Home tourists can make up for foreigners
Rahul Chakravarty says even in times of slowdown,Indians are no less keen to travel
“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive…” Spoken in the 18th century, the words of novelist Robert Louis Stevenson ring out loud and clear in incredible India.
THE TOURISM industry is a significant contributor to the GDP; its multiplier effect on income and employment is huge — for every rupee spent on travel, nine rupees are generated from tourism related economic activities. Recent developments, particularly the global meltdown has amply demonstrated that even in times of recession domestic tourism continues to grow. Foreign tourism declined during the global financial crisis, but domestic tourism grew substantially. While foreign tourist arrivals posted a dip of 2.2 percent in 2009, the domestic tourist visits to all states and Union territories in India soared to 668.80 million registering an 18.8 percent increase over 2008. Even the adverse global and domestic economic situation could not dampen the wanderlust of the domestic traveller. With the shadow of another global economic crisis hovering over the world, the tourism industry in India looks to the domestic traveller to save it from the negative external fallout.
The recent economic boom in India has ushered in a burgeoning middle class willing to spend on travel and entertainment. The zeal to take the family out when schools and colleges close for summer vacations, to avail of long weekends, to move out of cities during festivals, to celebrate the onset of a new year, to avail Leave Travel Concessions (LTC) — domestic tourism knows no season and offers every reason to the traveller to pack his bags.
Furthermore, in times of economic slowdown business travel surges as the quest for deeper or new business links for improving bottom lines enhances. Commercial or business tourism within the country takes centrestage and accelerates the pace of growth of domestic tourism. Connectivity has fuelled the pace. Many states have classified tourism as an industry and consequently the requisite development of infrastructure becomes essential. Accessibility is the mantra; while rail and road form the base, heli tourism and cheap air tickets are the lure. Technology in the form of online travel bookings brings in its wake a plethora of user-friendly facets. With safety and security as the hallmark, travel products like flights, hotels, rail and cars are lapped up.
The time is thus ripe to take domestic tourism to the next level. State governments should now look to train their efforts to start up and steadily spread out. An interactive conclave today can be organised with the help of tour operators, hoteliers, airlines, surface transport operators from across the country. The host state with a day-long compact, structured, business module helped by its tourism fraternity becomes the perfect ground for B2B and B2C meetings. To retain domestic visitors travelling for pilgrimage, leisure or business, creation of an evening activity area and weekend packages are imperative. Products and campaigns need to focus more on short leisure but budget travel with special circuits that facilitate air, rail road and last mile connectivity. While rural tourism holds out unmatched potential for the traveller who wants a break away from city life, high-end domestic travel too necessitates a concerted approach. If Singapore can turn Sentosa, an island, into a one stop entertainment destination with the enchanting experience of Universal Studios of Hollywood, cable car rides, electrifying roller coasters and beach sports, why can’t Goa, Kerala and Maharashtra which have every bit of what it takes to be a super destination. The 12th Five Year Plan recommends the development of 20 tourism parks across India.
DOMESTIC TRAVELLERS seek home stays, apartments, and budget hotels with hygiene and safety. Their focus is on sightseeing; food is more of a pleasure to negotiate the local cuisine. Safety in tourism is the watch word and gradually technology in this area plays an all encompassing role. Cashless travel is what tourists look for. Financial institutions are looking at encrypted tourism cards. This aids safety, eases payment and helps better planning for the domestic traveller. A welcome smile at the accommodation, a helpful hand at communication, a pleasing guide at sightseeing, that’s what the traveller looks for. A little proactive approach by the government and private players with scheduled training to on the spot hospitality providers is the need of the hour. Good surface transport and cheaper air travel will go a long way in making domestic tourists explore India safely and make sustainable tourism a reality. The facets of service, infrastructure, connectivity and governance are the key to domestic tourism. The need is to lead from the front and scale up the present rate of growth to 17 percent in the next two years.
Rahul Chakravarty is Additional Director & Team Leader, Tourism, at FICCI