India set to gain from major tourism push


India’s tourism sector has enormous potential for growth given the range of natural and cultural attractions it has on offer, and the government and hospitality sector are working hard to put in place measures needed to take advantage of this, say those in the industry.

“India’s tourism has a huge upside potential,” says Arun Nanda, chairman of travel company Mahindra Holidays & Resorts. “Nobody has so much to offer.”

Mr Nanda says the focus now is to boost the image of the country as a premium holiday destination.

“We have to improve the perception of safety, cleanliness, hygiene in the minds of the market,” he says.

And the market potential is enormous. India may be geographically vast, with landscapes of mountains, deserts, beaches and jungles, along with a huge variety of cultural and historical attractions on offer, but it only has a 1.18 per cent share of international tourism arrivals, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

But thanks to concerted efforts by the government and the sector itself, tourism is growing fast.

Last year, India attracted more than 10 million international tourists, accounting for 6.8 per cent of GDP, up from 8.8 million the previous year, while foreign exchange earnings from tourism increased by 20.8 per cent to $27.69 billion (Dh101.70), the ministry’s figures show. India has outlined plans to double its tourist arrivals to 20 million annually by 2020.

“I think that India’s tourism industry is very, very well-poised in terms of growth,” says Anand Kandadai, executive vice president of Cleartrip, an online travel booking company headquartered in Mumbai.

“Infrastructure is an integral part of tourism. Getting a certain level of hygienic accommodation is something that tourists genuinely expect, and these are areas where there is scope for improvement,” he says.

“From a connectivity standpoint, a lot more needs to be done, but there’s a lot of clarity of thought in what needs to happen. Tourist safety is something that is going to be of priority.”

While cities are generally well-connected in India, there is room to improve air, road and rail links to many of the country’s more remote areas, where there are attractions such as wildlife reserves that appeal to different travel audiences. Industry chiefs say the issue is very much at the forefront of the government’s plans.

“I think infrastructure is one of the major areas, and right now there are promises to get better, but the roads should be good, the connectivity should be in place,” says Sunil Gupta, the chief executive of WelcomHeritage Hotels, which is part of ITC Hotels, India’s second-largest hotel chain with over 100 properties.

He points out that having tourists arrive with certain expectations and not being able to fulfil them would be a problem.

But like the rest of the sector, he is optimistic about how tourism is growing and developing.

Government initiatives include the introduction of e-visas and expanding visas-on-arrival offerings to attract foreign tourists by simplifying the process of entering India.

Most recently, India’s union budget, presented on February 1, saw the announcement of further measures to help grow the hospitality sector.

These include ambitious plans to develop 10 prominent tourist sites into “iconic tourism destinations” by developing infrastructure, skills and technology and attracting private investment, along with branding and marketing initiatives. It also includes plans to upgrade tourist amenities at 100 monuments of the Archaeological Survey of India .

“India is blessed with an abundance of tourist attractions,” said Arun Jaitley, India’s Finance Minister, in his presentation of the budget.

The government also wants to connect 56 unserved airports – those with no scheduled airline service – and 31 unserved helipads across the country, another major move that will further strengthen and widen India’s appeal as an easily navigable and wide-ranging destination for tourists of all types.

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