Amitabh Kant, CEO, Niti Aayog minced no words, alleging that the industry was failing in pushing the government on the tourism front. Calling the industry passive and silent, he pointed out how government’s inadequate destination marketing was not been highlighted by the industry. Excerpts of his discussion with Navin Berry, Chief Editor, Cross Section Media follows:
NB: Do you see the possibility of a marketing fund for the industry?
AK: I think it is a very good idea and you should take this forward. My view is that in the tourism sector the government doesn’t perform and the private sector only talks. You must walk the talk and when you do that the government will meet you half way through.
If you don’t do this, you will have the demise of tourism because the government is incapable of doing consistent and professional marketing over a long period of time. If you want to create a brand, it should be done by the private sector. A lot of capacity is now being created in terms of hotels, infrastructure and rooms, now you need about a 100x of professional marketing than what is happening right now. You need a huge penetration of brand India across markets and across the digital world. India must become the top most recall market amongst travellers which is not there right now. So you have created infrastructure and you have created rooms, now you have to ensure that the demand grows rapidly and that these rooms are filled and you create even more hotel rooms in the next lot.
NB: From the days when you were in the Ministry say 17 years ago, now the whole canvas has changed many fold. The current department of tourism is virtually at the same level as it was during your time. It hasn’t grown in terms of numbers of people or professionalism. Do you something mega happening on this front with consultants or an enlarged tourism ministry?
AK: The new General Financial Rules in government allows you a lot of freedom. In DIPP, I had taken on a lot of outside professional bodies that assisted and supported me in a vast range of areas. Here, in NITI Aayog, I have hired a lot of young professionals and a lot of consultants. These are young people from Harvard, Wharton and Oxford, they bring in all the life into NITI Aayog and they are the ones driving things. Same thing I did in DIPP; I had World Bank, KPMG working with me. It is good to stay lean and thin as a body but it should have the ability and flexibility to work with the best professionals from around the world which the present rules permit. So, I don’t know why this is not being done.
NB: How do see travel and tourism panning out?
AK: See I am not a great believer in the numbers game. So, I won’t say that from 8 million you want to go to 15 million or so on but I am a great believer in earnings. You should target in terms of earnings to achieve a 5x growth in the next 3 years. It is also possible to enhance your per capita earnings. Its hugely possible to give a big thrust. Not in terms of numbers but in terms of value. Because now you have opened up the gates for electronic tourist visas. That is a huge move forward.
All the requirements for tourism are available now. There is no rational reason why India’s tourism should not grow in the coming years. The only thing in infrastructure that you actually lack is great MICE centres. You need more convention centres. Which we have initiated. We are creating one of the biggest convention centres in Dwarka that is 5 mins from the airport and connected with 2 metros. Also, Pragati Maidan is being redone. MICE tourism will take a quantum jump. We at NITI Aayog are in the stage of planning for opening up the islands. We are doing 5 in Lakshadweep and 5 in Andaman and the next phase will have 20 more. The concept is a sustainable and holistic development. The other thing is to relax the CRZ in a manner to develop beach destinations. Rest is all marketing and incentivizing the private sector to contribute to the resources. With GST, tourism should be at the lowest level. If you want tourism to be a job creator, then it should be at the lowest level.
NB: You mentioned the 160 countries where we have the E-Visas, has it produced the required numbers already or you expect it to take longer or are there other things that we need to do along with the roll out that are not happening?
AK: The government has put out the policy framework. There might be some teething problems and those can be sorted out. Any facility is as good as or as bad as you market it. People around the world are not aware that you have an electronic visa facility. You need to market it aggressively. For this lack of awareness, I blame the private sector more that I blame the government.
NB: We all know you are the creator of Incredible India which ran beautifully for first 3-5 years and now it has gone into a bit of a dormant phase. What would you do if today you were given charge of Incredible India as a campaign, as a means of education and bringing in more numbers?
AK: I never look back but only look ahead. Today I feel the private sector doesn’t make adequate sound. You should make a hue and cry. The priority of the government is growth with job creation. The multiplier impact of tourism is so immense and there is no other sector that can create such jobs. We haven’t tapped the job creation potential of the tourism sector at all. My view is that there are 5 key areas where tourism needs to focus on. One is marketing and promotion of E-Visas; improve the quality of infrastructure; you need to open up the MICE market and open up the beaches which have a huge potential; you need great amount professional and world class marketing in all areas; you need to focus on skill development and ensure that in GST you have the lowest level of taxes.
NB: Many a times you said that you blame the industry for not doing certain things. Many of us including me think at times that the industry should take up a bigger challenge as a whole rather than their individual projects.
AK: I think the industry must have a greater voice to tell the government that it is miserably failing in doing destination marketing. As group and as an industry I never hear your voice that the government isn’t doing enough. I have been Secretary DIPP and I have interacted with every single industry; the tourism industry is the most passive and silent.
NB: The sense I have always got is that whenever the industry is looking to meet the government it is regarding some tax reduction or the like. We have not gone seeking any broader picture.
AK: I am a great well-wisher of the travel and tourism sector. It has huge potential for growth and growth in jobs. You need to work with many more states. You need 10-12 champion states in travel and tourism which is missing. After Rajasthan and Kerala, I thought you would have many more state which would create jobs through tourism. You need to work with Chief Ministers. Government has given 42% allocation to the states. The states have to make this their number 1 priority.
NB: On this, my suspicion is that the government machinery is terribly vulnerable to the incumbent in power. You have a Secretary, he goes and the whole policy and priority is changed. There is no consistency in terms of endeavour, in terms of policy and objectives. Kerala success story is also due to continuity in thought process.
AK: Kerala has continuity all throughout. You need to have continuity. The Kerala private sector is very vibrant unlike in Delhi. Their dynamism we don’t see here. See the Kerala Travel Mart – supported by the government but totally driven by the private sector.
NB: Do you think something like this is possible on the national level?
AK: Yes, absolutely, why not?