Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Indians to visit 15 tourist destinations in India by 2022 during his
Independence Day speech from the Red Fort. He referred to people travelling abroad for holidays and urged everyone to look at domestic tourism, which will help boost the sector and help attract foreigners.
This comes at a time when a
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) report says that Indianâs are spending record amounts on International travel. The countrymen spent $595.9 million in June â a peak travel period. Almost every country is reporting an increase in the number of tourists from India and most of it is driven by additional connectivity to the country. From Canada to Australia, a growing number of flight options has led to an increase in tourism and Indians reaching foreign shores for a holiday. Inward Travel
But what about India? What will it take to look inwards and start travelling within India?
The answer lies in more than one factor. India stands sixth in the list of number of
UNESCO world heritage sites. The 38 sites are scattered across different regions in the country. And while Indians have made a beeline to neighbouring countries to visit World Heritage sites such as Cambodia, Vietnam or Sri Lanka, the same kind of influx is not seen for World Heritage sites in India, which are from an even older era.
Take Ajanta for example. It is one of the oldest UNESCO world heritage sites that harks back to 2
nd century BC. Around Diwali, which is the second big annual vacation in the country, the flight from New Delhi to Aurangabad costs Rs 14,444. That is about a thousand rupees cheaper than a flight to Bangkok from New Delhi for the same dates. Unfortunately, Aurangabad lacks the infrastructure needed for mass tourism and there have been complaints about the sorry state of road between Aurangabad and Ajanta.
The story repeats for Bodh Gaya, a holy place for Buddhists. There is limited connectivity to Gaya, the nearest airport.
The connectivity to tourism sites in India is a challenge and not restricted to World Heritage sites alone. There are many such examples. Reaching the pristine Dawaki river in Meghalaya could turn out to be costlier than Kuala Lumpur or Colombo, from New Delhi.
While air travel is one part of the story, the other part is hotels. Thanks to heavy taxation, the cost of hotels in India is much higher than in other countries. A lot of this is driven by differential taxation for luxury hotels. A beach facing hotel in Phuket is available at half the cost of a similar hotel in Goa.
There is a need for a multi-pronged approach to improve tourism in India â for Indianâs as well as foreigners. The biggest impediment to this is infrastructure. Good roads, faster toll plazas, better air connectivity and hotel infrastructure or opening up of home-stays will change a lot, positively.
From the Prime Minister, it is a masterstroke, an appeal to travel more domestically. The country has seen benefits of relaxed visa norms with visa on arrival and simplified visa processes for foreigners. But Indian domestic tourist season revolves around school holidays â the summer season (AprilâJune) and then in parts â during Diwali and Xâmas vacations.
Incidentally, the summer season sees very little inflow of foreigners, owing to Indiaâs harsh summer. It is also this season which sees Indians travel to foreign shores because of longer holidays than Diwali or Xâmas and the weather being favourable at foreign destinations because well, winters too are harsh in many parts of India.
If Indians take up the PMâs appeal and domestic tourism increases, it will help balance the lean months of foreign tourism with those of domestic ones and vice versa. Even if a section of people in the country with a population of more than 1 billion begin to travel inwards India, it will make a positive difference to tourism in India.
Currently, itâs a chicken and egg problem. Will the infrastructure be addressed first or will the tourists come first? The initiative like many others is worth lauding and well thought out but needs investment and structural changes. While the schemes like RCS-UDAN have helped connect more and more cities to air network, the costs are not affordable beyond a point and for a country like India where the average family size of 4 or so, the costs can become prohibitive.
Will the government incentivise travel further? Currently, the LTA (Leave Travel Allowance) benefit is available for 2 journeys in a block of 4 years. The government can increase it to one journey every year. Not only will it help boost tourism, but it will also give some relief to the salaried.
These schemes to incentivise travel should be coupled with plans to penalise nuisance creators at tourist places with tourist police who are empowered to charge fines for littering or creating a nuisance. The millennial generation is the one spending on tourism and what the millennials look for is
Social media acts as multi-level marketing channels with one attracting another until a steady stream of tourists starts flowing. While Angkor Wat in Cambodia is the largest religious monument in the world, it is more famous for the sunrise photos and itâs time we create such spots in the country which attracts tourists in droves.
Ameya Joshi is the founder of aviation analysis blog NetworkThoughts. Read Ameya Joshi's columnsÂ