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In probably a first in recent years, the Finance Secretary of India speaks to the tourism industry at India Tourism Summit that took place last month in Delhi, on his take of Indian tourism as an industry. In the present government, he has already served three key portfolios. He was ​secretary, Civil Aviation and then the Environment Secretary and in both these sectors there was a fair amount of work done​ that has or will impact tourism going forward​.

Ashok-Lavasa

ASHOK LAVASA
FINANCE SECRETARY OF INDIA

“I would like to make a few observations on the role and importance of tourism in the current context. We always refer to travel and tourism, and I was asking myself what is the distinction between a traveller and a tourist and I felt that perhaps a traveller is someone who wants to go from one place to another but a tourist is someone who wants to spend time, he wants to discover that place and understand different cultures and lifestyles.

The way the world is moving today, particularly the wave which people are calling anti-globalization, I ask how is it going to impact tourism? And I felt that what is happening in the world, the protectionist tendencies can provide a great opportunity for tourism. It is the tourism industry that can create a tourist attraction out of a wall and it is the tourism industry that can create a tourist attraction even out of wall that is damaged. The brilliance and the creativity of the tourism industry is about packaging and taking a product to the world in a manner that they find it attractive and want to experience.

Now there are a number of statistics to show how tourism is contributing to the economic growth in countries and this shows that tourism is a sector that has a direct impact on economic growth and on employment generation and an indirect and induced impact which is far greater than the direct impact. In the current context where global tourism has been growing about 3.9% or so, the Indian tourism industry is forecast to grow at a much ​higher​ rate and this is what people also say about the general growth about the Indian economy as well. The way tourism growth has taken place in India, whether it is in terms of investments, or growth in arrival of foreign tourists, it is in the multiplication of domestic tourism, where India has grown immensely. Whatever be our grievance about the slow pace of growth but I would feel that India has grown a lot. I recall in 1993, when I was in tourism and even the earlier days when people like Mr. Misra were in tourism, India was still talking of a million foreign tourist arrivals per year and now there are months in which you get almost that number. Along with this​,​ there are some challenges which have come and we need to address those. For example, take the case of river rafting. 20 years ago, people hardly considered going for river rafting but now adventure tourism has grown in a rapid way and this has brought issues such as safety and environment to the fore. Now, unless we address these issues we will not have a holistic development of tourism.

The way tourism industry would grow is not only by direct intervention but you must look at the entire approach of the government. Such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, to improve the image of India. Another thing to emphasis​e​ is that resources that India has, finance is only one of the resources, others are heritage and natural resources. How are you able to not only present these resources but also preserve them is very critical. Without preserving, we are looking at a very myopic approach.

The beauty of tourism is in its ability to connect with the local population. If there is a disconnect between what you are providing to an outsider who is visiting that place and the quality of the life in the area where that resource is located, the wider the disconnect the more problems you will have in promoting tourism. It is the responsibility of the government and the tourism industry to narrow this disconnect.

There is no better industry than tourism which is all inclusive and this slogan that we use of Atithi Devo Bhava, if it is going to remain just a spiritual statement, it will not help at all. I think this has to seep into civil consciousness.  How do you make your citizens tourist friendly and not citizens who will scribble on noticeboards, or worse remove signages. Atithi Devo Bhava has to seep into our citizens’ sensibility and sensitively and only can we hope that India becomes a major destination. I would like to emphasis on the role that family plays in teaching its own children in being good citizens.   

While it is very good to attract foreign tourists and I am all for it, but I think that no country in the has grown if it has not provided for the domestic travel and if it has not looked after the budget traveller.

Another issue which plagues the tourism sector which we have still not been able to resolve is the issue of multiplicity of authorities which are dealing with various issues. This becomes a barrier to integrated growth of infrastructure and tourism.  Perhaps countries where a lot of progress in tourism has been made, my sense is that many of the local authorities are responsible for managing tourist attractions. In India, the situation is not that. It is not just the Taj that is to be preserved only but also how you get there and the entire experience around it.

If you look at the allocation of the Ministry of Tourism and think that is the only investment that the government is making to promote tourism that would be a slightly unfair way of looking at it because of the holistic way of looking at it. You should keep in mind the various other programmes that the government runs and investments it makes and policies and schemes that are handled by other ministries that contribute to the development of tourism. Even if you limit yourself to the allocation to tourism, this year for example, there is a 16% growth in allocation to tourism. This is a big step which the government has taken.

I do believe that whether you see tourism an industry or not but there is a lot of industry in tourism. 

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