If some doomsday predictions are to be believed then 2012’s December cover story may be the last one written. But as optimists we feel 2013 will bring in renewed energy and hope once again for all of us to live and learn. Factors like dollar rate shooting up and increase in airfares have attributed in dampening the general morale of the industry. Diwali this year was, in particular, lacklustre. There have however been some positive developments and decisions (though very few on paper) that the industry should take note of. Countries that had ignored the Indian market in the past have made inroads in 2012 to tap the India outbound business with Portugal and Bulgaria being the latest to join the bandwagon. India won special awards at the WTM 2012 event and also had an encouraging participation there.
New circuits, sanctions and tie-ups
On the home turf, in January 2012 the ministry of tourism identified 45 Mega Tourist Destinations/Circuits in consultation with the concerned state governments/Union Territories(UTs) to be developed. During the same time, India signed an MoU on tourism with ASEAN. This lead to some progress made in the implementation of the work plan for the development of ASEAN-India cooperation in Buddhist pilgrimage tourism including the production and promotion of materials and documentary films on Buddhist pilgrimage in ASEAN-India. The main objectives of the MoU was to cooperate in facilitating travel and tourist visits, further strengthen the tourism partnership, enhance mutual assistance and human resource development for tourism sector, take necessary steps for exploring avenues of cooperation and sharing of information, exchange information pertaining to statistics and development strategies, investment opportunities and economic data in tourism, travel and hospitality sectors relevant to each other and jointly organise seminars, workshops and face-to-face meetings wherever possible, with a view to exploring and discussing new opportunities and avenues for the development and promotion of tourism. Apart from the ASEAN countries there were proactive exchange for tourism promotion between the SAARC countries at the first SAARC Tour Operators Conclave.
Setting up of Gurukuls under the Rural Tourism Scheme - development and promotion of tourism is primarily undertaken by state governments/UT Administrations. However, under its Rural Tourism Scheme, ministry of tourism provides Central Financial Assistance (CFA) to them for activities involving development of rural tourism including propagation of the Gurukul process. So far, MoT has sanctioned CFA for tourism projects at 185 villages across the country. The mid months also witnessed some action on protection of lake tourism. During mid 2012, the ministry of environment and forests identified 115 wetlands including lakes, in the country, covering 24 states and two UTs, for conservation and management under National Wetland Conservation Programme.
A MoU on Campaign Clean India between the ministry of tourism and the ministry of railways was signed in July this year. Indian Railways have taken a number of steps for improving cleanliness by way of Green Toilets, clean railway stations, rag picking contracts, washable aprons on platforms, mechanised cleaning on the stations and on-board service schemes, etc. As per the MoU the two ministries will work together towards a sustained sensitisation campaign for train travellers and service providers under the Capacity Building for Service Providers Scheme of the MoT and for consultations and discussions with the stake holders, including the travel trade, to evolve strategies for the up-keep and cleanliness of stations and coaches. The ministry of railways will work towards the provision of controlled access to the stations and provision of chemical toilets in trains to keep the stations clean. It will encourage the hotels and travel trade associations, companies and corporate houses to adopt railway stations. In return, the ministry of railways will offer advertising opportunities to the patrons. MoT will undertake branding of long distance trains running on important routes in different regions of the country, whereby one side would depict important tourism sites of the country and the other side would carry Campaign Clean India messages on mutually agreed routes and terms.
Further, MoT has appointed a National Level Consultant (NLC) to identify some spiritual tourism circuits, including the Sufi Circuit, for integrated development in association with the states/UTs for development during the 12th Plan period. The list of Sufi Circuits identified by NLC are :
1. Delhi – Fatehpur Sikri - Ajmer
2. Mumbai – Aurangabad - Shirdi
3. Sufi circuit of Bihar
4. Hyderabad – Bijapur - Gulbarga
Development and promotion of places of tourist interest, including development and promotion of spiritual/pilgrim circuits are primarily undertaken by the state governments/UT Administrations themselves. However, MoT provides Central Financial Assistance (CFA) for tourism projects including wayside amenities, identified in consultation with them, subject to availability of funds and inter-se priority under various schemes of the ministry.
Inclusion of Western Ghats in UNESCO List: 39 locations in the Western Ghats in the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have been inscribed as a World Heritage Site in the UNESCO World Heritage List during the 36th session of World Heritage Committee held in July, 2012 at St Petersburg, Russia. This is an interesting development for India and there are a number of activities that can be introduced with this new announcement for the benefit of tourism.
Direct investments in tourism: Hotels and tourism sector is declared as high priority sector and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) upto 100 per cent, under the automatic route is permitted, subject to applicable laws/regulations, security and other conditionalities. The FDI has been allowed with an objective to encourage investments in the hotel sector in India and to create job opportunities in hospitality sector.
National workshop on Hunar Se Rozgar Yojna: The Hunar Se Rozgar Scheme consists of six weeks training programme in food and beverage services and eight weeks training programme in food production. In order to deliver maximum benefits to the society, Indian Tourist Development Corporation (ITDC) has entered into tie-ups with eminent organisations and reputed NGOs. The initiative has been well received and is one of the successful ventures of the MoT. Youth trained under this scheme have been absorbed in various hotel chains where they are performing commendably. Thus encouraged, ITDC, under Hunar Se Rozgar banner, has plans to start the training scheme in new trade courses which are designed to enhance the employability aspects based on the demand of the industry, that is, front office, security, retail marketing and drivers. ITDC has ambitious plans to impart training to more than 5000 candidates in the financial year 2012-2013 under the scheme. So far 2351 students have been trained in the areas of food production and F&B services through ITDC’s various hotel units. Additionally, 1130 more students are undergoing the training programme in various hotels of ITDC across the country.
India Tourism launches two new campaigns: India Tourism has launched two new campaigns - an international campaign called ‘Find What You Seek’ and a domestic campaign called ‘Go Beyond’. These campaigns were launched at the World Travel Market-2012, in London. Expressing his views on the same,
K Chiranjeevi, union tourism minister said that the launch of these campaigns reflects an important paradigm shift in the strategy to promote India within the country and abroad. The ‘Go Beyond’ campaign focuses on promoting lesser known destinations to domestic as well as international tourists. He further added, “Till now, we had been promoting India internationally from the point of view of the destinations. The Incredible India campaigns which we had launched in 2002 has been extremely successful. In our ‘Take II’ of the Incredible India campaign, we are going to focus on the consumer. In 'Find What You Seek' campaign tourists from the world over can find the destination or product of their desire in India, be it heritage sites, forts, beaches, backwaters, lakes, mountains, adventure, wildlife, culture, festivals, medical, wellness, MICE, religion or shopping. India offers something for everyone and that is why we proudly say that India is an incredible destination with a range of products as found nowhere else.
It is truly in India, you will find what you are
India participation at WTM 2012 was also bigger than last year. The India pavilion space was about 15 per cent higher than 2011. This year, there were over 110 Indian participants from the trade, state governments and UT Administrations at the event. At WTM 2012, India was conferred with three awards by the World Travel Awards organisation. These awards were - 'Asia’s leading destination', 'Asia’s leading tourist attraction – Taj Mahal' and 'Asia’s Leading Tourist Board'. Coinciding with the WTM Event 2012, the minister also attended UNWTO Ministers’ Summit held to discuss the subject ‘Open Borders and Open Skies: Breaking Barriers to Travel’ and held discussions with Taleb Rafai, secretary general, UNWTO; Hugh Robertson, minister of sports and tourism, UK and Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, tourism minister of South Africa. He assured them that India will continue to play an important and pro-active role for promoting global tourism.
Reviewed guidelines for Tourist Visa: The government has recently reviewed the provision relating to two months gap between two visits of a foreign national to India on a Tourist Visa. It has been decided to lift the restriction of two month gap on re-entry of foreign nationals coming to India except in case of nationals of Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, Bangladesh, foreigners of Pakistan and Bangladesh origins and stateless persons. This is the latest announcement that has come in from MoT, which should end the year with a positive flavour. This relaxation should work as a boon for inbound tourism and hence improve the tourism picture in general. Chiranjeevi has welcomed the decision of the ministry of home affairs relating to the Tourist Visa.
The tourism minister has said that this decision has addressed a long pending demand of the travel industry and would facilitate tourists visiting the country. MoT has set a target of increasing the share of India in world tourist arrivals from the current 0.6 per cent to 1 per cent by the end of the 12th plan period and a relaxation in the visa regime would contribute to a large extent in achieving this target.
The union tourism minister also said that India would be hosting the next meeting of the UNWTO Regional Commission for South Asia and Far East and Pacific in April-May 2013 in Hyderabad. India is currently the chairperson of the UNWTO Regional Commission for South Asia. Chiranjeevi expressed his happiness over the fact that UK has withdrawn its advisory against travel to Jammu and Kashmir. He said, “We are going to initiate a fresh dialogue for entering in to a MoU with UK on tourism cooperation.” The minister said that India and South Africa have agreed to work together for protecting the tourism interests of developing nations jointly. He stated, “We have also agreed to hold the first meeting of the Joint Working Group on Tourism Cooperation with South Africa at the earliest with the objective of enhancing tourist traffic between the two countries.”
Chiranjeevi pointed out that India’s position was 38th in the world in terms of world tourist arrivals and 17th in terms of world tourism receipts. Expressing concern over this fact he added, “Our endeavour is to increase India’s share from 0.6 per cent to 1 per cent in world tourist arrivals by 2016. My efforts would be to make tourism as India’s main economic and political agenda taking all state governments, UTs and stakeholders on board and establish India as round the year destination. Our focus would be to further develop and promote niche products like Rural Tourism, Wellness and Medical Tourism, Cruise Tourism, Adventure and Wildlife Tourism, Film Tourism, Sports Tourism and MICE Tourism.”
Referring to his priorities the minister said his endeavor would be to: facilitate development of synergy between various departments/ministries, state governments, UTs and the industry for development of tourism, make India an affordable destination by facilitating development of budget accommodation, ease visa regime and expand Tourist Visa on Arrival Scheme to additional important source market countries, expand human resource base and create new employment opportunities. Chiranjeevi mentioned, “Our effort should be to give and promote experiential tourism and showcase true India. The visitors to India should be compelled to come again and again and revisit the experience because of its rich diversity. I am aware of hygiene and sanitation concerns. To improve these standards, MoT has launched Campaign Clean India. I would be especially focusing for the success of this campaign.”
The coming year is predicted to bring in more excitement on the tourism front, with an increased focus and energy on domestic tourism, infrastructure development and few concessions that will help provide greater impetus to the sector. All we can say is let us hope for the best and keep the good work going, joining in which ever little way we can.