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India needs to be re-positioned to narrate a new story: Rupinder Brar

By Kuhelika Roy Choudhury 

Re-igniting our vision to drive travel consumers post pandemic is the new mantra to ensure domestic and international travelers get back on track. But the dilemma arises that how the country with such a promising inbound and outbound travel base, needs to be positioned in the right manner to influence and retain the globe trotters, said Rupinder Brar, the then Additional Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Govt of India shares her perspective on the Indian tourism during a webinar organized by PATA. 

The Road Ahead

Brar says tat Indian tourism is still in the cast of history. “The next few years are going to be extremely critical. There needs to be a realistic evaluation of how we can conduct things differently from things that we have done so far so that we can pace up things in the sector,” she opines.

Reflecting light upon the future of tourism in India, Brar says that now the stakeholders cannot sit back and compete with themselves only but adapt to the global trends and analyze the strengths of India. Talking about retaining the domestic and international tourists, she suggests that the stakeholders and the country’s tourism fraternity must put forward and be aware of a handful number of options with regards to destinations that we have developed and are ready to be explored by the globe.

She says that the moment we express that we are proud of our old civilization, we have ancient music, monuments, textiles, etc, we must be aware that others from around the globe are offering the same things. “If we talk about architecture, we can clearly see that Europe has the same offerings in terms of architecture as well. We are a young country, we have spent just 75 years of independence, we have a young population, and we are driving technology across the world. But we have so much more than just positioning ourselves as the bearers of the ancient civilization as compared to other global destinations. There lies the space where we can start positioning India with innovative ideas and tapping an arena in the future where tourism runs on its best potential. We must be in a position where 1 out of every 3 individuals is employed in tourism,” Brar says.

“Currently, we have so much more to do, in terms of numbers coming to India keeping the global traffic in mind, we clearly have many more milestones to achieve. If we have a look at the domestic tourism numbers, the kind of rush, the numbers and the amount of money we had before covid, the way we are not able to retain our domestic tourists, there are still many challenges which we are still able to figure out and tackle,” she opines.

Analyzing the prime gaps in the post-covid scenario and finding out what and how things need to be done to promote the destination and achieve numbers, depicts our prime step to a game changer. The 3 P’s of tourism - the product, process, and promotion - plays a vital role in planning all segments of the destination, and India has a diverse set of products to showcase to the world as well as the scope of effective processes and promotion.

Offering India’s products at a competitive level to the globe

Brar says: “Clearly, we need to do a lot more in putting forward our travel story as a nation. If we identify 40 UNESCO world heritage sites in India and compare them with the global UNESCO sites, we must make sure that these are ready to compete globally. We have to work on the gap where we can utilize the huge potential each destination has. We must also analyze how to improve, upgrade and upscale the quality of manpower available in and around the destinations that we have in our bucket.”

India is progressing very fast in terms of connectivity and creating several infrastructure components such as airports, cruise terminals, railways, and highways. The growth in the components would emphasize economic growth only when it involves people-centric growth. This emerging growth in infrastructure gives us an opportunity, but alongside the necessity for a world-class workforce in such destinations is also emerging.

She reveals that as any destination or infrastructure creates opportunity, it also creates challenges in its own way and we all must need to work together. The stakeholders and the Ministry together must ensure that the workforce training is done at the competitive level, as the visitors cannot reach a destination to understand the lack of quality stays and the best manpower around. “The growth in infrastructure cannot be just simply made in terms of numbers, but people need to be at its heart for long-term growth as tourism is a sector that runs by the people and for the people,” she suggests.

So, the utmost need of the hour with regard to short, mid, and long-term goals in the tourism sector, is that we must make sure we strategize certain destinations, where connectivity is already available with a scope of quality manpower training, when we identify tangible and intangible heritage. If we just look at India in one go and try and offer everything in one go, it is definitely an impossible task to perform. But if we strategically move forward from the traditional circles, when we are experiencing growth in infrastructure, India has much more in terms of hospitality, connectivity, experiences, etc.

Pitching India story

According to her, the industry must plan the communication strategy and understand what our story would be when we try to influence the global guests. “For ones who are visiting India for the first time, we must identify the business prospect out there. In the short term, we can pitch places with great infrastructure, which have well connectivity around and resources for a great experience. For mid and long-term goals, we can strategize the components and gradually proceed from the tag of being an ancient civilization to a country with modern and innovative tourism ideas.”

For instance, we don’t even look at potential of spiritual tourism from a vertical of business prospect. Global data suggests that 27% of the world’s travel happens around religion and spirituality. “But the question arising why we are not leveraging that in a country that is blessed with four different religions and a massive population around each one of them. We can utilize the prospect as vital magnets to draw numbers in our country alongside other potential factors. And, we have so many magnets already in our country, like Kashi Vishwanath, Dwarka, Mathura, Badrinath, Kedarnath, and so many more, along with Sufi saints, Gurudwaras, etc. And in India where spirituality goes beyond religiosity, we can’t be more amazed to witness the immense numbers we have for Krishna followers, Shiva followers, and so many other traditions. Here lies a very important product for India which can be used as a centrifuge around which we can build wonderful business ideas to draw that traffic for our country,” she adds.

For short-term goals considering the post-covid awareness, Brar reveals that the rise of interest in wellness tourism has been experiencing multiple folds in terms of adopting veganism, art of yoga, traditional methods of treatments, etc. She suggests that leveraging that part of Ayurveda and uplifting spiritual tourism is another strong business prospect for India, not just in short-term but long term as well.

“We are ready with the resources and have dedicated human force and it acts as a magnet in tourism prospect. If we look at the policy level, we have AYUSH as a ministry now and soon we are going to have AYUSH as a visa apart from the medical visa. And we must seize this as an opportunity where we have institutions offering courses, and packages for wellness tourism. We need to leverage on the points that are unique to us, as there is no point in competing on those fronts where our competition is certainly going stiff. As a part of this vast country, we must identify which are the magnets that are good to go to drive traffic, are unique to our country and are ready to be pitched with a little bit of work and help us position our country as a sharp and not as a diffused one like ancient civilization,” she suggests.

To strengthen the idea of India’s new travel story, she mentions, “If we look at the world’s psychological depression data, depression is denoted as the largest killer of the human race. And, look at our strengths, we have so much more to contribute to the global prospect. We must start identifying the challenges that the globe is confronting and understanding if we, as a country, can we answer the larger questions of humanity. If we wish to make tourism a revolutionary element, we have to change the narrative of how tourism is defined in India. We have to develop the face of Indian tourism, and spiritual tourism in particular, in such a way that the globe looks at us and get amazed at the concept.”

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