AT this crucial juncture in the life of the nation, it is of essence that the national perspective on tourism does not remain confined merely to figures of foreign tourist arrivals-figures that conceal more than they actually reveal.
Another fallacy is related to promotional advertising. Our sheer inability to appreciate that the bottleneck in so far as foreign tourist arrivals is concerned, is not the inability to showcase but the excessive load factors on the flights plying between our country and the rest of the world. Hopefully, the momentum to create large airports shall continue as only that will impact the numbers in the real sense.
The other concern is of infrastructure. The much-needed basic tourist infrastructure is a bare necessity and merely dumping loads of money on hapless State Governments, who permit only a trickle to reach the ground, is not going to help. Experience has shown that the release of funds alone is not a guarantor of physical infrastructure emerging on the ground and needs to be followed up by good project reports, healthy execution and extensive monitoring and without that happening, the oft-repeated pat on the back is not really in order.
The story of the (in)famous India Tourism Development Corporation says it all. An inherently profitable business brought to seed by inept management is indeed the sad story of India’s tourism. Tourism development is its mandate, yet the corporation finds it difficult even to stand on its own feet and has emerged as perhaps the most glaring national example of sloth, inefficiency and corruption. Yet the silver lining is that the corporation still has the mandate and also Hotel Ashok at Delhi and, therefore, theoretically possesses the wherewithal to again rise like the phoenix. Perhaps assigning the work of development of tourism infrastructure to a rejuvenated tourism corporation would be the best thing for the cause of tourism in the country.
Domestic tourism is, indeed, the backbone of tourism in any country. Yet we have to look at innovative measures for it to really grow. Madhya Pradesh had some time back experimented with ‘AasPaas’ tourism, a campaign backed by aggressive facilitation primarily focused at enabling and also inspiring people to explore nearby tourist places.
There are four classes of tourists—the international variety that moves from one country to another, the inter-state variety that moves from one state of the country to another, the intra-state type that moves from one region of the state to another and the intra-region class that explores the tourist areas in the region they live in. The ‘AasPaas’ innovation was basically targeted at the last two and was an instantaneous hit. I have the firm conviction that if piloted by the central ministry, ‘AasPaas’ tourism could change the way the sector is perceived in this nation.
It is time now that tourism emerges as one of the focal sectors of the new dispensation at the Centre. Emerge it shall, provided the new government looks beyond the established clichés and takes necessary steps to enable tourism to drive local economies, besides giving a thrust to the re-emergence and positioning of ancient Indian heritage, art, culture and thought. The sectors encompassing tourism and culture are complimentary and a much higher natural synergy can be achieved by merging, once and for all, the two separate ministries. A step in this directionhas already been taken during the Cabinet formation.
Tourist offices that earlier formed the backbone of the national effort to give a thrust to tourism need to be revitalised by suitable empowerment and injection of fundamentals of administration and management. The unfortunate state of affairs in which these offices and the men who man them stand castigated should not be allowed to continue. One reason is the envy that foreign postings tend to create.
The focus on numbers has to go and the emphasis must be on setting the ground in order. Tourism can make a tremendous impact with focused intervention by the central and state governments.