First, the figures. Statistics reveal that Domestic Tourism expenditure in India was Rs 2.9 trillion last year, while Inbound Tourism expenditure totaled Rs 344.2 billion. Clearly, domestic tourist volumes are way beyond those coming in from outside. While India registered 6.97 million inbound tourists last year, it recorded 1145.28 domestic tourist visits in 2013, and the increase in the number of domestic tourist visits has been substantial, as in 2009 the figure was 668.80 million. Correspondingly, the country had just 5.17 million inbound tourists in 2009.
The glamour of Inbound Tourism sometimes appears as a more lucrative investment. It probably is, but only to a select percentage of tourism providers. An approach to supplement the relationship between Domestic and Inbound Tourism demand, something like a price variable, based on relative ratios of purchasing power parity index of both, needs to be developed. The empirical data will thus institutionalise the two markets and the revenue they bring. This sort of study, as was undertaken in Australia for its Domestic and Inbound Tourism market, will provide scientific basis for necessary policy inputs to promote Domestic Tourism in India.
There is a lot in common between the foreign tourist and the domestic traveller. Branding is also required for the domestic audience, and not merely for international markets. While Inbound Tourism and Domestic Tourism complement each other, they are different in many ways, and this difference is a vital cog in the development of the country’s world image, presence and growth, in ways that are widely diverse. Fortunately, the understanding seems to be on the horizon.
From the government’s standpoint, working on both international market and Domestic Tourism infrastructure should be a move in strengthening the same direction. Recently the Finance Minister spoke up for a strong case for lower taxes, better railway and other infrastructure, and efficient enforcement of law and order for improving the fortunes of the tourism industry. This is an interesting development, even though it comes across as quite simple. It is an indication that different arms of the establishment are looking empathetically at each other.
Following the 2012 Delhi gang-rape incident, no less an outcome of poor city planning, infrastructure and policing, the international image of the country took a beating, but domestic tourists did not stop travelling. More than some cancellations and drop in bookings, it was the image and desirability of India as a destination of choice that suffered. While this can be treated as an aside in the larger context, it is time to look at the broader picture. Much needs to be done so that Inbound and Domestic Tourism efforts truly complement each other.
The demographic and attitudinal mix of inbound tourists is evolving fast. There is need for research to understand the preferences of visitors from the usual ones in Europe and USA to, especially, new markets in Asia.
Often, the Domestic and Inbound market is treated as distinct entities. The consumers’ expectations, preference of activities, food requirements and the type of accommodation they prefer are assumed to be different, if not totally diverse. There is not much data to underline the veracity of this or any opposing claim. This is because, unlike the Inbound market data, there is little synchronised effort to present the Domestic visitor market insight into an easily accessible, user-friendly template.
There is lack of coordinated and cohesive effort to draw together the current Domestic visitor market insight into an easily accessible, user-friendly format. The thrust of state governments to tap the Domestic market was visible, probably for the first time, by the energetic campaign by Gujarat Tourism with its strong promotional push.
The time is ripe for a closer integration of tourism efforts, both at the international and domestic spheres. This implies that the tourism product be perceived as an integral whole that is aimed at both markets simultaneously, and the needs of both sectors are met together and not as water-tight separate entities.
A bold, new directional focus is needed to get this going, and that is to institutionalise a good grasp of urban development and tourism to enhance the relationship. Tourism is never a site-specific phenomenon, it is always an experience-based business and that involves entire cities and not mere tourist ‘spots’; in other words, the entire city in which tourism landmarks exist.
Urban planning, construction, function, and capacity have a direct impact on the development of tourism. Blending Inbound and Domestic Tourism focus need not result in dilution of either. On the contrary, by developing Domestic Tourism infrastructure sharply, the fallout for Inbound Tourism will only help its growth.
The case for urban regeneration and tourism convergence is moving closer than before.(The author is a freelance writer based in New Delhi)