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This session covered a gamut of issues relating to the tourism and hospitality industry. With over 1.1 billion global tourists in 2014 providing employment to 10% of workforce and contributing 10% to global GDP, the tourism and hospitality industry is a key growth driver, employment generator and source of forex. A PBD Conference was organised in New Delhi on April 30, 2016 to discuss ways of engaging the Diaspora in promoting sustainable tourism in India through various promotional schemes and policies. The initiatives taken by the Government in improving tourism infrastructure, e-visa regime and promoting tourist circuits suggest a great future for this industry.
Recommendations & Action Taken
A PBD Conference titled “Partnering with Diaspora to accelerate tourism in India” was held on 30 April 2016 in New Delhi. Mr Pradeep Rawat, Joint Secretary (EA), Ministry of External Affairs in his presentation focused upon the suggestions made by the Diaspora at the PBD 2016 Conference and the actions taken by the Government of India to improve tourism in India. The Diaspora had highlighted the need to improve connectivity – by rail, road and waterways -- for seamless travel within the country, enhance tourism infrastructure -- especially in the hospitality sector, facilitate private sector-driven services with state governments acting as catalysts through appropriate hand-holding measures, resolve visa issues and simplify the OCI processes, and improve safety.
Some of the other recommendations were:
In working upon the suggestions, Government of India has identified potential areas of engagement with the Diaspora like engaging them in the ‘Visit India Committee’, getting them to publish their positive experiences as well encouraging investments by NRIs in India. Some of the major actions taken by Government of India are: to spend 50% expenditure on Plan schemes by Ministry of Tourism for development of tourism infrastructure, create a Diaspora database, organise events in cooperation with Indian tourism offices, conduct seminars and presentations, among others.
Plenary Session & Q&A
Mr M J Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs, Government of India stated that tourism is not just about the sector’s contribution to GDP growth and job creation. It is a way of promoting friendly relations between countries. Tourism has always remained an important aspect of India’s economic policy framework and the ‘Incredible India!’ promotion campaign can be credited for the success of this industry. Suggesting more innovative and creative ways to boost tourism in India, Mr Akbar said there is scope for promoting river and food tourism and festival tourism. Mr Akbar also said that digital tourism will pick up over the next five years, taking Indian tourism to greater heights.
Providing statistics on the growth of the Indian tourism industry, Mr Vinod Zutshi, Secretary (Tourism), Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, stated that year 2016 witnessed 11% growth in foreign tourist arrivals and 15% growth in terms of forex earnings. Tourism plays a major role in the economic growth of India and so it is essential to recognise India’s strengths in this area and build the capacity to meet the future demands of tourism.
India also has huge deficit in tourism infrastructure. There is heavy demand for improved infrastructure and hospitality. In order to bridge this gap, it is imperative to promote digital tourism platforms like Oyo, Airbnb, Stayzilla, etc. and increase private investments in this area. Government is also working toward promoting water sports, river rafting, scuba diving, etc., where the Diaspora could explore investment opportunities.
The new e-visa regime is game-changer for tourism in India; 1 million tourists travelled with e-visa in 2016 -- which was around 200% more than what India clocked in 2015. E-visa validity has been increased from 30 days to 60 days and can be applied for by foreign nationals up to four months ahead of their India visit. In the last two and a half years Government of India has spent around $600 million in improving public infrastructure. The Department of Tourism has also chalked out many circuits for spiritual tourism, wellness tourism, desert tourism, adventure tourism, etc. where each circuit will have 7-8 destinations. Investors could look to partner the development of these circuits in a more creative manner, he said. The Department of Tourism has also created websites for the promotion of the destinations, launched helplines for tourists and developed the ‘Swach Paryatan’ mobile app to improve and increase tourist inflows in India.
The Ministry of Tourism seeks cooperation from the Diaspora for the promotion of spiritual tourism, medical and wellness tourism, yoga, heritage and Buddha tourism circuit. Mr Zutshi also urged prospective investors to participate in niche areas like destination wedding tourism and luxury train and cruise tourism. Stating that the Diaspora are ambassadors and promoters of Incredible India!, Mr Zutshi urged them to promote Brand India in their respective home countries. He also proposed setting up ‘Visit India Committees’ in the Indian embassies overseas by involving NRIs and PIOs.
Taking a few questions on promoting Brand India, Mr Rawat emphasised the Ministry of Tourism is diligently working to improve tourism in various sectors. Speaking on improving tourism in the North Eastern Region, Mr Zutshi stated that road is the lifeline to the region and there is significant progress in this direction. The Regional Air Connectivity Scheme, introduced under the new aviation policy, is another game-changer toward making air travel in the region more affordable. Under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme launched in 2015, North-Eastern Region has been identified as an independent circuit and around $200 million has been pumped into the North Eastern states, particularly to improve transport connectivity.
The 2016 PBD Conference had also reached out to the Diaspora to contribute in a big way in areas like development of Delhi-Lucknow Express Highway and digital tourism in the country.
Also addressing a query on the environmental impact of increased tourism, Mr Zutshi highlighted the importance of sustainable and responsible tourism. A sensitisation campaign has been launched to build awareness on this matter.
Key Recommendations of the Plenary Session