‘In our past lies our future … Indian tourism hasn’t marketed the precious assets embedded in our heritage to full potential’

What are the lessons learnt from one of the toughest years for the tourism industry?

According to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) this is by far the worst crisis international tourism has faced since records began in 1950. It is most important that tourism, travel and hospitality industry stay united as they were during the crisis.

Tourism contributes an estimated 10% to the Indian economy and is our biggest ambassador to the world. It can thus also be an engine to revive growth as it offers great opportunities for employment and showcases brand India to the world.

What are the opportunities?

Out of 140 countries, India ranked 8th on cultural resources and business travel, 13th on price competitiveness and 14th on natural resources in World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2019.

Despite these superb rankings, India’s overall tourism competitiveness ranking at 34 reveals that we have not monetised or marketed the precious assets embedded in our heritage to their full potential, as other countries do.

In our past lies our future. This is not about just the hotel industry but about reimagining ‘Tourism India’ in its entirety. Yoga, ayurveda, knowledge of balanced and healthy life recorded in Vedas, ancient wisdom of healthy eating and our cuisine’s evolution have the potential to make us the holistic wellness hub of the world.

What’s your estimate of business and job losses in tourism over the last year?

FAITH estimates Rs 15 lakh crore impact to the economy on direct and indirect basis. Rough estimate is full-time job losses could be between 3.5 to 4 crore. The travel and tourism industry provided 8.75 crore jobs and accounted for 12.75% of the total jobs created in the country in 2019.

What areas will lead the revival?

Domestic tourism is rising, especially in the form of ‘staycations’ and leading the partial recovery. Wellness and nature holidays, Back to Roots, rural tourism and short road trips have emerged as popular travel choices. Domestic travel will continue to be the big driver all the way till summer. We are blessed to have ‘seasonal joy’ all through the year and this may well bring the much-needed spring in our steps.

Driving is the new flying! The quest for open air experiences is driving nature and rural tourism with an increasing rise in spiritual/ religious travel at domestic destinations. Adventure tourism, ski and snow destinations are other new emerging areas.

What is your expectation from the Budget for the tourism industry?

Tourism encompasses multiple ministries and takes place in and within states. It thus requires a National Tourism Council, an empowered legislative body that will enable fast tracking of Centre-state level tourism matters and will create a ‘One India One Tourism’ approach.

Our vision is to increase the intensity of high-quality hotel accommodation in India which is low as compared to global tourism leaders. Hotels across the country thus require to be declared as an infrastructure sector so that long term funds are accessible at suitable interest rates to attract private capital hospitality, to create all-India jobs and build quality accommodation supply. To truly ensure a seamless tourist transportation experience we need to standardise all interstate road taxes and make them payable at a single point which will facilitate the ease of doing business.

There needs to be an income tax exemption on travelling within India. Indian citizens should get income tax credits for up to Rs 1.5 lakh when spending with GST registered domestic tour operators, travel agents, hoteliers and transporters anywhere within the country.

We also need to incentivise Indian corporates, offer a 200% weighted income tax expense benefit, to undertake domestic meetings, incentives, conferences & events and to prevent Indian MICE events from going abroad.

To create structured global awareness of multiple Indian tourism verticals – Indian MICE, Indian adventure, Indian heritage under the Incredible India main brand – at least Rs 2,500 crore of global branding budget must be allocated.

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