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‘Medical Tourism Is Growing Rapidly’

Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Culture & Tourism Mahesh Sharma talks about the initiatives that the ministry is pioneering.

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Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Culture & Tourism Mahesh Sharma talks to BW Businessworld’s Suman K. Jha about the initiatives that the ministry is pioneering.

Excerpts:

What are the achievements of the tourism ministry in the past two years?

One of the biggest initiatives of the ministry is that we have been able to initiate e-visa facility for 150 countries. We have also recommended 36 more countries for the facility. About 8.5 lakh people have availed this. Second, medical tourism is growing rapidly at 24 per cent here. We have formed the National Medical Wellness Board, where we will recognise medical centres providing treatment to international patients. Third, security is a concern worldwide, especially for international tourists. We have started a helpline no. 1363, which is available in 12 languages.

But the perception doesn’t quite match the big-ticket changes that you have ushered in…
The World Economic Forum has recognised us, and we are ranked 52nd from 65th in the recognition index. Last year, we witnessed a growth of 9.96 per cent, while the world average is only 4.6 per cent. Our foreign exchange earning was Rs 1, 23,000 crore last year. This year, it’s Rs 1,35,000 crore. Tourism currently contributes 6.67 per cent to the GDP.

What are your targets for the next 5-10 years?
India’s share is less than 1 per cent of the global pie (0.68 per cent). By 2020, we propose to take it to 1 per cent, and by 2025, we will take it to 2 per cent. The sector will contribute 8 per cent to the GDP by then.

The tourism and travel industry contributes significantly to employment generation. Do you have targets in mind for the sector?

Around 11.2 per cent of total employment is generated directly or indirectly by tourism. We are planning to take this to 12 per cent in the next few years.

You are also in charge of civil aviation (as MoS). How are you combining the two roles?
We are starting with a regional connectivity scheme. Tier-II and Tier-III cities would be connected through the air route, and flying cost for an hour would be less than Rs 2,500. We are also supporting people in teaching training and skill development programmes.

Are you joining hands with the private sector in promoting tourism?
We have disinvested in the hotel industry. Out of 16 ITDC hotels, we have disinvested in 14. We are also trying to privatise some of the other services. For hospitality service, we are trying to invite private players.

There’s been a quantum jump in the outbound tourist traffic from India. Are you working with the MEA and other governmental agencies to protect their interests?

Whenever our tourists face problems abroad, we take immediate action. We’ve signed memorandum of understandings with different countries. Of course, the MEA and our embassies are also actively involved there.

When we consider inbound traffic, the growth rate of tourist inflow has taken a dip? Do you think the recent controversies like banning beef or rape incidents have led to this?
We have surpassed the world average! Last year, there’s been a worldwide economic slowdown — which we must keep in mind. But, yes we can do without our share of controversies.

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