Politics Of Policy | Needed, An India Tourism Board
India’s fragmented tourism sector needs a unified body to improve the country’s reputation as an experiential destination
There are more than 50 tourism boards of various countries are active in India, luring outbound travellers with enticing offers. An irony that can never be repeated enough is this. While only 8 million international travellers visit India, more than 20 million Indians are estimated to have travelled abroad in year ending March 31, 2017.
While global destinations do a great job of marketing and then delivering on their promises, India does well on marketing but poorly on delivery.
And here is the reason. Efforts to create a coordinated travel experience in India is severely undermined by a fragmented industry and poor coordination between state and central government. Even various departments within the governments rarely work together for a common cause.
There different segments of the tourism industry have different bodies to represent. The tour operators have more than half a dozen bodies worth counting. The hotels and restaurants have their own association. The aviation (airlines and airports) sector and cab operators work without a lot of coordination. All of these have to work independently with the different tourism offices of state governments. At the national level, the ministries responsible for tourism, heritage, culture, aviation, transport and railways don't have a strong plan of coordinated policy making or implementation.
It is about time that Prime Minister Narendra Modi helps bring all these pieces together under an empowered body. This body doesn't need to be run by the government. We need an India Tourism Board that includes representatives of all industry segments, all state governments and all national ministries that have a bearing on increasing domestic and international tourists in India. Within this effort, the meetings, incentives, convention and exhibitions business must be included too. This is the highest paying segment within the travel industry.
The nomenclature may differ, but here is what an India Tourism Board can do. Actively work with all stakeholders to guide policy making and improved industry coordination. Constantly keep a watch on India as a travel destination and prepare a revamp of its branding. The Incredible India campaign needs a strong dose of freshness. It is beginning to get stale. Most importantly, the India Tourism Board should be empowered to rise above the difference between departments and industry segments that often can't see beyond their petty interests.
The sector is feeling the pain of this fragmentation. When a crisis occurs, the situation appears irredeemable. Take a look at the recent crisis triggered by the Supreme Courts directive on banning sale of alcohol 500 meters from highways to prevent road deaths. Millions of dollars have been lost in travel and hospitality sector due to this well-meaning but poorly planned directive. Much of the reason is that no one feels accountable for the travel and hospitality sector in India.
When there is a health crisis in the country, the Minister of Health often takes charge. When there is a power issue, there is a Minister who is held accountable. But when travel, hospitality and tourism is impacted, no one Minister is in a position to take charge. The Supreme Court ban on liquor did not see a concerted reaction by anyone since everyone was impacted differently and no one was in charge for a counter effort.
An India Tourism Board kind of body would have reacted proactively in a coordinated fashion.
At a recent closed door workshop organized by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in New Delhi, most industry leaders agreed on the need for such a body. Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha and Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant appreciated the many constructive suggestions from industry leaders.
It appears that the time is ripe for an empowered body for tourism sector. The government and industry have been singed enough by various crises and are keen to come together. This is also important from a job creation point of view.
While jobs are shrinking in manufacturing and technology sectors, tourism needs people for human interaction. A political narrative of job creation in tourism sector has to be strengthened to enthuse all state governments to invest in travel infrastructure.
The WEF's 2017 edition of Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report ranks India as among the most improved nation. There is momentum now to build on this improvement. A common empowered body is a destination worth seeking.