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India Must Make ‘Tourism First’

In 2016 Travel and Tourism directly supported 25,394,500 jobs (5.8 per cent of total employment)

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Travel and Tourism is an extremely important income stream within India, WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council) reports that the sector contributed Rs 14.1 trillion ($208.9 billion) or 9.6 per cent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016 and supported over 40.3 million jobs, which is 9.3 per cent of total employment in the country. India’s travel and tourism sector is said to be the third fastest growing sector in terms of total GDP over the next decade.

This will only be achieved if the governments, both at the Centre and states, continue to recognise the importance of business and leisure travel in the country. Destinations — more importantly the states — must adopt the policy of tourists first and must strive to provide a best in class quality experience to visitors — be it the domestic or the international traveller.

While we congratulate the government on introducing the E-Tourist Visa (ETV) scheme for 150 plus countries, there is a need to introduce more multi-entry visas and to promote awareness of the scheme. This can only be done if the government deploys more marketing funds into the Incredible India 2.0 campaign and launches the campaign in a sustained and focussed manner across all mediums, in crucial source markets of India and important upcoming markets. The competition between countries to attain tourist footfalls is intense and India needs to stand out in this respect.

One of the most important tasks for the government is continued and sustained investment in travel infrastructure of airports, ports, rail, and road links. Growth of the sector in India will be slowed without this investment. While air traffic to and within India is growing, passenger charges, airport tariffs in India are bound to increase, as the hybrid till model continues to be practiced at major joint venture airports, which makes air travel more expensive.

India needs a single till approach for all airports, including the ones in the pipeline, for sustainable aviation growth.  International hub airports need to be encouraged and facilitated within India.  Apart from building infrastructure, the requirement of building multi modal connectivity is equally important. This will give a major fillip to ‘Make in India’.

Railways play an important role in creating access to and connecting tourist destinations. The government must use India’s robust railway network and the much-anticipated Tejas Express to connect important tourist destinations like Delhi-Agra-Jaipur, Jaipur-Udaipur-Jodhpur, Bodhgaya-Varanasi-Khajuraho, Chennai-Madurai -Thiruvananthapuram, Mumbai - Goa - Cochin, along with world class tourist centric amenities at the respective stations, thereby creating seamless journeys to these destinations.

Creating accommodation infrastructure is also vital for both tourism and the government. In 2016, the Inter Ministerial Committee on Tourism, headed by the Cabinet Secretary, had formally ratified the inclusion of hotel projects costing in excess of Rs 50 crore in the infrastructure lending list of banks. This would lower the threshold limit from the current Rs 200 crore for hotel projects to qualify for priority lending. Lowering the threshold limit to Rs 25 crore is essential to give a push to the hotel infrastructure.

In 2016 Travel and Tourism directly supported 25,394,500 jobs (5.8 per cent of total employment).  

Tourism (aviation, hotels, railways, road and transport, shipping sectors) is a vital contributor to jobs, employment, GDP and overall socio- economic development. Tourism is a force to fight poverty and social alienation.  In this current period of jobless growth, tourism is the sector that must be the government’s singular focal point as a growth engine for India. It is time for the government to make ‘Tourism First’ with priority in planning and implementation.    

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Ashwani Lohani

The author is Chairman & Managing Director, Air India and Chairman, WTTCII

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