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Make India 365-day hotspot

India is bigger than 23 countries of Europe and every single State has some unique characteristics, which could interest tourists in one way or the other.  Tourism Ministry has decided to give a maximum of Rs 50 cr (and Rs 25 cr) to State Govts to develop each circuit and destination. 

Though India has become one of the significant emerging economies, the growth scenario is not supplemented by sufficient employment generation. 

It is now recognized that unless the country's growth is employment-driven and blends with social equity, the desired effects of such high growth may not have the desired effects on the people.

Tourism has the capacity to capitalize on the country's success in the services sector and provide sustainable economic growth over the long term. It can stimulate the economic sectors through backward and forward linkages and cross-sectoral synergies. The development of tourism as an industry is being emphasised by most countries around the world. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), more than 700 million tourists travel internationally every year spending more than US $300 billion, accounting for 8 per cent of the world exports, 30 per cent of international trade in services and more than one billion jobs. Tourism has been playing its due role in India and has recorded a growth of 15 per cent per annum over the last three years.

A recent study by the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) has revealed that tourism's contribution towards the Gross Domestic Produce (GDP) is 5.9 per cent and towards employment (both direct and indirect) 8.78 per cent. Thus, there is an imperative need to promote tourism in a big way. India's success could attract more and more tourists in various fields. For instance, eco (or nature) tourism, religious tourism, historical tourism, health or medical tourism etc. It may be mentioned here that India is bigger than 23 countries of Europe and every single State has some unique characteristics, which could interest tourists in one way or the other. The 'Incredible India' campaign has been quite successful and driven the growth of tourism.

As a result, tourist arrivals have increased dramatically. During the Tenth Plan period, tourist arrivals grew by a phenomenal 78 per cent while foreign exchange earnings increased by around 120 per cent. According to Union Tourism Ministry, a whopping 420 million domestic tourists were recorded in 2006. This figure is up from 236 million just four years ago. While the 'Incredible India' campaign could serve as the mother brand, the States should also be encouraged to establish their own brands.

The brands should be aimed at capturing the underlying spirit of the country, its culture, tradition and spirituality. Apart from the brand campaign, the opening up of air transport and emergence of low-cost carriers has greatly helped boost up tourist arrivals from our Asian neighbours. Restrictive civil aviation policies had hitherto led to a loss in terms of business, employment and tourism. Moreover, the initiation of direct international flights to smaller cities such as Varnasi, Gaya is expected to increase tourist traffic in the coming years.

A study conducted by FICCI on the development perspective of eco and rural tourism revealed that it had the highest employment and investment ratio. Every additional investment of Rs 10 crore has the potential to generate 47.5 jobs. Further, every direct job created in tourism leads to a creation of 77 jobs in other related sectors of the industry, the study stated. Besides the multiplier effect of tourism generates a high revenue-capital ratio and indirect employment is generated in the form of revival of traditional arts and crafts, development of communication, hotels etc.

Another study by McKinsey has revealed that medical tourism could generate as much as Rs 100 billion of revenue for India by 2012. Provided the country makes a success of its medical tourism which would help build bigger capacities and draw more investment for the health sector. Attracting foreign tourists has become a priority of the Government and there are expectations of tourists reaching the 10 million mark by the end of the 11th Plan period. There is presently one lakh approved quality accommodation which should be increased to two lakh by 2011, according to report by a working group on tourism for the Eleventh Plan.

The need for creating adequate infrastructure to attract more tourists, especially those from foreign countries, has been a long felt need. The Tourism Ministry has earmarked Rs 650 crore budget for this fiscal to develop sites within the country. The Ministry has decided to give a maximum of Rs 50 crore (and Rs 25 crore) to State Governments to develop each circuit and destination. Accordingly, it has planned to set up 100 heritage circuits by the end of the 11th Plan of which 25 are expected to be of international standard.

The Government also plans to build world-class infrastructure at Hampi, Agra, Konark, Khajuraho, Orccha and Datia along with Buddhist and Jain centres. To develop cultural tourism, the Government has identified six museums at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Cochin which would be upgraded to compete with global standards. Among the places identified are Ajanta, Ellora, Ajmer, Jaisalmer, Varnasi Ghats, Badrinath, Kedarnath etc. While the Centre will fund the projects, the States will make available land and implement the work.

As religious tourism has been gaining ground for some time, the Buddhist area of Raghir, Nalanda and Bodh Gaya have also been chosen for development. A holistic development of Buddhist tourism in the country assumes special significance in the light of 2008 being designated as the 'India Japan Tourism Exchange Year'. There is a genuine effort by the Government to improve the infrastructure of the religious and historical places to attract tourists in large numbers, especially from the neighbouring Asian countries and Europe. However critical challenges still remain.

The existing infrastructure in most places is either woefully inadequate or not up to desired expectations, especially of foreign tourists. The challenge is to create around 100,000 additional star category hotel rooms or good quality resorts in the next three years. The Tourism Ministry has decided to create 'land banks' by acquiring land for building hotels through public-private partnerships on a built-operate basis. There is also need to improve roadways, transportation, ensure clean and hygienic environment and ensure safety and security conditions in the areas and give these places a modern look. Improvement of surroundings of tourist spots, especially in rural areas and ensuring cleanliness needs to be given due attention.

The working group suggestions, if implemented, can definitely boost tourism in the country. However, there is need to concentrate on countries such as South Africa, Israel, Spain, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Brazil and Argentina which would help in attracting tourists to India. Fewer tourists come to India from these countries, so they offer high growth potential. Promotion of business-related travel by building convention centres of international standards in major cities and new tourist centres has also been envisaged. Moreover, the country needs to prepare strategies to increase the per capita expenditure on shopping. India has emerged as the 4th favoured destination for holidays above South Africa and Switzerland, as per a survey undertaken by Conde Nast Traveller magazine for their 2006 Readers Travel Awards.

India is indeed a big country with unique destinations and natural locales. It is also a region of the world's greatest bio-diversity and a place where history is found embedded in palaces, monuments and conservation sites. Thus, while a tourist average stay in Singapore is about 5 days it is 26 days in India. Thanks to the latter's vast tourist potential. Clearly, it would not be difficult to transform India into a 365 days-a-year destination country, where tourists would find themselves comfortable at every place. Be it a historical, religious, ecological or health visit.

Dhurjati Mukherjee, INFA

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