The recently concluded Indian Association Tour Operators’s annual conclave delved deep on the Ministry of Tourism’s target of welcoming 20 million foreign tourists in the next 3-4 years through a panel discussion. Moderated by Arjun Sharma, Chairman, Select Group, the panellists included Rashmi Verma, Union Tourism Secretary; Nakul Anand, Chairman, FAITH & Executive Director, ITC; E M Najeeb, Senior Vice President, IATO & CMD, ATE Group and Rani George, Secretary, Kerala Tourism.
Throwing a question to Anand, Sharma asked that keeping the hotel and aviation infrastructure constrain in mind do you think that the infrastructure will support us in our journey from 10 mn to 20 mn? Responding to this, Anand candidly said that welcoming 20 mn foreign tourists is very much possible. “If we touch 11.4 mn in 2018, it is very easy for us to touch 20 mn mark in the next 3-4 years. Any country which has crossed 30 mn tourists, 60 per cent of those tourists have come from the same region. There are 140 bn dollar worth of regional travel within South East Asia region,” Anand said and added that we have products that they do not have. “Buddhism is one part of this and a lot of these countries follow Buddhism. However, there are some challenges. If South East Asia is the region we are going to focus on then our benchmark should be this region. Our entire strategy and advertising must be focused on South East Asia. The average taxation in SE Asia is 4.8 per cent where in India is around 19 per cent.,” he said.
Talking on capacity, Anand said that today India is catering to 10 million foreign tourists. He informed that the countrywide occupancy of the hotels is between 60-62 per cent which can go upto 84-85 per cent. “We have the capacity today to go to 15-16 mn. With a little bit more of effort, we can manage the 20 million. We need to have 360 degree approach that 20 million is our target and in the next 5 years this is what this industry needs to achieve,” he said advising that we have to get out of the mind that India is still a long haul destination.
Agreeing with Anand, Verma said that we can all agree that 20 mn is achievable provided we adopt a specific strategies. “We were never focused on SE Asia market. Lately, we have changed our strategy to this market. We have adopted 3 pronged strategies : G2G, B2B and B2C. If we have to get numbers from China, it cannot happen if we do not have good government to government relation. India was completely taken out of Chinese tour operators brochure during Doklam standoff last year. We need to work on those micro details on how to get India back in their brochure. Now, through India mission, we are reaching out to the Chinese market. Our marketing strategy is also now focused on SE Asia, China, Japan and Russia. We need to focus more on our neighbors because it is intra regional tourists which can bring the number while continuing to focus on our traditional market,” Verma informed and added that if we have to get 20 million the big question is what should be the model to get additional 10 mn and where to keep them and where to take them. “The biggest challenge we have been facing so far is the lack of the infrastructure at our key tourism destinations,” she said and added that India’s tourism infrastructure is improving.
Najeeb advised to form a body like NITI Aayog or National Tourism Advisory Council which will have focus to push the tourism growth. Responding to this, Verma said there is no magic wand through which the National Tourism Advisory Board can take us to 20 million. “Today, both government and industry is working together and trying to come out with strategies through which we can achieve numbers. It is not the lack of institutional mechanism or platform which is keeping us away from the magical number. We also have a Group of Secretaries headed by the Cabinet Secretary. We need to work in collaboration with our sister ministries and we have good mechanism in place,” she said and added that however we do need some autonomy and freedom and a platform where the government and industry can work together for working out the strategies. “There is an advisory council but without any financial power,” she said.
Verma also opined that there is a need to have different national level strategy. “Tourism should be led by private sector. Most of challenges that we are facing is that industry is not so proactive to take tourism forward. If we have to get the number, the private sector has to lead. We can only be the facilitator,” she said. George also opined that tourism has to be driven by private sector and said that the success of Kerala Tourism is due to proactive private sector.