In an insightful address to industry stakeholders, NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant suggested a slew of measures, including a ten-fold increase in outlay for ‘Incredible India’, focussed approach in developing a handful of world-class tourism products and experiences, instead of spreading resources too thin, and optimal utilization of heritage and monuments, among others.
Suggesting that India needed to focus on specific products, destinations and experiences to witness a visible boost in the tourism ecosystem, Amitabh Kant argued that India was spreading its resources too thin. Making a pitch for selective focus in developing tourism-related assets, he said “focus on just five exclusive tourism zones. Focus on five circuits, five destinations, five unique products. Nothing else. Do not spread your resources. Ministry of Tourism should just focus on making them the world’s best.”
He alleged that India was underspending in promoting and marketing itself in the international market place, and advocated a ten-fold raise in ‘Incredible India’ outlay. “We are bigger than twenty-four countries of Europe. Get the best marketing agencies in the world, and they are all based in India, to spin out the best creative campaigns the world has ever seen,” he said. Suggesting a way forward, he added, “attack key markets, seal future markets, build emerging markets, add ten X on that.”
Batting for inculcating world-class tourism products in the national repertoire, he noted that the focus needed to be on cultivating experiences. “The ambition should be to create the best experiences. Focus on them from the point of arrival to the point of departure and make them the world’s best destinations,” he asserted.
Speaking on how under-utilized India’s heritage and monuments remained, he pleaded for opening them up for tourists. “India is sitting on the biggest resource in the world. Create a portal for all heritage sites and not just ASI sites; introduce e-tickets in monuments. Why cannot our agents sell e-tickets of them?”, he reasoned. Adding that the PPP model needed to go beyond the Humayun’s Tomb, Amitabh Kant said, “open heritage sites for experiences. I have seen how Bikaner House in Delhi has been turned into a great experiential destination.”
Taking a dig at ASI, Amitabh Kant noted that the national agency had gone backwards, instead of adopting new and globally-accepted practices. “I remember when Mr. Jagmohan was the minister of Culture, he allowed tour operators several experiential dinners in several places. Identify them; open them up. This is the experience which India has. India must create that and allow exclusivity. Fine people who are not following the defined norms, but allow people to come in and experience the Indian culture. You cannot just lock them up forever,” he said.
E-visa regime, launched with much fanfare in 2014, was a big step forward, Amitabh Kant said. He, however, advocated making it applicable for conventions and cruise tourism. “Issue precise, step-by-step instruction on visa application and market them globally. E-visa takes too much time at the airport. I was told that it takes three to three and a half hours. I was quite shocked. This needs to be sorted out. Issues of payment not going through digitally needs to be resolved, too,” he detailed.
Taking stock of the larger picture in positioning India as a key player in the global tourism landscape, NITI Aayog CEO pointed out the absence of world-class MICE facilities, and said “India can never make it without MICE destinations.” “DMICDC (Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation) is doing a very major convention-cum-exhibition centre. The government has given it the land in Delhi for an amount of one rupee. India needs fifteen major cities to create fifteen large convention centres. India must become the centre of meetings, conventions and exhibitions. Without that, the large volumes and values of jobs will not get created,” he reasoned, explaining the rationale behind the idea.
Highlighting the considerable boost in airport infrastructure, with airports being constructed in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad, he opined that these must become “global hubs.” “We are not here to service Singapore and Dubai. Our airports must become the hubs for future,” Amitabh Kant said.
Speaking on GST, pegged at 28 percent for tourism, for five-star hotels, he termed it “no good”, and supported the industry call for bringing it down to lower levels. “Five-star hotels are not luxury products, they are job creators, and if we want jobs, we need to bring them down to sensible levels, and that will create jobs for India,” Amitabh Kant said.