Asserting the ethos of Atithi Devo Bhava, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday invited G20 delegates to visit India during the 2024 general elections and witness the "festival of democracy" in all its diversity.
A recorded message from Modi was played at the inaugural session of the G20 Tourism Ministerial Meeting in Goa on Wednesday, in which, he underlined that "terrorism divides, but tourism unites".
The prime minister expressed confidence that the deliberations and the 'Goa Roadmap' would "multiply the collective efforts to realise tourism's transformative power".
A Goa Roadmap and Action Plan, a ministerial communique endorsing it would be issued at the end of the G20 ministerial here on Thursday.
“The motto of India's G20 Presidency, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam - 'One Earth, One Family, One Future' can itself be a motto for global tourism”, Modi said.
In his address, he extolled the virtues of tourism and its potential to unite people.
"It is said that terrorism divides, but tourism unites. Tourism has the potential to unite people from all walks of life thereby creating a harmonious society," he said.
Modi said India's next general elections will be held in 2024 and he invited G20 delegates to visit the country to witness the "festival of democracy" in the "mother of democracy".
Nearly a billion voters will be taking part for over a month "reaffirming their abiding faith in democratic values," Modi said in his video message.
"With more than a million voting booths, there will be no shortage of places for you to witness this festival in all its diversity," he said.
In the 2014 general elections, some tour operators had offered 'poll tourism' in India, taking different groups of foreign tourists to Varanasi and other places, while the electoral campaigning was underway.
Modi was elected to Lok Sabha from Varanasi, and subsequently became the prime minister of India. In his message, Modi extended a warm greeting to the ministers and other delegates from various G20 countries, and said, "I welcome you all to incredible India".
Incredible India is also the tagline for a popular campaign run by the tourism ministry to promote tourism.
"Visiting India is not just about sightseeing, it's an immersive experience," Modi said, adding that India's approach to tourism is based on the ancient Sanskrit verse Atithi Devo Bhava which means a guest is akin to god.
"Be it music or food, arts or culture, the diversity of India is truly majestic. From the high Himalayas to dense forests, dry deserts to beautiful beaches, adventure sports to meditation retreats, India has something for everyone," he said.
He said during India's presidency of the G20, nearly 200 meetings are being organised at 100 different locations all over the country making every experience different from the other.
Tourism ministers and delegates from various G20 countries, including guest countries, are attending the two-day ministerial meeting.
About 130 delegates from countries such as the US, the UK, Spain, South Africa, Mauritius, Australia, Singapore, South Korea, Indonesia, Nigeria, Oman, the
Netherlands, Bangladesh, and top international organisations are taking part in the event in Goa.
Modi said tourism ministers rarely get a chance to be tourists themselves even though they are handling a sector worth more than USD 2 trillion globally.
Underling that the meeting was taking place in Goa, one of the major tourist attractions in India, the prime minister urged the dignitaries to take out some time from their serious discussions and explore the natural beauty and the spiritual side of the state.
In the last nine years, the central government has placed special emphasis on developing the entire ecosystem of tourism in India, he said.
"From transport infrastructure to the hospitality sector to skill development, and even in our visa systems, we have kept the tourism sector as a focal point of our reforms," Modi said.
He underlined that India's efforts in the tourism sector are centered on "preserving its rich heritage while creating a world-class infrastructure for tourism."
The prime minister emphasised the development of spiritual tourism as one of the focus areas in India. He said the infrastructure upgrade in the eternal city of Varanasi, one of the major spiritual centres, led to a "ten-fold increase in pilgrims taking the number to 70 million today".
India is creating new tourist attractions, Modi said as he cited the example of the Statue of Unity, the tallest statue in the world, which attracted about 2.7 million tourists within a year of its inauguration.
The prime minister expressed happiness that India is also recognising the relevance of the tourism sector for the speedy achievement of sustainable development goals.
He highlighted that the five inter-connected priority areas of green tourism, digitalisation, skill development, tourism MSMEs, and destination management "reflect the priorities of India as well as the global South".
In his nearly eight-minute-long message, Modi also suggested greater use of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and augmented reality to drive innovation and highlighted that India is "working towards artificial intelligence enabling real-time translation of various languages spoken in the country".
He expressed confidence that collaboration among governments, entrepreneurs, investors and academia can accelerate such technological implementation in the tourism sector.
The prime minister also suggested working together to ease business regulations for tourism companies and assist them in increasing their access to finances and investing in skill development.
Modi expressed happiness that a G20 tourism dashboard is being developed in partnership with UNWTO which will be a first-of-its-kind platform bringing together the best practices, case studies and inspiring stories.
He also spoke of the the upcoming Sao Joao Festival in Goa and said, India is a "land of festivals".