In less than 18 months, Narendra Modi visited close to 70 countries carrying India’s image abroad in a positive manner, thereby increasing awareness across planet Earth. There is hardly any doubt that inbound tourism to India will receive a great fillip in the coming years. Prime Minister Modi epitomizes the vision young Indians have been nurturing in their hearts & minds; this jells well with the theory that India is truly resurgent & well on the path to regain its glory. If the past decades belonged to other giants, this decade is truly India’s. The Indian travel & tourism industry definitely stands to benefit.
There is hardly any doubt that the potential of tourism was realised when relatively unknown Gujarat lying in the western India, became the cynosure of the traveller’s eyes from 2005 onwards. Visitors thronged the destination in hordes, facilities for domestic visitors improved, while locomotion from one part of the state to the other touristic centres became much easier, thanks to improved connectivity & better road conditions. Tourism accelerated development, leading to improved lifestyles for the less fortunate and the needy. It also provided much need impetus to entrepreneurs keen on starting out on their own with meager resources. The multiplier effect of one of the least polluted industries in the world, and its tremendous potential was soon realised and effectively implemented. Brand Gujarat became a household name, thanks also in no small measure to effective advertisement campaigns. Past gainers from similar campaigns were Kashmir, Goa, Rajasthan and Kerala over the last four decades.
The first step to making India accessible to the outside world was to put its information technology for which it is renowned the world over, to good use. Electronic-visas introduced by neighbouring country Sri Lanka few years earlier, was launched and implemented in India as well. There have been teething problems like long waiting times at Indian airports, lack of consistency in implementation. However, these irritants can be ironed out ensuring travellers are least inconvenienced. With the e-visa scheme now extended to 150 countries, India is accessible at short notice to overseas travellers.
Another positive initiative is the introduction of the 24/7 tourist information helpline available in 12 different languages on a toll free number ‘1800 11 1363’. This is reassuring news for tourists wondering what to do, when to go, what to see. Most of all it’s the comfort factor that there’s a voice at the other end that’s willing to listen. The fall in global oil prices has benefited the aviation industry in no small measure, making it the preferred means of travellers across India. Connectivity which was a major issue is now much easier, crowded airports across the sub-continent are the norm than an exception. Softening of oil prices due to increased supply and fall in demand from economic giants like China has worked to our advantage, especially aviation.
States across India have woken up to the fact that tourism per se cannot be ignored, treated in isolation or as a one-off example. Numerous policies benefitting joint partnerships and ease of doing business are being implemented on an urgent basis by almost all states keen not to miss out on excellent opportunities. At the recent Make in India event organised in the Mumbai, tourism scored high among the MoU’s signed between the State of Maharashtra and overseas countries. Other states who participated were also beneficiaries of many, new tourism-related joint agreements. The idea of opening up unused lighthouses and making them accessible to visitors is yet another brilliant idea conceived by the Indian Navy. Imagine having an opportunity to spend a couple of nights at designated lighthouses alongside the coastline of India. In a similar vein lighting up the villages using solar power at an island of the eastern coast of Mumbai where the World Heritage Site of Elephanta Caves is located is yet another milestone that will increase the potential of an iconic monument, besides providing better lifestyles to inhabitants of these villages. The buzzword is tourism is the path breaker and lifeline to improved lifestyles, uplifting of lives and uplifting economies, the world over.
Diverse challenges remain; carrying capacities need to be defined, just as existential challenges need to be solved. The second most populated country has a number of issues to deal with, ranging from potable drinking water to treating garbage. Tier-I cities have to contend with high pollution and unending traffic jams, while Tier-II cities and urban towns deal with unplanned growth. The concept of having footpaths alongside roads should be ingrained and implemented in every development plan, just as having qualified guides at monument sites keen to satiate the appetite of discerning visitors yearning for accurate information. Several campaigns like Clean India for example, show conviction and determination, though, in some case it needs to percolate to the grass route level.
We still have some way to go, needless to say the Prime Minister and his team are on the right path to making India, truly an ‘Incredible’ destination to visit in the near future.