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Tuesday, 10 September, 2019, 10 : 03 AM [IST]

Rhetoric and Realities

It seems even the country’s Prime Minister has lost faith in the inbound story. It was five years ago during his first Independence Day speech, Modi mentioned tourism and its ability to create jobs for the poorest of the poor – pakora seller to chai wala to the auto driver. It was from the same platform he launched the historic Clean India campaign saying filthy and unhygienic surroundings is what failed India from gaining its rightful place in global tourism. Yes, there was delivery on the promise. There was action on cleanliness at tourist destinations and across India to some extent, but did it convert into international tourist footfalls and create livelihood opportunities for people is debatable.

Five years down the line, the PM again touched upon tourism from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort. Again, he gave the tourism industry something to dream and cheer about for the next five years. This time, he made a call to citizens to explore India first before going international. Visit at least 15 domestic destinations in the next three years, he advocated. This was nothing short of music to the ears of the domestic tourism industry!

Reflecting on the PM’s grand vision, within hours, online and offline travel companies came out with ‘enticing’ domestic itineraries. Even the impoverished Maharaja has announced unlimited travel passes on the domestic circuit after an interval. But, respecting the good intent of the PM and the stakeholders, can we ponder over answers for certain realities. Do our destinations have the bandwidth in terms of infrastructure to carry a deluge of travellers? What will happen to the destinations which are already bursting at the seams because of overtourism?

Meanwhile, the government has sprung into action to revive inbound traffic. The past two weeks have seen a slew of policy decisions relaxing restrictions on e-visa, opening up of more than 130 peaks at strategic areas for adventure activities, etc. There is also a promise of capping of GST to 18% soon. Although the government is still not ready to give up on the revenue from visa fee, even though nominal, the new relaxations are welcome, especially the one to extend the e-visa facilities for private conference delegates.

Having fulfilled the most critical demands of the travel and tourism industry in one go, the government now wants to see results. A senior official has put industry leaders on notice recently stating unequivocally that the government means business, and one should not construe that these relaxations comes for free. The government is also looking for RoI as the bureaucracy spends time and energy to lobby for relaxations. Time for the private industry to stand up and deliver!

PKrishna Kumar
Bureau Chief
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