Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Nov 17, 2004
Tourism: A valuable economic package
B. S. Rathor
That tourism can create wealth and improve lifestyles is dawning on India too and stakeholders need to shift focus to domestic tourism.
Till recently described as the pass time of the idle rich, tourism has caught the imagination of the middle class too.
What several countries have recognised that tourism can create wealth and improve lifestyles is dawning on India too. While most countries have cohesively developed tourism products and services, India's approach has been quite fragmented.
India presents a large prospective leisure tourism market and there is a need for a paradigm shift from an elitist-cum-urbane slated promotion strategy to one that is directed to address this huge mass with disposable incomes that are rising by the day.
These real tourists, who travel for experience, adventure and education, make the real numbers and belong to the midsection of the socio-economic class.
According to figures released by the Ministry of Tourism for 2002-03, there were 2.75 million inbound tourists; 5 million outbound; and 300 million domestic travellers.
It is obviously the domestic mass that presents the most attractive opportunities and challenges for growing leisure tourism.
Inbound traffic still remains constrained by limited infrastructure and these will not be overcome in a hurry in view of both policy and resource limitations of the Government.
Tourism stakeholders need to shift focus to domestic tourism, as state-level actions are more likely to improve on-ground performance and produce more tangible results. Goa, Kerala, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have demonstrated their ability to attract domestic and foreign tourists.
India's advantage lies in the incredible choice culture, history and heritage, beaches, mountains, forests and wildlife it offers.
Connectivity infrastructure and incremental investments can create theme-based islands of tourist excellence that will satisfy every need of the leisure traveller.
It is a welcome sign that airlines and travel agencies, hitherto indifferent to the domestic customer, are now offering him sops. In a short time, the domestic air traffic has multiplied with new airlines, especially low-fare ones.
This has to be sustained to tap fully the domestic mass market. Hotels and resorts ought to innovate low-cost options. Low air and hotel tariffs are critical to widening the tourist base.
Vacation ownership, more commonly known as timeshare, has emerged as one of the fastest growing components of global tourism because of attractive value packages it offers.
The protagonists of tourism are diverse, as are their business priorities. The single-mindedness of purpose with high-level strategic and integrated promotion of Indian tourism, thus, gets somewhat diluted. Much time is lost on individual lobby rather than on shared objectives.
The Minister for Tourism, Ms Renuka Chowdhury, has taken positive initiatives and is enthusiastically espousing the cause of domestic tourism. She has to build strategic alliances with her colleagues in other ministries that impact tourism and at the State level. Her support for the New Delhi night bazaar is an acceptance of the demands of changing lifestyle patterns.
Tourism does not only mean charters and privatisation. It is all about getting more people moving out regularly and spending on leisure and entertainment of their choice. If the Delhi night bazaar pilot project succeeds, it will open the doors for implementing similar projects all over the country sensitised to local cultural needs.
Such initiatives will create multiple leisure options and generate employment. It is important to look at the development of tourism in non-urban India.
Higher disposable incomes are changing lifestyles. A culture of leisure travel has already caught on with people looking forward to wider and diverse holiday products.
C. K. Prahalad's advise to corporate heads is relevant in this context. He mentions that there is so much business opportunity within the Indian market that one hardly needs to look outside for business.
Unfortunately, very few in tourism seem to have paid heed to his advice and the focus continues to be the ``glamorous niche'' of the business traveller staying in luxury hotels.
Properly addressed, domestic tourism can be developed into a massive industry self-supporting and self-reliant, capable of creating huge employment opportunities, thereby preventing mass exodus to cities.
As the saying goes, ``look after your local market and the world market will look after you."
It is heartening to note that in the recent past, the Government has realised the earning capability of tourism and is making the right moves. The important thing is to shift gears from the macro to implementation.
The high-level tourism strategies being evolved in New Delhi should ensure right synergies with State-level schemes. Only then can a holistic development of tourism happen in a sustained manner.
Though India has done its bit in promoting tourism, the supporting infrastructure issues are in conflict. The Ministry of Tourism has created an impact in the foreign countries.
Perhaps, a similar campaign customised for the domestic market will go a long way in promoting domestic tourism which, in turn, will build a stronger incredible India brand in the world of global tourism.
(The author is Chairman and Principal Advisor, All India Resort Development Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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