There are two strengths which India has but which have not been adequately leveraged: Culture and Agriculture. India has a rich history and many destinations for people seeking solitude or vacation. From snow-capped peaks to mountains, from temples to beaches – India has it all. Yet, we have never “sold” India as a destination for the world to visit. Local Indians are unaware of some of the spectacular places within the country even as they visit foreign locales.
In Asia, Singapore and Dubai have done well in promoting themselves as tourist destinations inspite of their sizes (or perhaps because of it). Thailand has successfully promoted itself, and so has Malaysia. India somehow has fallen behind. Other than the Taj Mahal and Goa, and perhaps to a limited extent Kerala and Rajasthan, India has not made a mark in the world of tourism. This needs to change.
Why is Promoting Tourism important? Because that is one way to get on the world maps and people’s minds, to get them to notice the variety and beauty of India, and to experience the hospitality of Indians. India needs to get mindshare and “face-time”. As people start visiting India, they will notice the changes and the opportunities, the markets and the people. In addition, it will create mini-industries around various places in India – providing foreign capital in a different sort of way. Tourism is one way to ensure our infrastructure improves much more rapidly – living in India we have gotten used to the mediocre, but tourists will accept nothing less than the best.
There are other aspects of India can also be promoted – Yoga, Spirituality, Ayurveda and Religion, for example. We can learn from the way Thailand has promoted itself as a Buddhist temples destination.
India has a rich heritage – this may be a liability in many other respects, but tourism is one place where it can be turned into an advantage. The world has to start seeing India in a much more positive light. The beauty and rich tapestry of India needs to be brought to the forefront.
It is not easy starting a “bottom-up” tourism revolution, especially when the infrastructure across the country leaves so much to be desired. There are still too many pain points for visitors to India, even though they have reduced over the past few years. Our best hotels are comparable to the best anywhere in the world ; the same applies to their rates, also! In Jet Airways, India has an airline which is again world-class. Airports need a lot more improvement.
One way to begin could be with some of the states could start pushing specific destinations and themes. The initial target could be the domestic audiences themselves — it would be like doing a dry run for the “real tourists”. Here, as a start, our air fares will need to come down – it is nearly as cheap to fly to Singapore or Bangkok from Bombay as compared to Calcutta. Another interesting idea could be to promote the “bed-and-breakfast” theme – let visitors come into contact with Indians and experience our warmth, openness and hospitality.
There is a lot we have to offer to the world – it is time we made them notice us. India needs to be thought of as a destination – not just for capital and business, but also for a vacation and rejuvenation.
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