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Monday, 05 August, 2019, 17 : 51 PM [IST]

Domestic Tourism - Craves Attention

AttentionIt has been observed that for any country, domestic travel is the backbone of its tourism economy. However, if one takes a closer look at the ground reality it is evident that the domestic tourism sector in India has been facing many challenges due to lack of infrastructure, connectivity, fare war between hotels and OTAs, higher taxation, dearth of innovation and lack of dedicated will to promote domestic tourism among leisure travellers. Prasenjit Chakraborty delves deep into the subject to gain a better picture of the situation at the micro level.

According to the latest FICCI-Yes Bank Report titled ‘India Inbound Tourism: Unlocking the Opportunities’ the domestic tourism sector generated USD 247.3 billion (INR 16.91 trillion) revenue in 2018, with a growth of 6.7%. But the reality is that when it comes to domestic tourism, pilgrimage travel constitutes a significant portion of the pie, and leisure travel continues to remain neglected. This is evident from the annual data released by the Ministry of Tourism that doesn’t offer any bifurcation between pilgrimage and leisure travel, which is a setback for the stakeholders in the industry who are devoid of the real picture of domestic tourism in India. Moreover, the very comparison between domestic tourism and foreign tourist arrivals is a skewed concept.

One needs to understand that the dynamics of pilgrimage and leisure travel are diametrically opposite; hence it is imperative for the industry stakeholders to have complete clarity on the travel trends and behaviour which will help them device their promotion strategy accordingly. Moreover, considering the growth of the millennial population in India and their spending power, it is important to come out with an innovative approach in terms of product offering. This will not only raise the number of domestic leisure travellers, but also serve as a significant source for revenue generation. The role of the state governments in this regard is extremely crucial to formulate dedicated policy framework and offer attractive incentives for private investment.

PP Khanna, President, Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India (ADTOI), observes that the domestic tourism statistics released by Ministry of Tourism on estimate is a great concern for players in the industry. “A comprehensive study on domestic tourism is required at the micro level. This is one of the agenda of our business discussions at our upcoming Convention, and we really want to find a way out to overcome it. It is true that pilgrims constitute a large number of domestic travellers in the country.” “Depending on their disposable income, pilgrim travellers do connect with nearby leisure destinations or when on a leisure trip they pay visits to pilgrimage sites. Our members also make packages covering pilgrim destinations. However, the state governments should also make some lucrative schemes to woo pilgrim tourists and lure them to visit tourist nearby tourist destinations,” Khanna pointed out.

Imtiaz Qureshi, Honorary Treasurer, Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) also feels that it is time for India to improve its status on the domestic tourism front. There is no dearth of beautiful domestic destinations in the country. However, the lack of infrastructure, maintenance, and the sheer lack of will on the part of the concerned departments hampered development of domestic leisure tourism. “What is required now is that the government encourages more public private partnership programmes and concentrates on improving infrastructure rather than setting up hotels/resorts of their own and give special financial incentives for creating good tourist destinations so that they tend to be economically viable,” said Qureshi.
There are many areas of domestic leisure tourism destinations which virtually remained unexplored. Take the example of North Eastern states of India, the region has spectacular biodiversity, wildlife, culture, tribes, snow-capped Himalayas, tropical forests, ancient villages and historically important archaeological sites. The region provides a wonderful opportunity for exploratory tourism at its very best. However, the entire region is still lagging behind and there is no concerted effort to promote the states to the domestic leisure traveller.

EM Najeeb, Senior Vice President, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), strongly believes that India should have a focused strategy to attract its own citizens. “Indian tourists like to combine more activities and movements like sightseeing, shopping, entertainment, etc. during their holidays. We have to offer them special products which are attractive in all respects. Indian tourists are perceived as high spenders by overseas destinations and it is time to make sure that they spend in Indian locations,” exhorts Najeeb.

Making Domestic Travel Lucrative
Of late, outbound travel from India has registered a significant growth and, this could be ascertained by the increasing focus on India by a plethora of foreign tourism boards. What restricts Indian travellers to explore their own country? According to an expert, it is extremely necessary for India to become tax-friendly and remain competitive in the global market. “Our tax structure is so high and because of that our neighbouring countries are taking advantage of the situation,” pointed out the expert.

Echoing similar sentiment, Khanna says that a section of travellers opt for foreign trips because of the high cost of a domestic tour. “Considering that Indian travellers are cost conscious, a large section them opt for holidays abroad which they find the destination to be economical than travelling within India. This trend needs to be brought down slowly by offering attractive packages/incentives to domestic tourists. We have taken up the issue with the government to give tax rebate on domestic packages to arrest the trend of outbound travel over domestic tourism. Also, the percentage of GST needs to be reduced on hotels and domestic tour packages,” Khanna stated.

Besides cost, the destinations in India have to be at par with their foreign counterparts in terms of appeal, infrastructure, cleanliness and hygiene standards, etc. It is important to keep in mind that cost is not the sole reason for which a section of Indian travellers prefer to visit abroad. Qureshi rightly points out, “India has many products which can be developed as major tourist attractions both for the domestic as well as international markets. However, these destinations need to be developed and maintained as per the international standards. The local population in those areas could also be involved in developing these destinations so that employment is generated and revenues shared. A good amount of marketing would also be needed for the same.”

Today, digital marketing has emerged as one of the most effective mediums to reach the target audience and travel is no exception, especially when a major chunk of our population constitutes the youth. Says Najeeb, “Indian destinations should embark on branding and digital marketing activities. Almost 65% of the Indian population is youth. They are vibrant, resourceful, and experience-seekers. The message of attractions should reach them on the digital platform.”

Subhash Goyal, Honorary Secretary, Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH), suggests that the best way to promote the unexplored destinations is to evolve a joint strategy of all the states and their respective local travel agents. “By doing so, they will make people aware of the unique points about that destination and also what is the accessibility from the state capital and the nearest airport to that particular region and what accommodation is available at what price,” Goyal points out.

Steps in Right Direction
The present government is giving considerable thrust to address infrastructure and connectivity issues, which in the long-term will have direct impact on tourism growth. Moreover, the FY20 Budget’s focus on connectivity in rural and urban destinations will also boost travel. “Air and road connectivity have to be improved where there is a good potential for new destinations to come up,” says Qureshi.

Khanna believes that the government is doing a good job as far as air connectivity is concerned. “The UDAN scheme (Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik), aims to take flying to the masses and enhance air connectivity to Tier-I and Tier-II cities. The states under their investment policy should invite private players to invest on tourism infrastructure for providing better facilities to tourists. There needs to be additional allocation of funds approved for infrastructure development and improvement in last mile connectivity,” he exhorts.

No doubt, if we go by statistics, the number of domestic tourists has increased over the years, but not at the desired level. It is high time for government to come out with separate data for pilgrimage and leisure. Once this is done, it will facilitate stakeholders to come out with strategies to take advantage of the potential that the segment offers. To make leisure a truly vibrant segment, there needs to be participation from younger generation.

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