With over 500 million practicing Buddhists in the world, Buddhists Tourism offers a great opportunity to grow the foreign tourists arrivals to India. India is currently welcoming over 350,000 foreign Buddhist travellers ever year. This is because of the fact that the visitation along the Buddhist Circuit suffers from a number of hindrances that prevent the realisation of its tourism potential. The issue was discussed at great length in a panel discussion during the recently concluded Global Exhibition on Services.
The session was moderated by Subhash Goyal, Chairman, STIC Travels, the panel included Satyajeet Rajan, Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India; Ekapol Poolpipat, Consul General, The Royal Thai Consulate – General, Mumbai; Ade Sukendar, Consul General, Republic of Indonesia, Mumbai; Sudhanshu Pandey, Joint Secretary, Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Govt of India; VK Gautam, Principle Secretary, Tourism and Cultural Affairs Department, Govt of Maharashtra.
Speaking on the current status, Pandey said, “Today we have a Buddhist population of about 550 million globally, can we target one per cent of this population visiting India every year, which is roughly about 5.5 million. Connectivity is one of the major issues in India which needs to be addressed; this is where we need to take proactive steps. We need to see how we enhance the experiential component of the Buddhist tourists, because they come with lot of expectations, now if the experience doesn’t match the expectations, actually selling a product at times can be counterproductive. The private players have to offer services, ensure quality of services and that kind of experience with which they bring in the tourist.”
Over the years, the Government has invested in developing the Buddhist circuit and has also promoted it to an extent. Still the funds are very small. PPP mode of investment is very important to grow this segment. State Tourism should work with the centre in developing circuits. “If you look at Buddhist religion; it is beyond boundaries, the way Buddhism is spread all over Asia and now spreading all over the world. There isn’t a single state in India where Buddhism did not reach. But the problem pointed out has been the lack of infrastructure. So we come to investment and counties have been making investment, that makes 300-400 crore, we need an investment of at least 5000 crore. Major air connectivity has arrived in India,” Rajan said.
Speaking about the development and investment in Maharashtra, Gautam said that Maharashtra has a very significant connect with Buddhism. Around 90 per cent of the rock cut caves by Buddhists in India is located in Maharashtra. He further said, “We have popular destinations like Ajanta, Ellora, Elephanta, Pithalkhora and Karla, we have almost 900 rock cut caves depicting Buddhism. We need to work hard in developing and levering upon this unique segment. We need to work on the marketing strategies. We are in collaboration with the states of Bihar and UP with a common thread of Ministry of Tourism, Govt of India and are trying to create one Buddhist Golden circuit for all travellers,” Gautam said and added that there is a need to have better connectivity to Buddhist destinations. “We are creating a golden access from Mumbai-Aurangabad to Nagpur; this will run parallel to our major project called the Samruddhi Corridor as a major highway. We are soon opening a special facilitation centre to promote Buddhist tourism, whereby our stakeholders can approach us and get response. We have large asset in terms of land. Just next to Ajanta cave we are planning to offer land to investors from other countries to create infrastructure to enhance the experience. With JICA and MoT support we have invested US$15 million in creating world-class audio visual centre at Ajanta and Ellora.
Speaking about the tourism opportunities Poolpipat said, “Today Buddhism remains the most significant influence of the India in Thailand. This is the strongest spiritual link that links over one hundred thousand Thais to India every year. This creates great opportunity for investments in Buddhist tourism infrastructures to bring about better connectivity, which I believe not only attracts more Buddhist visitors but also holiday tourists, both locally and internationally. Thailand continues to play an important role in improving Buddhism in India to further promote Buddhist destination in western India.”