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“Today The Discerning Tourist Supports More Sustainable And Low Impact Tourism”

Union Tourism Secretary Arvind Singh recently spoke to BW Businessworld about the phenomenal growth in domestic tourism post pandemic and how the government is introducing new measures to make this sector a big contributor to the GDP

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Give us a sense of the revival seen in the tourism/hospitality industry from the Covid slump and what are the support measures that are continuing or are in the pipeline to sustain it? 
The inevitable restrictions on international and domestic travel during the
 Covid-19 pandemic severely impacted the entire value chain of travel, hospitality and tourism industry. This had a cascading effect on the jobs and livelihood of people associated with the tourism sector.

The consistent efforts of the Central and the state governments have helped the tourism industry to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic shock and operate at the pre-pandemic level.

The Ministry of Tourism received several requests from tourism and hospitality industry stakeholders for relief in the wake of severe impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the tourism sector. The demands related to relief on account of term loans, working capital, tax relief, employee salary support, waiving of licence and permit fees etc. 

The Ministry was in regular touch with the industry stakeholders through several rounds of discussions and brainstorming sessions regarding these demands. All such proposals were taken up with the Ministry of Finance and other concerned ministries of Government of India. Similarly, the issues pertaining to the relief measures expected from the states were taken up with the state governments.

What has been the feedback of the industry on the Draft National Tourism Policy 2022? Can it be expected in the upcoming Winter session of the Parliament? 
The Ministry of Tourism has received overwhelming response from the industry stakeholders. All the industry stakeholders have supported the Draft National Tourism Policy. The feedback/suggestions given by the industry have suitably been incorporated in the draft policy, wherever required.

A Draft Cabinet Note was prepared on the Draft National Tourism Policy and circulated to concerned Central Government Ministries/Departments with the request to give their comments. The comments of almost all the Central Ministries/Departments have been received which are being incorporated in the draft policy. Thereafter, with the approval of Union Tourism Minister, G. Kishan Reddy, the Cabinet Note will be sent to the Cabinet Secretariat for approval. After the Cabinet Secretariat’s approval, the National Tourism Policy 2022 will be issued.

The hospitality sector has had this demand of change in infrastructure status. How is your Ministry looking to change that? What are some other initiatives/policies that the Ministry has planned to streamline other such concerns of this sector? 
The Ministry of Tourism has been vigorously pursuing proposals for grant of infrastructure status to the hotel industry with the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA), Ministry of Finance from time to time. 

The Ministry has formulated National Strategies and Roadmaps for rural tourism, medical and wellness tourism, adventure tourism, eco-tourism, MICE and sustainable tourism to realise the full potential of tourism in a holistic manner. 

The Ministry of Tourism has prepared a Draft National Tourism Policy 2022 with the aim of improving framework conditions for tourism development in the country, supporting tourism industries, strengthening tourism support functions and developing tourism sub-sectors.

Market Development Assistance (MDA) Guidelines for promotion of inbound and domestic tourism have been revised to increase its scope and reach to benefit a larger number of stakeholders for promoting both inbound and domestic tourism.

Under RCS UDAN-3 Tourism, the Ministry of Tourism approached the Ministry of Civil Aviation, with the purpose of further improving connectivity and got 59 tourism routes included for better connectivity of important tourist places. Currently 51 tourism routes have been operationalised.

The Ministry of Tourism has launched the Incredible India Tourist Facilitator (IITF) Certification Programme, a pan-India online learning programme accessible from different digital devices. The programme has gone online since January 2020. It aims at enhancing the overall experience of tourists by making available a pool of local, trained professionals at tourist sites across the country.

Recently the Ministry came out with the National Strategy for Promotion of Rural Homestays. An interesting observation that was made in the document was ‘experiential tourism’, how is rural India seen in this context and strategy? 

Experiential tourism is an increasingly influential trend in global tourism. Today the discerning tourist is looking for a deeper emotional connection for visitors and supports more sustainable and low impact tourism. Rural tourism focuses on the visitor actively participating in a rural lifestyle. The tourist travels to a rural location and experiences life while taking part in the daily activities of the village. The tourist also gets a chance to imbibe the traditions and culture of the area. Indian villages have unparalleled culture, craft, music, dance and heritage to offer to the visitors. The strategy envisions developing rural homestays as an experiential tourism product, which can give a boost to rural tourism, provide entrepreneurial opportunities to rural people and lead to community development.

Lately, non-traditional areas of tourism such as trekking, winter sports, wildlife tourism, and beach resorts are also gaining traction. What is the opportunity that the government is seeing in states which support these activities? Is there an action plan in progress to further promote it? 
The Ministry of Tourism has formulated a National Strategy for Adventure Tourism in consultation with concerned Central ministries, states/UTs and industry stakeholders. The following strategic pillars have been identified for development of adventure tourism: state assessment, ranking and strategy, skills, capacity building and certification, marketing and promotion, strengthening adventure tourism safety management framework, national and state-level rescue and communication grid, destination and product development, governance and institutional framework.

The Indian Institute of Tourism & Travel Management (IITTM) has been designated as the Central Nodal Agency to assist the Ministry for promotion and development of adventure tourism in the country.

In order to guide the operationalisation and implementation of the Strategy document for Adventure Tourism, the Ministry of Tourism has also constituted a National Board for Adventure Tourism under the Chairmanship of Secretary (Tourism) with representatives from concerned Central Ministries/Departments, state governments and industry stakeholders as members.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has emphasised “Vikas Bhi aur Virasat Bhi” for the tourism sector. Could you elaborate on the developments in specialised circuits promoting Indian culture and religious tourism?
The new India is developing at a faster pace with focus on its culture and heritage. PM Narendra Modi has given the slogan of “Vikas Bhi aur Virasat Bhi” which gives the guiding principle for promoting Indian culture and religious tourism. 

Two out of every three trips in India are related to religious or spiritual tourism and there has been a focus on rejuvenation of pilgrimage and religious tourism destinations across the country. With a paradigm shift in national level infrastructure related to connectivity, development of social infrastructure has become an imperative requirement for the revival of the tourism sector. 

The new generation of travellers look for experiential tourism and thus there is a need for improving the infrastructure at religious places, which traditionally are known for being overcrowded with deteriorating public infrastructure. Started in 2014-15, the PRASHAD scheme of Ministry of Tourism focuses on development of basic infrastructure at pilgrimage destinations.

 As on date 40 projects in 24 states have been sanctioned worth Rs 1368.22 crore out of which 19 projects have been completed and other projects are progressing at a fast pace. The scheme has been able to create an impact by improving pilgrimage amenities like improved crowd management, improved security and safety, improvement in pilgrimage experience with focus on
 long-term sustainability and use of digital technologies. 

Some of the markup projects of the scheme have been development at Somnath temple in Gujarat, development of ghats, river cruise and other religious infrastructure at Varanasi-Uttar Pradesh, development of Kamakhya Devi temple in Assam, development of Patna Sahib in Bihar, development of Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh and development of Kedarnath in Uttarakhand. Many new destinations are in various stages of identification and sanction with a new sub-scheme focusing on smaller destinations which have a low level of pilgrimage infrastructure but a high footfall.

Brief us about India’s preparation for the G-20 Presidency in the context of presenting itself as a major tourism destination. 
The Ministry of Tourism is geared up for India's G-20 Presidency. Under its Presidency, India is expected to host over 200 meetings across 55 cities in the country beginning from December 2022. The Ministry has identified its working group meetings to be held during this period at Rann of Kutch, Darjeeling/Siliguri, Goa. All these destinations are expected to attract global attention.

The G-20 Presidency will give India’s tourism sector an unparalleled opportunity to highlight India’s tourism offerings and share India’s tourism success stories on a global stage. After the world's largest vaccination drive, India is ready for international tourists. G-20 Presidency will boost hope and opportunity for the Indian tourism industry all over the country. In line with the global launch of the Life Mission, it is time to rethink and reinvent tourism and let every Indian citizen in the tourism industry understand its impact on people and environment.

The Ministry of Tourism is very hopeful that this will help showcase India’s diversity in landscape, heritage, and culture as well as open the gateways for investment in the sector. The G-20 Presidency will assist in positioning India as a viable and attractive investment destination for global investors. The public private partnerships forged will accelerate the growth of the tourism sector.

The Ministry of Tourism will be responsible for setting priorities, deliverables and organising tourism working groups and ministerial meetings. The Ministry is aiming to develop the tourism sector especially in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic to new heights and accelerating the transition to achieve sustainable development targets of 2030. India will be projected as a 365 days one-stop destination for all dimensions of vacations and value-added visits for the visitor community.