NITI Aayog has come up with a comprehensive document, more a vision statement for India when it will celebrate its 75th year of independence in 2022. The document has been prepared after extensive consultation among government and other stakeholders. The apex policy think tank has recognised tourism as a major source of employment generation and national growth and has outlined key challenges that need to be systematically addressed. In its report titled ‘Strategy for New India @ 75’, NITI Aayog has envisaged increasing India’s global international tourist arrival to 3 per cent and FTAs to 12 million from the current 8.8 million as key objectives for the tourism sector. 

What must come as sweet music for tourism and hospitality industry insiders, a long-pending demand for lowering the ambit of ‘infra’ status has found resonance with NITI Aayog. It has recommended notifying the ‘infra’ status tag to any project costing over INR 1 crore, involving hotels, resorts, equipment, parks etc. It has noted that the move would help promoters avail priority lending from banks, thereby speeding up the process of infrastructure building.

The absence of credible tourism circuits has been a concern for the industry and has been echoed by NITI Aayog too. Given that aside the ‘Golden Triangle’, India is surprisingly bereft of any credible circuit, NITI Aayog has recommended planning and developing “five globally competitive and world-class national circuits from entry to exit.” It has recommended equal focus on Buddhist circuits and suggested increasing promotion, building wayside amenities, and connecting lesser-known sites to core circuits for enhancing the scope and extent of Buddhist tourism. In doing so, it has advocated making full use of existing schemes, most notably ‘Swadesh Darshan’.

RCS-UDAN has been a successful undertaking in enhancing regional connectivity within the country. NITI Aayog has suggested a timely implementation of schemes, effectively developing Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Bengaluru as “efficient transit hubs.” 

It also has a word of advice for the conservation and development of heritage sites. It has advocated roping in corporate entities and NGOs in the process, using CSR funds for the purpose. The idea is in sync with government’s ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme – which was launched not too long ago, amid much fanfare.  Interestingly, NITI Aayog has also voiced against differential cost structure for international tourists visiting heritage monuments. It has reasoned that such a practice is detrimental to increasing footfalls of young international travellers at these sites. An industry body, CII had made similar observations on the matter in its report.

Culture and heritage have been adequately stressed upon as core pegs of the country’s tourism offering. The vision statement has batted for creating a minimum of 5 world-class museums that are at par with the best in the world, as the likes of “Bilbao and the Asian Civilization Museum in Singapore.” It has also suggested relaxing norms related to accepting gifts by museums in the country, helping better preservation of relics.

Aligning India’s tourism with the fast-changing world, perhaps in a first, the body has suggested crunching data to ensure targeted marketing and outreach policies in key markets. It has favoured a digital campaign, using digital media, including TV advertisements, to strengthen India’s foothold in the Asian market. The document has made specific mention of China, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea as target market areas.

There are several more suggestions pertaining to skill development, improving tourist experience, and others. The list is exhaustive and insightful. But what is significant here is the growing belief in policy makers that tourism must take centre stage as a vehicle for national growth. It has the potential to provide quality jobs, in large numbers, and muscle up India’s global connect.

NITI Aayog’s recommendations are very much in line with the industry’s aspiration on how things must move forward. If implemented earnestly, India should be able to reach the outlined objectives by the time an independent India turns 75.