Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the past few months, has been frequently talking about how India could be a sought-after tourism destination. He first urged India’s rich and famous who opt for lavish destination weddings in Europe to get married in the gorgeous palaces and havelis of India in his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ series.
He positioned it as ‘Wed in India’. In fact, his social media posts asking Indians to patronise Lakshadweep over international beach destinations have actually resulted in strained bilateral relations between India and Maldives. The most spectacular initiative in recent times is of course the opening of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
The 10 billion dollar makeover of the holy town, which now boasts of an airport, a modern railway station and an improvised road connectivity, according to a report by brokerage firm, Jefferies, is expected to attract over 50 million tourists annually.
Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, in the Interim Budget 2024, kept the momentum alive by announcing that the State Governments would be encouraged to take up comprehensive development of iconic tourist centres, branding and marketing them at the global scale.
Sitharaman said that a framework for rating of the centres based on the quality of facilities and services will be established. “Long-term interest-free loans will be provided to States for financing such development on a matching basis.
To address the emerging fervour for domestic tourism, projects for port connectivity, tourism infrastructure, and amenities will be taken up on our islands, including Lakshadweep. This will help in generating employment also,” she added.
So, what needs to be done to make destination India truly sought after? Tourism industry professionals say the need of the hour is to have a formalised policy. “There has to be a national policy framework that would say that land in demarcated areas would be given to hotels at a standard revenue share, single window clearance for all kinds of licences and so on. Otherwise, what happens is that the intent is clearly laid but execution differs from state to state. Every State has a different set of rules for licenses which makes it really difficult,” says Kapil Chopra (former president, Oberoi Hotels), founder, The Postcard Hotel.
“The Government needs to bring out an execution document and not an intent document. How do we get 50 million tourists, there needs to be a clear policy framework for that,” Chopra further adds.
Shruti Shibulal, CEO and director, Tamara Leisure Experiences, agrees. She says promoting ‘Destination India’ would require a holistic approach. “We need to ensure that our country can sustainably manage an uptick in tourism. This includes prioritising the wellbeing of native communities, protecting heritage sites, preserving natural ecosystems and promoting circular economies to secure responsible consumption and production chains.”
“While government support is presently evident across infrastructural needs (air, water, railways and roads), we also need to mitigate the impact of ‘over-tourism’ in accordance with global sustainability benchmarks. This can be done through various macro and micro initiatives such as establishing unique experiences in remote areas that would benefit from visitors and also aid in pulling tourists away from overcrowded destinations,” Shibulal adds.
Madhavan Menon, executive chairman, Thomas Cook, says the ball has set rolling in the right direction. “The Government’s plans to boost air connectivity by the addition of 517 new routes across tier 2-3 cities, carrying 1.3 crore passengers via the UDAN scheme, will play a critical role with vibrant hub and spoke air corridors to boost accessibility-affordability for regional India. Implementation of major rail connectivity corridors via the PM Gati Shakti program together with port and metro/rapid transport expansion will serve to create valuable multi-modal connectivity for tourism.”
India certainly has a long way to go to become a dream tourism destination. Poor connectivity, over-dependence on a few tourist destinations, lack of accommodation facilities for mass travellers and lack of well-trained tourism professionals are among the major drawbacks.