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Friday, 11 July, 2014, 14 : 00 PM [IST]

A Budget for Tourism: Now how do we react?

The benefits are coming; the industry should now learn look beyond its nose.
anurag_yadav_new.jpgIn an earlier post, even as the country was in the throes of the elections, we had indicated that the noises the current grouping of establishment leaders were making was a refreshing change from earlier times, when, tourism was hardly discussed or talked about so prominently. In fact, tourism and its promotion was a distinct pivot of the new PM’s narrative and promises. Strangely, the buzz in the travel industry was quite muted at that time. Now that the same grouping is in government and has also brought out their first budget, it is hoped the industry will appear to be more proactive on that front.

Talking to a number of industry leaders, the expected stirrings are coming up like clockwork. Sporadic visits to the new Minister of Tourism underlining platitudes to his commitment as also reiteration of the travel fraternity’s yeoman’s service credentials – all are following the predictable pattern.

Let’s face it. The announcements, conveyed so pointedly, in the just declared Union Budget in parliament, is more of a unilateral declaration by the Finance Minister than the result of any hard earned result of the persuasive skills of the industry bigwigs. This is not to rub in any adverse slant to the general enthusiasm of the industry towards stating the obvious when it comes to industry affairs, especially those dealing with profits. However, the budget declarations call for a rethink of the attitudes exhibited by the industry.

Now never in the annals of Indian political history has a government so abashedly sworn to commit itself to tourism development, nor have so many plans come, almost unasked.

The remarkable feature is that tourism promotion has for the first time, taken a 360-degree view of the issue, perhaps subconsciously. Right from visa-easing to exempting Service Tax for tour operators and initiating a flurry of schemes to develop tourism circuits, sites and projects for infrastructure development, most steps are dove-tailed to tourism.

By almost doubling the allocations to Rs 1,966 crores from 1.050 crores of last year to creating five new circuits and promoting Religious Tourism of all denominations, new avenues are sought to be created.

However, the first reaction from TAAI simply expresses appreciation for wrangling CENVAT, credit of Service Tax from the government and  goes on to push for  bringing Air Travel Agents Service Tax under the ambit of Reversed Charge Mechanism.

It is not say that associations and industry leaders should not push the envelope when it comes to their immediate, especially fiscal benefits. However, the thrust for a larger picture is singularly lacking in most proposals (if any) from these strong bodies that claim to speak for tourism.

The hotel associations and the rest of the brigade also rarely comment proactively and with plans of action on issues which impact tourism in a broader sense. The immense emphasis on sanitation by the government, especially at tourism sites seems to have totally escaped the attention, as also the massive push for skill development. The lack of skilled tourism providers at a micro level has long plagued the business but there is no talk of creating any synergy between associations and the government to push for skills at the ground level.

That sanitation and skill development are not mere state subjects is a truth that does not seem to concern the hardcore industry, in as much as the thought prevails that it is a subsidiary job of the ‘authorities’ and the industry has better things to fight for. The idea, that these activities are not the domain of industry but the sole responsibility of the government is well entrenched.

Even the domestic tour operators have had little to say about the vision of creating more Religious Tourism circuits. For long the Spiritual Tourism circuit has been taken as an unglamorous, non money-spinning business. This budget might just as well change all that.

Another impact, still far from the radar of the industry, is the need to create more interaction with the domestic traveler in their own language. The reliance on English as the lingua franca of travel trade, especially when it comes to addressing the local clients, is something that the industry needs to wake up to.

Few industries are blamed for not being mindful of associated issues, attendant ideas and tangential duties. This is because the tourism factory is without borders and the tourism product is not sold in sealed packets in clinical shelves. Thus those professing to be its sellers need to adopt at least a 180 degree vision, if not a 360 degree attitude to their business.

With a hugely tourism friendly administration at the helm of affairs today, it would be a pity if the mandarins of the trade do not go out and take the new road for development, instead of the usual high road on how to make more profits and little else.

(The author is a freelance writer based in New Delhi)
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