinion about home stays?
Smart cities will become tourism hubs in their respective areas because they would provide high-end hotels and entertainment which will further boost tourist influx to these cities. We are promoting home stays in a big way. The biggest success factor of North East India, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala in the tourism sector has been the emergence of home stays because staying with local people is an experience itself. I believe home stays would become the next big thing for India’s tourism sector.
In terms of industry and government collaborations, I think hospitality sector has to ensure rooms and amenities at par with international standards. Technology can play a big role in this. Restaurants have to ensure specialty foods keeping in mind the needs of global tourists. We have requested Chinese restaurant chains to provide Chinese foods at our iconic tourist sites like Taj Mahal in Agra and Kaziranga National Park, Assam.
We are expecting from our hospitality sector to focus more and more on the needs of international tourists along with domestic tourists. We have to ensure that tourists feel that they have been taken care of.
Shed some light on the promotional and awareness creating activities to promote tourism by using technology and innovation.
The Ministry of Tourism has launched ‘Incredible India 2.0 Campaign’ which marks a shift from the present generic promotions being undertaken across the world, to market specific promotional plans and product specific creatives, with greater focus on digital presence and social media. Six films have been released so far, over 20 million views for each film covering luxury, Kaziranga, Yoga, cuisine, Ayurveda, Buddhist circuit, North east. 67 bloggers saw different parts of India in luxury trains. We also launched the new Incredible India website in June 2018. The website showcases India as a holistic destination, revolving around major experiences, such as spirituality, heritage, adventure, culture, yoga, wellness, and more. The website follows the trends and technologies of international standards with an aim to project India as a ‘must visit’ destination. To leverage more and more technology, the ministry has launched Incredible India mobile app. The app has been equipped with features to assist the traveller in each phase of their journey to India. We are also thinking of coming up with new app which will help us in locating a tourist and we are in talks with various tech companies to use more and more augmented reality, AI to ensure use of technology and innovation for tourism ecosystem.
What is the future growth roadmap for India’s tourism sector?
The vision has been completely laid by the Prime Minister. The thrust is to reduce the barriers. Visa reforms in the last four-five years have been focusing on that. We have to make it more liberal. Apart from e-Visa, we should also extend visa on arrival beyond specified three countries. In the lean period of tourism, we can offer visa on arrival without any fees which will result in an increased number of foreign tourists to India. GST rates are very high in India for the hospitality sector. The rates have to align with the rates in competing markets like China, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and the Middle East. We have to also ensure cleaner tourist destinations to attract tourists. Swachh Bharat Mission has helped us in this. But, there is a long way to go. We also need to work more on safety and security of tourists. Finally, Experiential Tourism is the future of tourism and all stakeholders should align their activities to provide this.