By Puneet Chhatwal
As one of the fastest emerging tourist destinations in the world, India’s travel and tourism sector offers promising growth; having crossed an inflection point, it is now poised for bigger things. India’s Budget 2023 has outlined various initiatives and schemes to develop tourism in Mission Mode.
The Hon’ble Prime Minister’s re-iteration of the importance of the sector in driving India’s growth in the post-budget session is a testimony to the enormous possibilities whereby tourism can contribute to both GDP growth and employment generation. There is a clear focus on collective action between industry stakeholders and government to shape an ever-brighter future for the sector, one that can make a positive impact to the economy and society at large.
Power of Collaboration
The basic premise for the Central Government’s push to tourism is an acknowledgement of the fact that travel and tourism sector needs multiple means of support to prop it up. The union budget has listed convergence and public-private-participation as two of the six themes, underlining the thrust for collaboration.
The importance of collaboration between the government, private sector, and local communities in developing and promoting tourism cannot be emphasised enough. Beyond being a developmental tool, it also stimulates creativity, enhances competitiveness and achieves visionary results, which may be difficult if all parties concerned were to operate in isolation. The Kashi Vishwanath Dham temple, for instance, saw footfalls 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.
Tourism at a Tipping Point
Even the destination-centric approach, the first theme, in the list of six, talks about bringing together multiple power centres of governance in promoting 50 new destinations as tourism centres of the future. The Prime Minister gave the examples of locations like Kashi, Kedarnath, the Statue of Unity and Pavagadh, to show how this unified approach and coming together of different arms of the government led to a huge boost in the number of tourists visiting these locations.
As we have seen, the Prime Minister’s call for Atmanirbhar Bharat and the initiative of Dekho Apna Desh spurred domestic tourism and led hospitality companies to add supply across all segments — from business and luxury properties, home stays, villas and to budget hotels. The development of these 50 new destinations will see not merely an evolution but a revolution of tourism in India in the years to come.
Tourism is a socio-economic activity and a long-term approach to development that balances social and economic objectives with environmentally sound management is the way forward. The dominant themes in this year’s budget include subjects such as leveraging local culture, preserving heritage, promoting wellness and spiritual tourism and improving lives at the grass roots level with sustainability at the core of all decision making.
There is, however, one more key takeaway from the list of themes, and that is the ongoing digitisation and innovation in the sector. Digital technologies, AR/VR, and artificial intelligence are set to revolutionize the travel and tourism industry. Travel experiences are becoming more personalized, immersive, and interactive. AR and VR can help travellers explore destinations before they even 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 personalized activities, and offer real-time assistance while traveling. The emerging technology will also be a key to help the sector keep a tab on its carbon footprint, its sustainability and the dangers of over-tourism.
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, foreign tourists spend 33% less than what they would spend in the USA and when compared to Australia, it is lower by more than 60%.
The Need of the Hour
Ease of doing business approach now needs to come to travel, tourism and hospitality. Unlocking India’s immense tourism potential requires a comprehensive strategy that addresses the six key pillars of Planning, Place, People, Policy, Process, and Promotion. It is great to note that the post-budget session addressed all the 6Ps effectively by covering destination planning and management, infrastructure development, sustainability and safety, development of human capital, policy and process interventions to align Centre & State as well as promoting the narrative of Indian tourism.
Constitutionally, too, tourism remains a state subject, and the central tourism department has been batting for it to be moved to the concurrent list, to allow policy making both at the central and the state level. For instance, some Indian states have already provided the industry-status to tourism, a key demand of the sector for decades now.
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. Matched with the right policies and initiatives, this is the ideal launch pad for India to be among the Top-3 Travel & Tourism economies globally.
The author is the President of Hotel Association of India (HAI) and Chairman, CII National Committee on Tourism and Hospitality. Views expressed are personal.