India is a vast canvas that inspires the shutterbugs. With the Covid-19 second wave on the wane, tourists are slowly getting back onto the holiday trail to break free from the monotony of their far-too-long indoor confinement. The Indian government, however, is being cautious, and advising people to undertake trips that conform to Covid-appropriate behaviour.
Tourism in India accounts for around seven per cent of the GDP, and aims to clock 10 per cent post-pandemic. Besides, it is one of the top job contributors, and has also been a large foreign exchange contributor. The sector is slowly positioning itself on the recovery mode notwithstanding the threat of a lurking Covid-19 third wave.
A fall in Chickmagalur
Slew of measures
The India International Travel Mart-2021 successfully held in March 2021 in Bengaluru is a pointer in this direction.
India’s Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, recently announced a gamut of economic relief measures to support the industry badly hit by the Covid-19 second wave. One of the scheme’s major attraction is the issuance of free tourist visa for the first five lakh tourists arriving in the country. The scheme would be applicable till March 31, 2022, or until five lakh visas are issued, whichever is earlier. It may be recalled here that 10.93 million foreign tourists visited India in 2019, and spent $30.098 billion on leisure and business.
To augment foreign tourist arrivals, e-visa facility has been extended to nationals of 171 countries under five sub-categories, i.e., ‘e-Tourist visa’, ‘e-Business visa’, ‘e-Medical visa’, ‘e-Medical attendant visa’ and ‘e-Conference visa’. The e-visa is valid for entry through 28 designated airports and five designated seaports.
The Ministry of Tourism has framed a ‘Development of Iconic Tourist Destinations Scheme’, a central sector scheme aimed at developing 19 already identified iconic Indian destinations.
Blessed with rich civilisational and cultural heritage, the country is the sixth-largest in terms of UNESCO-identified World Heritage Sites. The Ministry of Tourism through its Dekho Apna Desh webinars is bringing places of tourist interest that have cultural, heritage and craft value to our homes.
In June 2021, Tourism Minister G. Kishan Reddy informed Parliament that the Ministry of Tourism (MoT) had, under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme, sanctioned projects in Bihar and Kerala for developing a rural circuit. The minister said a rural circuit has been identified as one of the thematic circuits for development aimed at leveraging tourism as a force multiplier for revitalising the rural economy by giving both domestic and international tourists a taste of rural India.
The flagship regional air connectivity scheme, UDAN (Ude Desh Ke Aam Nagrik), is to develop 100 more airports, and further improve 46 tourism routes for better connectivity of important tourism spots including iconic sites. Of this, 21 routes have already become operational to date. To a great extent, Udan’s attempt to bring unserved and underserved airports onto the country’s aviation map is commendable.
Keeping with the times, a slew of digital initiatives is being periodically adopted by the ministry for promoting tourism. Its improved ‘Incredible India’ website which aims to pitch the country as a ‘must-visit’ destination, showcases a range of new contents, including Google 360 walkthroughs, and stories that feature virtual content to provide tourists a walkthrough the attractions. The ‘Incredible India’ mobile application assists international and domestic tourists access information about the MoT-recognised tourism service providers.
Board/Task Forces/Committees have been constituted for the promotion of Golf, Medical/Wellness, Cruise and Adventure Tourism in the country. On the Medical Tourism (medical value travel) front, India is at an advantageous position as it boasts several advanced medical care and facilities. Additionally, India is a preferred destination for yoga and wellness programmes that focus on traditional therapies through AYUSH.
Rail Tourism is the new rage these days. The newly introduced Vistadome LHB coaches on the Bengaluru-Mangaluru rail route that aims to promote Rail Tourism, has been a resounding success. It is also an amazing experience travelling through India chugging along on opulent trains such as Royal Rajasthan, Golden Chariot, Deccan Odyssey and Maharaja Express. The MOT, through its India Tourism Office in Dubai, is making an effort to provide Middle East’s tourists a glimpse of India’s attractive tourism products as well as its countless historical, cultural and spiritual abodes as tourist destinations. Likewise, it has offices at several other international cities.
Haryana by Haryana tourism
Mosaic of multicultural experiences
India is a mosaic of multicultural experiences endowed with breathtaking landscapes, rich heritage and culture, varied flora and fauna, and exotic beaches and amazing variety of food. India offers its visitors multi-faceted, year-round tourism destinations that please the eye and provide cultural awakening, all packaged to suit one’s budget. Many of these spots also offer wildlife sighting, and adventure sports; and some are exclusively Medical Tourism-oriented.
With its stunning natural beauty, colorful round-the-year festivals, surreal beaches, spectacular wildlife, historical and architectural monuments from palaces to heritage hotels to deserts to skiing-friendly mountain slopes, India is a heaven on earth!
Flanked by the azure Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, Cruise Tourism too has a vast potential in India. Among the ports that receive cruise ships are Mumbai, Goa, Mangalore, Kochi, Chennai, Visakhapatnam and Kolkata.
The hospitality sector has incurred huge losses, and continues to be affected by the impact of the pandemic. On July 28, 2021, in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha, Tourism Minister G. Kishen Reddy said it is estimated that about 21.5 million people working in the tourism sector lost their jobs spanning from April 2020 to December 2020. The sector is, however, cautiously opening up and
beginning to welcome tourists. The occupancy rate across most of its major markets has marginally improved, and the industry is now engaged in re-strategising to meet the evolving consumer trends and expectations. But it will all depend on the severity of the third wave.
In the meanwhile, FAITH, a federation of all national associations representing tourism, travel and hospitality industries in India has urged the government to implement a comprehensive five-step support programme to enable the industry to recover from stress. For revival of the tourism sector, immediate steps should be initiated to infuse confidence among those in the industry as well as tourists, both foreign and domestic.
Aftab Husain Kola
About the author:
Aftab Husain Kola is a prominent journalist who has worked with Times of Oman, Muscat, for 12 years. Besides, he has regularly contributed to prominent newspapers like Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Deccan Herald, Indian Express, The Hindu, Khaleej Times, Al Arabiya English, Muslim World League Journal and Brunei Times as well as many inflight magazines among others. Kola has also authored two books.