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Tuesday, 24 November, 2015, 20 : 30 PM [IST]

Tourism in Troubled Times

We have arrived at a tipping point between decline and development.

On one side are those who glorify an imagined past and accept, unchallenged, a dogmatic, paternalistic, discipline. On the other side are those who embrace the challenges of the future and welcome the cut and thrust of the Town Hall. Or, to put in the shorthand of a dress code, it is the hyper-macho khaki shorts cloned from Raj-era sipahis  vs  the uni-sex  t-shirts and jeans of Mark Zuckerberg’s generation. This conflict of cultures is not unique to India.

This clash of civilisations in the west, and the conflict of cultures in our sub-continent, is adversely impacting our industry. We need an environment of stability, security and tolerance to thrive. Instead, global ratings agency Moody’s Analytics, has said “In recent times, the government also hasn’t helped itself with controversial statements from various members.. (raising) ethnic tensions.”  Our dismal record of rapes, especially the sexual attacks on children, reflects a psychotic macho mindset. This sick attitude was highlighted when a particularly vicious teen-age rapist claimed that he wanted to teach his victim a lesson because she dared to go to an evening movie with a male companion. Such despotic insistence on ‘My way or the highway’ is one with those of the black-robed and masked murderers who ceremonially slit the throats of people who belong to another faith. The influential International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists (PEN) has added its powerful voice in condemning similar acts of intolerance in our land. To brand all these, and other, protests against intolerance as ‘manufactured’ is whistling in the dark.  

This, then, is the vitiated climate in which our tourism industry finds itself today.. Our traditional markets are straining to cope with the sudden, and seemingly endless, flood of refugees. Our image as a welcoming and safe destination continues to take a beating. Can we, as an industry, survive these trying times?  Yes, we can, if we remember that our strength, and the matrix on which we base our business, is the incredible richness and diversity of our people and their constantly evolving mosaic of distinctive cultures. Dussera in Mysore and Carnival in Goa both have spectacular street processions but are strikingly distinctive. As the President said “India is a country of 1.3 billion people belonging to three ethnic groups – Caucasian, Dravidian and Mongoloid – speaking 122 languages and 1,600 dialects, and professing 7 faiths. Multiplicity is our collective strength which must be preserved at all costs. It finds reflection is the various provisions of our Constitution.”  This unmatched diversity offers an inexhaustible cornucopia of riches to us in the Tourism Industry. We must help every State and Union Territory to further enhance its unique cultural heritage. Indian culture did not begin and end with the Vedic people. They, according to scholar Bal Gangadhar Tilak, developed their culture and their Aryan tongue, in the Arctic and then brought it into India.  

Sadly, such traditional influxes of visitors to our beckoning land are shrinking.

To counteract our diminishing source markets, we must now concentrate on the domestic, and subsidiary domestic, market. The subsidiary domestic market includes all those people who come to India in quest of business opportunities and then extend their stay allured by the magic of our multi-ethnic and culturally diverse land. We are not doing enough to target this important segment who have come here at their companies’ expense. States should promote a campaign based on “Take two days off, get one free”.  It will be less expensive and far more rewarding than their junketing road shows. As for the purely domestic market, the disposable income of Indian tourists has been growing rapidly. So are their aspirations fuelled by the burgeoning IT boom.  A minister’s advice that we should try to make India a more affordable destination is clearly his personal opinion not supported by hard facts. Both the Aviation and Hospitality sectors are growing. This cannot be based on an assessment of foreign leisure-seeking visitor arrivals whose motivations are far too fickle.  The hard-headed financiers, who have invested in the new growth sectors of our industry, are far more likely to have relied on an increase of rich domestic and subsidiary domestic arrivals.

Since our cultural diversity is our greatest tourism resource, we must help all States and Union Territories to rediscover their often ignored cultural wealth. We must help them develop their traditional cuisines, arts, crafts, festivals and little-known destinations. This will not be easy because of the culpable ignorance of their netas and the lethargy of their babus. We have seen the Saraswati gushing out of a cliff in the Garhwal Himalayas. We have written about it over and over again. And yet, our state government of Uttarakhand has allowed Haryana to steal a march over it by trying to develop and promote a trickle of water emerging out of a field as the rediscovered sacred river! Having said that, we must not allow our incredibly wide-spectrum cultural heritage to be hi-jacked and forced into a sectarian straight jacket by power-hungry ignoramuses. The Soviets tried that, and failed. The Chinese tried that with their Great Cultural Revolution. They, too, failed. The Islamic State is now, single-mindedly, trying to destroy all traces of any suggestion of any idea which is contrary to their own tunnel vision. They, also, will fail.  But all these failures came, and will continue to come, at the cost of countless innocent lives.

If we do not want to face a similar cataclysm, We, the Tourism Industry, must do our best to prevent our nation and our industry, from slipping into chaos at this critical tipping point.
 
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