Thanks to the relative calm and confidence, an air of positivity and increasingly improving security measures across tourist hot spots, India posted a record number of arrivals more than 7.5 million last year. However, it was the dramatic growth in domestic tourists that helped a number of players tide over the effects of the global economic slowdown. Domestic tourist numbers were pegged at around 800 million last year.
While there are a number of reasons for the increase, especially in foreign tourist arrivals, there is no denying the increasing confidence in brand, ‘Incredible India’ is probably the biggest cause for the surge in numbers. Affordable flights with better connectivity, improved road network (a lot still needs to be done though), increase in inventory of hotels in Tier-I and II cities resulting in user-friendly rates, and better upkeep of monuments have contributed to the spurt in numbers, along with the overpowering belief that India deserves not just a curious stare, but also a serious look.
The vast heritage and rich culture of India has been the biggest calling card for ‘Incredible India’. The country is blessed with probably the largest number of monuments in the world, with 32 making it to the list of UNESCO-approved World Heritage Sites and 30 more seeking approval. To this day, most visitors are struck with awe and wonder at the first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. While the monument of love has for long been an icon for tourism, there are several others that are not globally well known, like the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur, which attracts visitors with specific religious interest. Varanasi and Rishikesh are outstanding examples exemplifying the spirit of ancient India, and Hampi in Karnataka stands out as an example of well-preserved ruins dating back to the 15th century AD. Beaches along the state’s imposing coastline, if maintained at international standards, indicate the potential to lure leisure travellers in sizable numbers.
For all its magnificence, the seventh largest country on earth and the world's largest democracy faces a number of challenges, which will test its strength against competing countries having similar culture and traditions. A developing country has a number of multiple choices to choose for its development pattern. Some (countries) put development above the past, often paying scant regard to its monumental wonders or age-old traditions. Others preserve the past with a professional approach and tremendous courage, thereby proving a point – `Old Remains Gold’. It’s not surprising then that many countries of Europe still lead the world in terms of arrivals on account of their painstaking approach of preserving the past, and at the same time providing modern conveniences and infrastructure, often making the rest of the world envious.
Development disregarding environmental concerns and bypassing concerns of global warming will often turn the clock back, thereby undoing the good that was originally intended. Unregulated development is a dilemma a developing country like India faces, hence the need to have clear-cut, far-reaching policies that call for sustainability and regulation. It is here that tourism can work to the country's advantage with staggered development models planned for different tourist hot spots of the country. To cite an example, Khajuraho could do with better flight connectivity and improved roads, yet all-around development in the vicinity of its magnificent 22 temples should be regulated with a ‘no-nonsense’ approach. Reportedly, the smallest village in India with less than 10,000 inhabitants will see an influx of migrants in due course; yet if ways and means are found for solving this issue, it will continue to remain a hot spot among travellers.
There is also an urgent need for those in power at the state and central levels to understand tourism needs, with far more understanding, importance, and sensitivity than it currently receives, and tourism authorities at both levels need to be given more power and authority for a healthy growth of this wholesome activity, which (sadly) is still not considered an industry. Granting more power will ensure systemic studies are carried out, statistics analysed, research undertaken, and pragmatic healthy measures adopted. This ensures tourist sites are not ‘overgrazed’, a healthy balance is maintained between unrestricted growth and open spaces, and genuine concerns of tourists are addressed; all contributing to overall growth.
In the final analysis, India needs to capitalise on its finest catalyst for all-round growth – tourism. While inducing capital investments for different projects and a non-polluting industry, tourism could gather rich rewards for all sections of society. There’s a message in it for us all – conserve the past, be creative for the moment, and allow innovations to take care of the future.