While a pall of gloom descended on the country and its leaders over the steady decline of the rupee vis-a-vis the US Dollar, not all are complaining. The travel and tourism sector is one of those sections of the economy, which have found reason to be happy with a falling rupee. For them, the economic scenario has opened new opportunities for India, with the falling price of its currency, will emerge as a relatively cheaper tourist destination for foreign tourists ensuring steady generation of revenues.
Tourism department sources said nearly 5.9 million foreign tourists had visited India last season and the figure is set for a further jump this time, thanks to the weakening rupee, besides other factors.
The 'opportunity created by the financial woes' means that India should capitalise on its huge tourism potential by trying to attract more and more inbound tourists. Several tour operators hope that there would be a boom in their business in the coming days for besides foreigners, non-resident Indians (NRIs) would also find the time apt to visit home.
But the real question is opportunity or not, how much tourist-friendly are our tourist spots? Is the infrastructure really upto the mark to utilise the given scope to earn big bucks?
One can not answer that confidently. The ASEAN Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2012 has ranked India 68th among 139 countries in terms of progress in the travel/tourism sector. It lags much behind Singapore (rank 10), the best performing advanced economy outside the America and Europe.
Tourism in India, despite the huge potential, has failed to deliver in the expected lines. The problem is too many and we tend to look after the industry's well-being even while exploiting them to the hilt to make a profit.
To progress in terms of tourism, a vital determinant of economic growth, it is not necessary that a country has to look attractive. Rather as a senior economist of the World Economic Forum said, those factors/parameters which make it attractive for a country to develop its travel and tourism industry are more vital. It is in this respect that most countries in the west and few in the east have flourishing tourism industry. Stress on regulation, transportation, infrastructure, resource utilisation help to create an ambiance where travel and tourism thrive.
The government's prioritisation of the sector, which is the largest service industry contributing above 5% of the GDP and employs a sizeable section of the population, has been unsatisfactory. Despite the huge campaign for Incredible India, marketing of the brand always remained poor and lost its appeal after some time.
Stringent visa norms and lack of enough airports linking remote hotspots have also hampered the prospects of growth of the Indian tourism sector. Lack of uniformity in the hospitality sector, like tendency to rob tourists by charging exorbitant fees for hotel rooms and even mediocre services is another evil that has plagued the Indian tourism industry.
Lack of uniformity in taxation is a big worry for the tourists in India. While semi-urban and rural holiday-making are comparatively moderate, renting a hotel room in a posh urban centre in India is an expensive affair, thanks to high taxes and interest coupled with high property taxes.
Safety and security is a crucial aspect of Indian tourism and authorities must address the issue. In the western and southern parts of the country, safety is not a huge concern but in large parts of eastern and northern India, the state of security is poor.
In eastern India, there are areas in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha, which are good tourist spots, in terms of tiger reserve, historical forts, tribal settlements but hardly any tourist visits those areas nowadays owing to the presence of the extremists. It is an unfortunate turn of destiny that the site where renowned film-maker Satyajit Ray had shot one of his masterpieces, lies abandoned with no one daring to remain there after dusk.
There are also several tourist spots which are plagued by problems like power failure, poor hospitality and others. In the north, urban crime is a larger challenge to tourists. Delhi has earned an infamous tag of India's 'Crime and Rape Capital', something which makes it one of the dreaded tourist attractions, even though north India is land to some of the world-famous tourist location.
In areas like Darjeeling, traditionally known to be Hill Queen, periodic political disturbance paralyses the local tourism industry. The hill stations of south and northern India are more popular owing to this problem.
Environmental destruction is another important fact that one must not forget while understanding the bane of tourism in India. The country has several forest zone and pilgrimages which are widely-known tourist spots. But too much pressure of the population and lack of regulatory measures are pushing these places to the brink. Destruction of forest, dumping waste in the rivers, illegal mining of mineral and other natural resources have seriously threatened the tourist spots by turning them into fragile ecological zones.
Still amid several low points, Indian tourism has a perpetual appeal. People from across the world continue to admire the country for its unique diversity, geographical and cultural and there is never any shortage of enthusiasm to visit the land time and again.
Political stability in the country is one factor which plays in favour of tourism, unlike in case of neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Nepal or Sri Lanka, which also have diverse tourism appeal. Competitive pricing in tourism services also maintain its popularity. There is never any dearth in attendance to a travel and tourism fair based on India.
Tourism experts feel that only a single ministry can not succeed much in making the tourism industry a booming one. There has to be a concerted effort towards this for a uniform development. Development of tourism industry, like any heavy industry, can do wonders for an economically-backward region by generating revenues for the local people by giving birth to ancillary services and trades. This, in turn, can help reduce threats to tourists' safety, encouraging them to revisit the place. Proper maintenance of the tourist spots, particularly the heritage sites by means of adequate security, night-time lighting and time-to-time restoration is also a key responsibility that we must carry out.
Advertisements and campaigns with soothing slogans (many had objected to the term 'Incredible' in the earlier campaign) should be prioritised. We should also look to promote tourist inflow from our neighbouring countries, which would help in promoting good relation with them by means of people-to-people contact, instead of just relying on western tourists.
Tourism potential is a boon which we have inherited. We should not let it ruin.