June 12, 2017 | Ms. Preeti Sinha, Senior President and Global Convener, YES Institute, and her team-mate Nayani Nasa, Fellow, YES Institute.
“A tourist will come drawn to its beautiful past but we need to put efforts for creating systems to make them stay here” – Narendra Modi
With tourism sector contributing to ~10% to the global GDP and accounting for 1 in 11 jobs worldwide, it has emerged as a powerful instrument for socio-economic development. It is the largest service industry globally in terms of gross revenue as well as foreign exchange earnings. Recognizing this contribution, the United Nations declared 2017 as the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development”, thus, presenting a unique opportunity to advance the contribution of the tourism sector to the three pillars of sustainability – economic, social and environmental.
In the Indian scenario, tourism sector makes a significant impact on the economy of our country. World Travel and Tourism Council Report 2016 reveals that the travel and tourism sector contributed INR 8309.4 Billion to the country’s GDP which supported around 37 Million jobs in 2015.
Provision of world class infrastructure facilities is a key determinant for India’s appeal in the global tourism market. The critical infrastructure required for comfortable experience to tourists includes connectivity, tourists’ facilities, maintenance and management of tourist attractions. Government recognizes this need and has introduced series of schemes such as PRASAD, HRIDAY and Swadesh Darshan amongst others to improve linkages between key tourist locations which shall certainly provide much needed impetus to the tourism infrastructure of the country.
With the advent of largest and fastest growing global tourism markets and the cultural and creative industries being used to promote destinations, cultural and ecotourism have become hugely popular in the Indian context. However, steps such as improving infrastructure and connectivity, tourist assistance facilities, safety and regulatory framework, as well as ensuring convenient visa, immigration and customs procedures, will be pivotal for leveraging the full potential of this sector. Further, policy reforms for rationalization of land procurement costs and single-window clearance systems will significantly boost investments in the sector.
Traditionally, tourism has been an integral part of Indian tradition and culture. The concepts of “Atithi Devo Bhava” (the Guest is God) and “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the World is one Family) are revered globally and have been governing the Indian social behavior since time immemorial. Adding to this glory were the luxurious palaces, enchanting gardens, marvelous temples, grand forts, tombs and memorials built by the ancient Indian rulers that today remain a testimony to the rich cultural heritage and exquisite craftsmanship.
The words of the famous Orientalist, Max Mueller aptly sum up the strength of India: “If we were to look over the whole world to find out the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power and beauty that nature can bestow – in some parts a veritable paradise on the earth-I should point to India. If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts... I should point to India”
With 10 bio-geographical zones and 32 world heritage sites, unchallenged geographical advantage and a diverse portfolio of niche tourism products including adventure, medical, wellness and sports among others, India remains a prime hotspot for global tourists and yet lags behind other Asian tourist hubs like Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and China.
One must understand that development in tourism infrastructure is not merely limited to constructing new buildings, roads etc, it also extends to promotion of responsible tourism and sustainable consumption habits of tourists. Over time, infrastructure has integrated minute sustainability solutions such as the ‘Reuse, Reduce, Recycle’ principle, however sustainability is expected to evolve beyond this principle to accommodate and understand the impact on the carrying capacity of the region as well as the local community livelihoods. This multi-faceted challenge needs to be tackled using a multi-pronged approach.
Firstly, we must tap into the rich cultural heritage of our country. We have the advantage of being one among the countries of the world with the largest collections of music, dance, theatre, folk traditions, performing arts, rites and rituals, paintings, and writings, known as the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of humanity. Heritage, in essence, is a narrative of the story of mankind. It tells our story. Tourism can enliven this heritage, which thus offers an immense opportunity to contribute to inclusive economic growth, social development and stability, and heritage preservation. Hence, it’s vital for us to preserve our past, so we can protect our future.
Heritage resources need to be viewed and projected as assets rather than liabilities as they represent a history of communities embodying their tradition and culture through architecture and the urban form. Most of the urban locale India has a long history and today, after centuries of growth, urban citizens live in an environment where new elements are juxtaposed with old ones. Often centuries-old buildings and groups of buildings lie out of sight behind modern development. Initiatives such as ‘Heritage Walks’ help citizens and tourists relate to the historic parts of the city in a more personal and intimate manner. Such initiatives not only heighten sensitivity of the local populace towards the historic value of settlements but also encourage local communities to conserve and preserve their own heritage, thus inculcating a sense of pride and appreciation among them.
Creating basic infrastructure facilities around the heritage monuments would provide a significant boost to the tourism sector in India.
Secondly, one must realize that the tourism sector has a significant direct impact on our natural resources. The tourism sector has a significant direct impact on our natural resources and environmentally sustainable tourism, or ecotourism, could be a pertinent tool in achieving a fine balance between creating economic growths and preserving natural capital.
To achieve this balance, government needs to collaborate with the private sector for the development of tourism infrastructure by provision of fiscal as well as non-fiscal incentives. Extensive market research and evaluation exercise should be undertaken in order to identify and highlight desired tourist destination attributes and major market segments. Tourist destinations may then be developed through flagship projects involving state governments and private sector players. These may be developed either as ‘products’ such as religious, wellness, adventure, nature, rural or agriculture tourisms or as ‘experiences’ such as the Rama trail planned in Gujarat or the Spice Route Tourism planned in Kerala.
Private owners can play a vital role to development of the tourism industry in India and have the potential to create new destination hotspot for attracting new tourists from abroad. Such partnerships bring together stakeholders with different objectives and skills, and resources in a formal or informal voluntary partnership to improve the attractiveness of a regional destination, its productivity, associated market efficiency, and the overall management of tourism.
One of the exemplary initiatives has been the partnership between private tour operator - Taj Safaris and Madhya Pradesh Forest Department to reintroduce gaur in Bandhavgarh National Park. This one of its kind partnership represents a strong correlation between tourism and biodiversity. Taj Safaris, a joint venture between African conservation tourism operator &Beyond (2015) and Indian hotel company Taj Hotels, is the first company that has deliberately set out to adapt African conservation tourism approaches in India entailing a full appreciation and substantial adaptation between countries with different cultures, traditions and institutions. They brought in funding coupled with unique expertise to translocate endangered species, including 50 Indian gaurs (Indian Bison) and seven swamp deer, to assist in conservation efforts by the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, India.
Under this partnership, Taj Safaris imparted specialized training to three forest officers and two veterinarians to capture and transport and also donated two modified large vehicles for transporting these animals. The animals are captured under the supervision of experts from Africa who have prior experience in translocating thousands of animals in Africa and other countries.
This innovative partnership not only helps in biodiversity conservation but also provide specialized skills - ability to undertake translocation of wild animals in large numbers, to repopulate depleted areas to the forest department personnel, thus providing a much needed tourism impetus to the state.
As smart tourism is strategically implemented, there would be an increased focus in many states on MICE (Meetings, Incentive, Conferencing & Exhibitions) sector as a kick starter for growth of the business tourism industry. A separate strategy needs to be devised to take steps towards leveraging the MICE sector in cities which are currently not internationally connected since they face stiff competition from the other cities. Apart from connectivity, the availability of world-class infrastructure is another area of intervention such as setting up international level convention centers.
Thirdly, India should move towards an inclusive model of Community based Tourism, i.e. involving local community in running and management of small tourism projects. Such an approach would not only encourage respect for local traditions, culture and natural heritage but also provide additional livelihood opportunities for the local youth. While community based tourism is closely linked to ecotourism, it offers a more concrete concept by stating the type and degree of participation and involvement for local people, and the associated costs. It is a more people-centered, community- oriented and resource–based than ecotourism.
The idea behind the community–based approach is to create potential for empowering the community, enhancing their involvement in decision making and ensure that the will and incentive to participate come from the community itself. Local people must be able to control and manage productive resources in the interest of their own families and the community.
Therefore, it is also important that a responsible proportion of tourism revenues are enjoyed by the community in one way or another. Provision of additional training institutes, enhancing capacity of existing ones along with introduction of short term courses providing specific skills directed at hospitality and travel trade sector employees may be required for catering to the increased manpower and skill requirements. Development of basis skill sets for casual workers especially those in the travel trade segment are required. Rural youth may be provided vocational training through special institutes to provide them employment opportunities
One of the most successful examples of community based tourism in India is Sikkim where such a practice has emerged as a responsible and sustainable tourism product to meet critical social objectives through people’s participation. This can be a more effective tool in boosting the overall tourism scenario of Sikkim as its rural hinterlands are endowed with fabulous natural beauty, serene environment, heritage sites and unique cultural flavor.
The endorsement of such a model would not only ensure that the tourists get a glimpse of rural Sikkim, familiarize with unique village culture and heritage so that they are mentally rejuvenated but also lead to cultural enrichment and spiritual elevation. Therefore, the vast un‐tapped rural tourism potential of Sikkim was harnessed to create a multiplier benefit, directly benefitting the rural communities. Some of the villages of Sikkim; Kewzing, Hee‐Bermoik, Yoksum, Lachen, Tumin, Pastanga, Tinchim, Lunchok, Maniram, Rong, Jaubari, Darap have already taken up lead in home stay facilities for the tourists.
Lastly, states must focus on implementing ‘Smart Tourism’ strategy customized for each state. One of the most prominent elements of such a strategy would be identification of key tourism circuits across the state basis discussions with key stakeholders such as state governments, local travel trade partners etc. One of the most successful examples of such an approach is Rann Utsav in Gujarat, an exemplary initiative promoting state based tourism. To make such state led initiatives a success, various infrastructural gaps pertaining to sustainable design need to be identified, such as creation of waste facilities, which is also recommended around accommodation options in around protected areas. This can go a long way in preserving the natural capital of the area along with spurring tourism growth.
Additionally, the state governments need to focus on both inter as well as intra-state connectivity. Improvement of regional connectivity is the need of the hour. The suggested steps could be launch of the proposed high speed passenger trains, constructing new and improving existing rural roads, identifying air strips to be converted into small commercial airports, converting existing domestic airports into international airports and setting up heliports in select key states which experience more foreign tourist inflow. Inland waterways can be another area to explore for improving the connectivity between cities and states.
It is an undisputed fact that over the years, Indian tourism industry has emerged as one of the key drivers of economic growth. It is a sun rise industry, an employment generator, a significant source of foreign exchange for the country and an economic activity that helps local and host communities. ‘Brand India’ has emerged as product which is unparalleled in its beauty, uniqueness, rich culture and history both internationally as well as in the domestic market.
Rising income levels and changing lifestyles, development of diverse tourism offerings and policy and regulatory support by the government are playing a pivotal role in shaping the travel and tourism sector in India. However, the sector is facing challenges such as lack of good quality tourism infrastructure, global concerns regarding health and safety of tourists, disparate passenger/road tax structures across various states and shortfall of adequately trained and skilled manpower.
The immense potential of this sector can be harnessed through collaborative efforts between the government, the private sector and local communities. There are number of initiatives being taken in this direction but at the same time concerted efforts need to be made to accelerate the growth of the sector. There is an abundance and variety of tourist attractions in our diversified nation.
Indeed time is now right to identify, package and market newer destinations, experiences thereby ensuring adequacy of carrying capacity and exponential growth in tourism.