India is currently ranked 65 on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2013 travel and tourism competitive index. A lack of tourist-friendly infrastructure, persistent law and order issues, insufficient flight connectivity, and a cumbersome visa process are just some of the sore points which discourage tourism
‘Incredible India’, an international marketing campaign launched by the Indian government, incorporates images of a vibrant heritage that would seem to guarantee tourism success. India is, after all, a country the size of a continent, bestowed with a variety of natural attractions, archaeological remains, and monuments that showcase over 5000 years of history.
Yet the tourism industry in India has been plagued with missed opportunities. Compared to China and the Southeast Asian trio of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, India receives a relatively low number of inbound tourists (6.58 million in 2012), which comprises a miniscule proportion of the world international tourism market and is on the extreme low end of the tourist-to-host population ratio. There are concerns that outbound tourism (amounting to 14.92 million in 2012) may grow faster than inbound tourism, and that this may put India’s balance of payments in deficit.
India is currently ranked 65 on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2013 travel and tourism competitive index. A lack of tourist-friendly infrastructure, persistent law and order issues, insufficient flight connectivity, and a cumbersome visa process are just some of the sore points which discourage tourism.
But the news is not all grim: India has an enormous domestic tourist base (1087.3 million in 2012), and foreign tourists tend to stay longer than in other countries.
This raises an important question: how exactly should we figure out the present state of Indian tourism? Should we judge it against the benchmarks set by more tourism-centric economies, or would it be better to look at absolute metrics within India? What has prevented India from achieving the very modest target of 10 millioninbound tourists that it set for 2011? Three years on, 10 million tourists still seems like a mirage, even against a backdrop where most international tourism is regional, and 60 per cent of the world’s population is located in Asia.
Foreign tourists will not choose India unless its offerings trump those of its competitors. The opening of Indian skies in 1991 to private airlines (albeit in a limited way) was a big leap for tourism, and the recent expansion of visa-on-arrival eligibility to citizens of 180 countries represents a similar milestone. Industry buzz indicates that the policy will increase international arrivals by 1.5 million in the short term, and by up to 20 million in the long term. The government has also implemented a number of other important branding and facilitation initiatives, such as a tourist-centric ‘find what you seek’ campaign, virtual walking tours and downloadable e-brochures. These are slowly yielding results. But much more needs to be done, and at a faster pace.
India’s failure to place in the top bracket on the WEF index for its natural and cultural resources is
worrisome. It indicates that efforts to better communicate differentiators and key resources need to be made. Law and order is another serious concern, particularly after a recent string of assaults on foreign female tourists. Finally, India’s lack of cleanliness has always bothered inbound tourists coming to India. Photos of piles of garbage by roadsides and across railway tracks are alarming, particularly as India is expected to catch up with the most affluent nations ingarbage production by the turn of the century.
Ultimately, India has a choice to make—it can either shape up and take a bigger share of the rapidly growing Asian tourist market, or miss the boat completely. The credibility of Incredible India hangs on this decision.
By Manjula Chaudhary
[Manjula Chaudhary is Senior Professor at Kurukshetra University and formerly the Director of the Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Indian Ministry of Tourism. (East Asia Forum)]