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HomeCover StoryG20 Shot to India tourism?

G20 Shot to India tourism?

Can the year-long Presidency be an opportunity at India’s destination development and marketing?

‘Incredible India’ campaign was launched in 2002 and what followed soon after were the five best years of growth in international tourist arrivals to India. Between 2003 and 2007 growth averaged well over 16 per cent. Financial crisis applied the brakes (2008-2009) to that golden momentum that has since been elusive. A decade and half now and the campaign having outlived its mojo, the industry still awaits a vigorous new idea and intent similar to that of the campaign launched 20 years ago.

The year-long G20 Presidency is an opportunity to script a new chapter in destination development and marketing that is also in sync with India’s growth aspiration for tourism, the wider economy, country’s aspiration to showcase its soft-power, and the several other audacious visions that have been announced in the last few years such as developing an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, ‘Amrit kaal’ visions, and more.

There is clearly the intent to leverage the Presidency to boost country’s tourism profile and increase international visitations right from the top. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has instructed officials to convert each visitor who comes to India to attend the G20 conferences, into the country’s tourism brand ambassadors. He has instructed the officials to put their best foot forward while also using the occasion to make impressive destination showcase.

“During the year-long Presidency, we want to brand and showcase our Bharat’s heritage, culture and hospitality to the world. Through this G 20 conference, we will show the world our philosophy of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava.’ After these meetings, I hope India is seen and proven the best destination for hospitality. Because there will be 200 to 250 meetings all over the country and for every meeting there will be 200 – 300 delegates and their families,” Union Tourism Minister G Kishan Reddy recently said in New Delhi.

So, while all this is very encouraging, there is also this industry-wide sentiment that a concrete action plan is required, to be developed and put into motion at the soonest, unlike ever before.

Tourism aspirations

India’s G20 Presidency comes at a time when the Government has considerably ratcheted up its development and vision narratives and economic growth targets for the country. This indeed augurs well if it percolates to policies, planning and delivery. The Government wants the India n economy to be US$ 10 trillion by 2030. It aims the overall travel and tourism economy, including both, domestic and international tourism, to reach US$ 1 trillion by 2047.

A recent draft New Tourism Policy has now the goal post at making India “one of the top 5 destinations in the world, in terms of both, international arrivals and international tourism receipts,” by 2030. The country is also eyeing US$ 100 billion in foreign exchange earnings from tourism by that year. If that is to happen, then we are probably looking at 7-8 fold growth over India’s 2019 numbers in the next eight years. Ranked 5th globally, Italy received about 65 million international tourists in the pre-Covid 2019.

Although this may be too ambitious to achieve, an action plan for the Presidency period can help catalyze a lot of what the country’s Tourism Inc. has waited for the last decade and half.

The Government wants to add over US$ 6.5 trillion to current GDP size, which is estimated at close to US$ 3.5 trillion at the end of 2022, in the next eight years.

G 20 opportunity

G20 is a unique club, especially because the group consists of member states well known for their trade and economic successes, political and military clouts and global influence. Barring probably Spain, which is also represented through European Union, one of the G20 members, it has all the top 15 world economies as its members. Collectively G20 accounts for around 80 per cent of the World’s GDP, 75 per cent of international trade and two-thirds of the world population.

Most of the countries are advanced or emerging economies with India being at the bottom of table in terms of per capita income which is about US$ 2500. The one closest to India in per capita income is Indonesia estimated to be around US$ 4700 in 2022, nearly two times more than that of India. The table is led by the US, Australia and Germany with their per capita income in excess of US$ 75,000, US$ 66,000 and US$ 62,000 respectively. Half of G20 countries’ per capita income is over US$ 50,000. And many of these countries, like the US, the UK, Germany, France, among others, are some India’s key source markets, albeit the numbers are very small compared to top source markets of other popular tourist destinations.

During the year-long Presidency, there will be around 215 meetings spread over some 55 cities or locations. According to Arvind Singh, Secretary – Tourism, Government of India, “All these locations will come on the global focus, and this is very important for India tourism too.” The industry also insists that the sector urgently needs an action plan to reach out to the G20 member countries and beyond at the earliest with marketing plans and budget and some strong and attractive messages on seamless travel.   

Can G20 help India tourism?

Saudi Arabia, the G20 Chair for 2020, has emerged as a tremendous success story. A UNWTO report released recently during the G20 Tourism Ministers’ meeting held in Bali, Indonesia, a few months ago says that Saudi Arabia topped the G20 countries for the flow rating of international tourist arrivals to the Kingdom for the first seven months of 2022. It recorded a growth of 121 per cent for the seven-month period compared to the same period in 2019, before the pandemic struck. According to Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the country’s tourism sector has today emerged among the world’s fastest growing, accelerating at a rate of 14 per cent, which is significantly higher to its pre-pandemic growth and before Saudi Arabia assumed G20 Presidency.

So, what did Saudi do right? The country is making no less than a trillion-dollar investment in the burgeoning tourism sector and is looking at growing the sector’s contribution from 3 per cent to 10 per cent of the country’s GDP and 100 million tourists (30 million international and 70 million domestic) visits by 2030.

The country has a plan that it is working on and is witnessing remarkable growth in tourism recovery and one of the highest growth rates in foreign tourist arrival numbers. It recorded 62 million visits last year and it is quite likely that the country may achieve its target ahead of the deadline.

Besides, the country is working on some incredible tourism projects along its Red Sea coast as well as elsewhere in the country to ramp up its tourism infrastructure and position itself as one of the top international destinations in the world. Its money is especially earmarked for investment in the tourism eco-system including infrastructure, including giga projects like AlUla, Red Sea, Neom, Amaala, Qiddiya. Each one of these projects is offering a different value proposition to attract different travel segments.

Speaking recently at an industry conclave Arvind Singh, Secretary – Tourism, Government of India also pointed that it has been seen that several countries who hosted the G20 Summit also saw the Presidency as an opportunity to project the nation to the global community.

He pointed that Saudi Arabia that had Presidency in 2020 was able to greatly leverage it for tourism purposes, further noting that a country that was predominantly seen as a religious destination as people were visiting it mainly for Mecca and Medina. “Post G20 Presidency, it is open to travelers from Europe and other countries, and we see that happening. G20 is an opportunity that all of us should take care of and truly utilize G20 in 2023. This is an event that we look forward to, the Government of India looks forward to, for positioning and projecting India as an important destination for the rest of the world,” he had stressed.

India can probably take a leaf of out of Saudi’s book and merge it with its own innovation and ideas. The country is potentially the most endowed tourism destination in the world. Few other destinations can offer the diversity of products and experiences found in India. And there are templates of success stories, such as that of Saudi Arabia that can be closely studied and acted upon faster.

Industry’s take

According to IATO Sr. Vice President, E M Najeeb, the Prime Minister has shown great inclination to help build India’s inbound tourism by offering advice such as, “provide the visiting delegates and their family great destination experience and converting them into India’s tourism brand ambassadors.” “G20 Presidency is not only an excellent opportunity for destination promotion but also the Prime Minister himself has accorded great importance for tourism to be prioritized during the year-long event. Therefore, we should take opportunity to expedite infrastructure development, immediately remove irritants like delays and queues at inter-state borders and very importantly, use the event and the occasion to create a strong brand equity for our country as a tourism destination.

According to Ajay Bakaya, Managing Director, Sarovar Hotels, “G20 is a fantastic opportunity, and the Prime Minister wants to showcase the entire country to people from across the world. This is not just being done in a few hotspots. The G20 events are all planned out. So, in all fairness, the Government has done a lot of good things. e-Visa was one and it’s coming back slowly. Part of the plan with infrastructure is working very-very well. Roads in every state is improving. States are competing. Airports, ports, and road networks are getting better.”

Bakaya however insists that something more has to happen in order to take advantage of the Presidency. “If we continue running the business in the same manner as we have run for the last 75 years, things are not going to happen. G20 is a fantastic opportunity for the country to do marketing in specific countries, in our source markets, in the countries of origin where the business is coming from, including these (G20) countries most of which are key markets and key emerging source markets. We need to have marketing spend,” he added.

A leading commentator on the international tourism landscape, former two-consecutive term SITE President, Rajeev Kohli, says, “India’s G20 Presidency is most certainly an opportunity for us and our brand globally across everything we do. Not only tourism, but also cuisines, manufacturing, services, and whatever it is. The world does perceive India in a very different light today given that Indians are commanding the C-Suite in every major global organization today. Now if the Government has an understanding of how the brand image building is done on the services side, then they will be able to seriously help in tourism. Enhance and rejig our brand. Right now, we are just incredible India, Taj Mahal, Elephants and scattered pictures of Yoga. The recent video made, even though nice, is the same old repackaged. We need to have a brand-new image in a brand-new look and feel. The G20 is a huge budget exercise. On that I am just gonna say that spend a fraction of that on tourism, involve us and see the difference.”

Warning against any complacency, Kohli says that the Government shouldn’t think that we are going to hit that big-boys top-market in the next few years without any changes on the ground then. “India will never be in the top five and I don’t think we want to be in the top five. We want to be an experiential quality destination, not a destination for everyone. That drops the value of the destination. That drops our ability to keep it that mysterious, but approachable and affordable destination,” Kohli said referring to the draft NTP that puts the goal of bringing India in world’s top tourism ten tourism destination in terms of visitation and tourism receipts.

He said that instead we need to repair the damage done to the destination in the pandemic, set realistic goals based on our carrying capacity standing in 2023 and the perceived carrying capacity we will have in the next five to ten years and create brand new policies targeted at helping the private sector market India, helping the private sector create infrastructure which is new airports, new hotels or something as basic as quality transportation. “We are lacking in all these areas,” we are lacking in all these areas he insisted.

Cash in on the Presidency

Bakaya points at the need to look at creating a holistic eco-system for the tourism and hospitality segment to find strong roots for growth and be able to leverage the “fantastic opportunity” that G20 Presidency brings. Infrastructure status to the industry, he says, will go a long way in creating that envisioned supply, demand, and growth. “If the industry gets ‘infrastructure status’ than automatically the banks are obliged to give a larger lending period, better interest rates. It becomes a priority sector for the nation. If we have to go from 11 million to 30 million, some big things have to be done.”

Kohli stressed the need for the Government to identify and “talk to the real top ten-fifteen private sector companies who actually have feet on the ground, sales on the ground, who understand the pulse of the international market.” “Put them in a room for one or two days and get a heart-to-heart conversation on what do we need and how can we do this. We need to have enthusiasm. Unfortunately, there is no leadership for the tourism industry. There is nobody who can generate ideas and that is seriously hurting. Whatever business is happening is totally on the shoulders of the private sector’s own effort without any support from the Government of India. If the Government is serious, a simple allocation of maybe 5 per cent or 1 per cent (Of the G20 budget) dedicated only to rebuilding the image, the brand and the ideology of Indian tourism, will be a game changer for us,” the former IATO Vice President added.

Also stressing for the need to chalk out a plan at the earliest, Najeeb says that tourism growth can surge only by creating demand. “The supply side will follow. Government’s help should come in marketing destinations, creating ease of travel (with regard to documentation and port of entry) and supportive frameworks for the private sector to bring innovative products into the market.”

Furthermore, he added that all the G20 countries are also top tourism source market, and therefore “We need to take advantage of the Presidency and help develop seamless travel opportunity for the citizens of G20 countries to come to India through enhanced connectivity, easy Visa facilitation, eVisa and maybe Visa-on-Arrival and hassle-free travel experience, from arrival to departure.”

“Just look at the great loss of tourists from the UK and some other markets because of Visa issues recently and bad PR we got as a travel destination. Not only we lost tourists and precious dollars in tourism revenue, but also the image of the country and the tourism industry. The FTO from some of these markets are no more as trusting towards us,” he said while drawing attention to have a very facilitative Visa processes for tourist.

Najeeb also pointed that there will be tremendous media interest in the country because of Presidency, and therefore there is opportunity to leverage the event in order to position the country as a safe, harmonious, united and welcoming country too.

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