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Tourism: One of India's most neglected sectors

Last updated on: January 28, 2011 08:41 IST

Tourism: One of India's most neglected sectors

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Arvind Singhal

Over the years, a type of caste system has also made its way into the way the political (and bureaucratic) leadership looks at different sectors of the Indian economy and then allocates its attention.

Most interest and attention are given to those sectors (and ministries) which are perceived as glamorous or pander to vote banks or have the potential to be "note banks" for the incumbents.

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Image: Tourism needs more attention.

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Tourism: One of India's most neglected sectors

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Cabinet formation after formation and reshuffles in between see tussle not only for ministries such as finance, home, defence, and external affairs but also for petroleum, railways, coal, mining, and civil aviation.

There is hardly much visible political manoeuvring or hard bargaining on ministries such as HRD or health care, and then ministries such as tourism or culture or renewable energy/atomic energy do not even excite the media.

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Image: No focus on tourism.

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Tourism: One of India's most neglected sectors

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However, if India has to achieve a steady, inclusive growth year after year for several decades, it cannot afford to neglect any single sector of the economy.

Surprisingly, and sadly, one of the most promising sectors for delivering the maximum immediate and sustained benefit to the largest number of Indians, spread all across the country, including some of the least developed regions, is one of the many that has failed to attract its due attention from our political leadership and others who are involved in giving some direction to the development of our economy. This overshadowed sector is "tourism".

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Image: Tourism, one of the most promising sectors.

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Tourism: One of India's most neglected sectors

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With sustained growth in incomes, one of the fastest-growing areas of private consumption is leisure that includes tourism.

Further, while the government ostensibly focuses more on foreign tourists, the real growth is in the number of domestic tourists which has steadily increased from about 525 million in 2007 to over 700 million in 2010.

Further, while traditionally most of domestic tourism has been linked to travel for religious and social (e.g. weddings, bereavements) purposes, the recent trends indicate a faster growth in domestic tourism activity for leisure itself.

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Image: Govt ignores domestic tourists.

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Tourism: One of India's most neglected sectors

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Further, just about every state and Union Territory in India has something to offer for attracting tourists and hence, not so surprisingly, some of the otherwise less developed states of India such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh account for the largest chunk of domestic (and international) tourists.

With a contribution of almost 6 per cent to the GDP, the sector generates an economic output of more than $70 billion and an employment of more than 40 million.

Yet, even in the tourism ministry's own annual report (on its website) for 2009-10, there is hardly a mention of its tremendous impact on India.

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Image: Tourism, a money spinner.

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Tourism: One of India's most neglected sectors

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Indeed, in its overview, it gives a brief mention to the number of foreign tourist arrivals and the foreign exchange earned by India but no data on the socioeconomic impact of this vibrant sector of Indian economy, and its incredible potential to create tens of millions of additional direct and indirect jobs all across India in the coming years.

The jobs are created not only in hotels, food and beverage services, taxi and other transport and travel trade services but also on account of shopping and other spending done by tourists, providing a market for local craftsmen and other local and regional manufacturers of consumer products.

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Image: Tourism creates thousands of jobs.

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Tourism: One of India's most neglected sectors

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Most of these jobs are created for local populations, and do not always require specialised skills or higher education.

And finally, most of the spending by the tourists directly adds to the local economy rather than waiting for any trickle-down effect from the various populist schemes of central and state governments.

There are, of course, many piecemeal initiatives both at the central level and by different states. However, as in most things in India, there is no holistic thinking or futuristic, bold, integrated planning.

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Image: Most of these jobs are created for local population.

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Tourism: One of India's most neglected sectors

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To give the requisite support and impetus to domestic tourism, many other ministries and departments have to work in close coordination.

For instance, transport connectivity (rail, road, air and sea/inland waterways) has to be aligned with the tourism potential of different parts of the country.

Appropriate land use regulations have to be put in place and town planning done keeping in mind that many such towns will have a much larger proportion of floating population.

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Image: Appropriate land use regulations have to be put in place.

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Tourism: One of India's most neglected sectors

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Since most of the entities engaged in provision of tourism infrastructure at a local level will be very small and some medium enterprises, financing mechanisms have to be put in place to allow more of them to come up and grow.

And finally, in addition to natural and existing tourist attractions, each state in India must think of creating some new ones that could include museums, aquariums, amusement parks, science and technology centres (like EPCOT in Florida) with some in public-private partnership.

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Image: India must develop tourism infrastructure.

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Indeed, the potential for transforming India through sectors such as tourism is far greater than many other sectors that undeservedly get more attention from politicians, and indeed, the business and other media.

It would, indeed, be a wonderful day when a DMK or an NCP or a TMC will fight hard to get the tourism ministry!


Image: Tourism can transform India.

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