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Building partnerships key to tap domestic tourism

Despite the proven record that Domestic Tourism has always emerged as the mainstay of tourism globally and in India, domestic market has never been focus of the government and industry in India. Be it 9/11, global economic slowdown, SARS & MERS or any other natural or manmade calamities, its domestic tourism that kept the momentum going for the tourism and hospitality industry. 

One of the strongest estimates and strategy for most of the destinations is to keep their plans in place to capitalize on the domestic tourism boom. It is proven time and again that domestic tourism is the growth driver of the Indian tourism but there has not been a focused strategy to realize the potential of this segment. Thousands of the exotic domestic destination in various nook and corner of India remains unheard among Indian travellers.

To further brainstorm and come up with key strategies for the industry to harness the potential of the domestic tourism, T3 partnered with Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India to organise an e-Conference recently titled ‘Domestic Tourism: An Opportunity Unexplored’. Moderated by Murari Mohan Jha, Editor, T3, the e-conference witnessed eminent speakers from across the fraternity including; Satyajit Rajan, Former DG, Ministry of Tourism, GOI and Addl. Chief Secretary (Labour & Skills), Govt. of Kerala; Rajiv K. Vij, CMD, Carzonrent (India); JK. Mohanty, Hony. Secretary, Hotel Association of India & CMD, Swosti Group; Arjun Dasgupta, Vice President, Aeropolitical Affairs and Alliances, GoAir and PP. Khanna, President, Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India sharing their mind to the audience.

Highlighting the potential of this segment, Rajan said: “The domestic tourism steps in whenever there is a problem. It takes care of the seasonality as inbound is a seasonal business and domestic gives a cushioning. Domestic tourism also scatters and deconcentrates tourism as these travellers go to interiors, rural, and unexplored destinations. Covid-19 is going to last, entire scenario will change over the next two years. Tourism will comeback most significantly in domestic sector. Our PM, has not given any major package for tourism sector, but in the last five years there have been a lot of concepts coming in. ‘Ek Bharat Shresht Bharat’ involved a lot of ministries to showcase culture, PM also launched ‘Bharat Parv’, where all states showcased themselves, even in 2017, ‘Paryatan Parv’ was launched and 3000 to 4000 events were organized across the country. Also, now in last two months, ‘Dekho Bharat’ webinar has been organized. Also, PM has announced that 15 destinations should visited by every Indian. I don’t recall any time in the history when the top man of the nation has spoken so significantly about domestic tourism.”

Over the last couple of years, Indian outbound has been one of the fastest growing compared to global growth. With high disposable income and aspiration to travel, millennials are leading the path for this outbound boom. The post lockdown is the perfect opportunity to tap this segment.

Speaking about the key factors to be looked upon by the Government, Mohanty said, “The India outbound overall spends around Rs. 165,000 crores when they travel. This is the right moment to retain this money within India as people have no alternative than domestic tourism. Today, the millennial generation have a lot of surplus money and have been held up due to lockdown. Once things open, they will surely look at domestic tourism. Each state in India has a huge tourism potential. States and Central government need to develop the required infrastructure which is lacking in India. Once this is done, we can retain the high spending Indian travellers which will generate more employment. The Hotel Association of India has been demanding for long term that hotels be given infrastructure status. Our neighbouring nations are totally surviving on tourism. We can only compete with these destinations once we have infrastructure.”

In the new normal world, consumer behaviour of travellers will witness a paradigm shift. Travellers will now prefer more of contactless travel with road transport being the most favourable initially.

“We have put in place a protocol that all our cars are getting sanitized across India. All cars have sanitation L-shaped shield created, where driver is isolated from the passengers. Masks are compulsory and passengers need to clean his hands with sanitizer. High touch points are cleaned after at least every trip. Our entire operation including payment is contactless. Self-drive hasn’t grown too much in India as people prefer to take their own car. This segment is focused on weekend travel and niche travels and all vehicles are available. The best comfort is when travellers take a self-drive and this is the time it takes off in India. It is time that the government which invests a lot of money in bringing foreign tourists to India, needs to invest that amount in focusing and promoting domestic tourism. One missing link, the entire growth story will crash. There are more partnerships required between the industry stakeholders to create this seamless and unique experience for travelers,” Viz stated while explaining the preparedness and protocols for road transport and car rentals.

One of the major steps which needs to be taken across the industry is forging right partnerships as even if one link is missing, the travellers experience may be disturbed. Also, with international destinations which have been successful in containing the covid-19 challenge are now looking to restart inbound travel. To harness the potential of domestic tourism, state tourisms and the stakeholders need to act fast, else it is an opportunity missed.

Speaking about the strategy, Dasgupta said, “In terms of domestic tourism, there is a huge scope and it is important that every cog in that wheel contributes to grow this segment. Every aspect needs to be integrated, we need to act fast and take this off the ground as quickly as possible. Many destinations internationally has already started embarking on getting tourists. For example, Phuket in Thailand is aggressively promoting how they are safe and are ready. In this period when people are worried about travel, we need to build confidence. Q2 is anyways a very sluggish period for travel in India, but Q3 is when there are a lot of festivals and school and college holidays, we see a lot of domestic and international holidays are undertaken. Domestic tourism will be very dependent on state tourism boards making initiative, hotel and tour operators partnering and airlines ensuring connectivity. Integration is the need of the hour and we must act fast. Central government should look at some package or stimulus for tourism.”

One of the major challenges in India is there is no proper study or records to monitor the domestic tourism. Every year, Ministry of Tourism comes up with an India Tourism Statistics which has a proper study on inbound, but unfortunately domestic tourism is still functioning on estimates.

Speaking about the recommendations to the Government, Khanna added, “We are number 3 in the world after US and China in terms of domestic tourism. Post covid-19, we have an opportunity to grow this numbers. Domestic tourism is a shock absorber across the globe. Today, we don’t have a proper study for domestic tourism. The Ministry of Tourism annually brings out a book called ‘India Tourism Statistics’ which has every statistic, but no official and comprehensive study is done for domestic tourism. Last year, when Khumb Mela was organised it was estimated that 12 crore travellers will be visiting, but later we got to know around 22 crore travellers visited. This is not a proper study, it is just estimated. We don’t know the carrying capacity of any destination in India, which is very important for sustainability. Adventure tourism is one segment where we already have social distancing and can be the first to start. Road travel will be the main mode of transport. People will look more into nature and rural tourism than any major hotels.” Khanna urged the Government to have a proper and authentic study done to ascertain the number of domestic tourists. “If we really want to grow our tourism, we need to have the statistics and other facts right with us. Unless we know the problems, we can not talk about the solutions. We request the Ministry to appoint an agency and get this right,” he said adding that the ADTOI is there to support this initiative of the Ministry.

To summarize, there needs to be action plan which needs to be implemented in the short term to tap the domestic market. “Apart from the government schemes, a few strategies should be immediately implemented. Firstly, multilingual helpline should be introduced in every state. Secondly, people travel for social reason. We should showcase festivals in a big way as this will bring the travellers and migrants closer. Next, we have not really measured domestic tourism efficiently, we should have a proper survey on domestic tourism. Two years ago, we gave a figure that 60 per cent of the domestic tourism was religious tourism which was a gut figure. But last year, there was a research which says only 25 per cent of domestic tourism is for religious purpose. Industry should put pressure on local governments to record domestic numbers,” Rajan suggested.

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