By Prem Kumar
It has been seven months since India took over G20’s presidency last year in December from Indonesia. Since then a host of meetings and events have been organized as part of the G20 presidency in different parts of the country. Many G20 delegations have visited the country so far. There have been several meetings on tourism as well which have kept the Tourism Ministry quite busy. India’s tourism sector is getting unprecedented limelight. It seems that the tourism sector is finally getting the attention it deserves.
When India took over the G20 Presidency, it was seen as a big opportunity for the country’s tourism sector, an outstanding opportunity to showcase the country’s diverse tourism potential to the world, its great hospitality tradition of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’.
The G20 Presidency was also seen as an opportunity to showcase the country’s newly built state-of-the-art infrastructure on the global stage. From a tourism perspective, it was supposed to be a big marketing spectacle, a perfect occasion to attract foreign tourists in the post-pandemic competitive world of tourism.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared: India’s G20 Presidency is a unique opportunity to showcase India’s strengths to the entire world. He made this remark on 5th December last year while chairing an all-party meeting on the G20 presidency. The PM proclaimed that “there is global curiosity and attraction towards India today.” He remarked that the G20 Presidency would help showcase parts of India beyond the conventional big metros, thus bringing out the uniqueness of each part of our nation. The PM underlined the potential of the G20 meetings to boost the local economies of the venues.
On another occasion, while unveiling the logo, theme, and website of India’s G20 Presidency via video conferencing, the PM had said that “G20 is also a great opportunity for us to show our tradition of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’.”
He added that events related to G20 would not be limited to Delhi or a few places only. “Each of our states has its own characteristics, its own heritage. Every state has its own culture, its own beauty, its own aura, and its own hospitality.”
Days ago while addressing via video the recently held the G20 Tourism Ministers’ in Goa, PM Modi again underlined India’s ‘Atithi Devo Bhavah’ approach to tourism. He emphatically said that the motto of India’s G20 Presidency, ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ that is ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’ can itself be a motto for global tourism.
In his address to the G20 tourism ministers, the PM stated that India’s efforts in the tourism sector are centered on preserving its rich heritage while creating a world-class infrastructure for tourism. The PM expressed happiness that India is also recognizing the relevance of the tourism sector for the speedy achievement of Sustainable Development Goals. Modi said that the deliberations and the ‘Goa Roadmap’ would multiply the collective efforts to realize tourism’s transformative power.
The PM, often referred to as the best ambassador of Incredible India, has been vocal about the significance of India’s G2O presidency for the tourism sector. The PM has repeatedly underlined that the presidency represents a big opportunity for the country’s tourism sector.
In its one-year presidency of the G20, which will end on 30th November 2023, with the conclusion of its Summit, India will host over 200 meetings in over 55 cities in the country. Till now more than 100 meetings and over 150 cultural events have been held. These include four G20 Tourism Working Group (TWG) meetings and one G20 Tourism Ministers’ meeting.
Speaking recently at a Delhi University’s College in Delhi, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that G20 Presidency will spur the growth of tourism in the country. He added that India is the first host country of the G20 Summit that has been holding its 200 meetings in 60 cities across all its states and Union territories. “We have done it so that the world could see the full diversity and richness of India,” he said.
The first TWG meeting was held in Rann of Kutch, Gujarat in February. The second meeting was held in Siliguri and Darjeeling in West Bengal in April. The third one took place in May in Srinagar. The fourth G20 TWG meeting followed by Tourism Ministerial Meeting was organised recently in Goa. The Goa TWG meeting finalised the ‘Goa Roadmap for Tourism’ that was released after the conclusion of the tourism ministers’ meeting. The ministerial meeting unanimously endorsed the five tourism priority areas, namely, green tourism, digitalisation, skill development, tourism MSMEs, and destination management.
All these G20 meetings and associated cultural events have also been wonderful occasions for the delegates to experience India’s diverse culture through various cultural programmes.
Addressing and G20 Tourism Ministers’ meeting in Goa, G Kishan Reddy, Union Minister for Tourism and Culture, said that the G20 brings together the world’s leading economies to address key challenges and promote sustainable, balanced, and inclusive growth. Reddy added that “through our collective efforts, we can harness the power of tourism to accelerate progress towards the SDGs, ensuring that no one is left behind.”
Welcoming the Goa Roadmap, Reddy said that the ‘Goa Roadmap for Tourism is a vehicle for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals’ and reaffirms the pivotal role of the 5 key priority areas. At the meeting, Reddy informed that a G20 Tourism and SDG online dashboard will be set up to showcase best practices and case studies of G20 members for achieving progress towards SDGs. This will help the stakeholders learn from the best practices and replicate them.
Briefing media in Goa prior to the fourth TWG meeting, V. Vidyavathi, Union Tourism Secretary, reiterated that the TWG is working on the five inter-connected priority areas that are key building blocks for accelerating the transition of the tourism sector and achieving the targets for 2030 SDGs.
Aiming India’s $1 trillion tourism economy by 2047
During the G20 Presidency, the Government unveiled its vision to make India a one trillion-dollar tourism economy by 2047. Speaking at the first TWG meeting, Reddy said that the government’s vision is to make India a one trillion dollar tourism economy by 2047 when India will compete 100 years of its Independence.
It was Arvind Singh, immediate former tourism secretary, Government of India, who had announced in New Delhi, in the run-up to the first TWG meeting, held in Gujarat, that there would be five inter-related priority areas for tourism under India’s G20 presidency. “These five priority areas are greening of the tourism sector, harnessing the power of digitisation, empowering youth with skills, nurturing tourism MSMEs/ start-ups, and rethinking the strategic management of destinations,” he had informed.
Visit India Year 2023
It is important to note that the MoT, almost coinciding with the country’s G20 presidency, has announced 2023 as Visit India Year to give an additional boost to the tourism sector.
While unveiling the logo of ‘Visit India Year 2023’ in January this year in New Delhi, Reddy said that 2023 is an important year as India is heading G20. He stated that this year more than one lakh foreign delegates would visit India, and they would be showcased the entire gamut of India’s Culture.
2023 has been quite an eventful year for the country. One should not forget India is currently also holding the chairmanship of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which will come to an end with the culmination of its virtual Summit on July 4. India’s SCO chairmanship has been another important opportunity for the tourism sector.
Coming back to G20, its significance can be understood from the fact that it is the world’s most powerful multilateral economic block comprising the world’s advanced and emerging economies and representing around 85% of the global GDP, over 75% of the global trade, and, about two-thirds of the world population. Besides the EU, the Group comprises 19 countries including the UK, the US, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Australia, Japan, India, China, and Russia.
Impact on Inbound Tourism
India taking over the G20’s Presidency in December last year came at a very opportune time when the industry was seeking recovery from the adverse impact of the pandemic. Speaking at G20 Tourism Expo in Jaipur, former tourism secretary Arvind Singh informed that “Amidst India’s G20 Presidency, India’s tourism sector is showing one of the strongest recoveries in the Asia Pacific region.”
As seven months have passed since India assumed the presidency, it is time to look at how the country’s tourism industry has benefited from it so far, and how it has impacted the different segments of the industry. The Group Presidency, with its theme of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, has undoubtedly created a strong buzz and expectation in the country’s tourism sector. The meetings of the G20 TWG at different locations in the country ensured that the tourism sector remained the focus of the policymakers.
While some industry players feel that in the last seven months, the G20 presidency did have a positive impact on tourism, others feel that not much has changed on the ground.
On an upbeat note, Puneet Chhatwal, MD and CEO, Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL) said that the country is deservedly claiming its position on the world tourism stage with its presidency of the G20 providing the perfect platform. In his address to IHCL’s shareholders in the company’s annual report for 2022-23, Chhatwal added that “With India’s G20 Presidency, we are positioned like never before to showcase our nation’s cultural heritage, our unique and differentiated travel offerings, and our safe and tourist-friendly destinations.
Boost to tourism
Sudesh Kumar Poddar, President, the Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Associations of India (FHRAI), sees India’s G20 presidency as a pivotal occasion for the country’s travel and hospitality sector. “The G20 presidency has been a great opportunity. It has come as a big boost to the whole tourism industry. Not only hotels, but even restaurants, tour operators, and transport operators are befitting from it,” said Poddar. “That is the one part of the story. The other part is that we have been able to showcase our attractions to the delegates coming from so many nations. This has created awareness that will bring more business in the future.” He added that for the first time, due to the G20 presidency, events are happening at places from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Assam to Gujarat. “That is how the tourism industry is benefiting. Tourism moves because of events,” said Poddar.
According to Poddar, average occupancy in star-categories hotels has increased between 10 and 15% due to the Presidency. He said that currently average occupancy in the industry is 65 to 68 %. Poddar sees a further increase in demand for hotels in the coming months due to the Presidency.
In his view, due to the G20 presidency, foreign investment in India’s hotel sector will also increase as foreign delegates are noticing the huge investment opportunities in the sector.”
A showcase for tourism
“The G20 presidency has been a wonderful showcase window. It has helped to showcase the country’s tourism potential. The four G20 Tourism Working Group meetings held in four different parts of the county have been very productive. The interactions there were quite relevant and interesting,” said Jyoti Mayal, President, the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), with regard to the G20 presidency’s impact on tourism. She added that in side events held on the sidelines of the Tourism Working Group meetings, there was a good focus on subjects like rural tourism, film tourism, culture, archaeology, cruise tourism, and so on.
Moreover, “G20 has brought the industry closure to the Government and the Ministry of Tourism. The Ministry and the industry worked together very beautifully till the culmination of the fourth meeting of the G20 Tourism Working Group. It has been a wonderful journey so far,” said Mayal.
Little impact on inbound
But the prevailing sentiment in the inbound segment is quite different. The G20 presidency is yet to bring any solace to this segment. While the country’s hotel industry is having a good run, reporting a strong recovery and high room rates due to an increase in the post-pandemic domestic demand as well as the G20-related events, overall inbound tourism continues to be sluggish. Inbound tourism players don’t see any substantial impact of the G20 presidency on inbound tourism. They argue that the delegates staying in hotels are not necessarily tourists; many of them are from foreign embassies in India.
“There is little impact of the G20 presidency on inbound tourism. We have not seen any benefit so far. This is because the Government is not doing any overseas promotional campaign alongside the G20 presidency,” said Rajiv Mehra, President, the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO). “All the G20-related publicity is happening inside the country only. Little is being reported in other G20 member countries, leave alone non-G20 countries,” said Mehra, adding that in the absence of any overseas promotional campaign, the tourism industry is unable to take advantage of the G20 presidency.
“Although considerable time has passed, the government can still start an overseas promotional campaign to supplement the domestic events and publicity related to the G20 presidency. Its benefits will be visible very soon,” suggested Mehra, adding that a global campaign during the G20 presidency will magnify India’s global image.
Echoing similar sentiment, Amaresh Tiwari, Vice Chairman, India Convention Promotion Bureau (ICPB) also said that he did not see any significant impact of the G20 presidency on tourism. “As the Ministry of Tourism from top to bottom is busy with organising various G20 events, marketing activities have been put on the back burner, the focus is on more the discussion than implementation,” said Tiwari.
He added that as a large number of hotels are sold out due to the G20 events, few are available for real tourists, and prices of rooms have also increased extremely, making India an expensive destination. “Unless there is a marketing plan, a systematic approach to promote tourism, I don’t see any substantial improvement happening in the inbound tourism,” observed Tiwari. As per Tiwari, the MoT could have leveraged the G20 presidency by launching a global campaign. He too feels that the government can still launch such a campaign in the run-up to the G20 Summit happening in September in New Delhi.
Referring to ‘Visit India Year 2023’, Tiwari said that the MoT announced ‘Visit India Year 2023’ without any preparation. “There should have been some preparation. The announcement of ‘Visit India Year 2023’ would have been followed by a global marketing campaign; some special benefits for tourists like special hotel rates, and special airfares should have been announced to make ‘Visit India Year’ exciting, but nothing happened. Unless the government immediately restarts overseas promotion, the G20 presidency is going to be a missed opportunity,” added Tiwari.
Mayal also agrees that there have been some gaps. “We have been waiting for national tourism policy for quite some time. But we hope that the policy will be announced soon. We have been told the draft is lined up for the approval of the cabinet. She also emphasised the need of starting overseas marketing, adding that that is the only way to promote inbound tourism.