The people of India have spoken. A huge mandate in favour of incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been delivered. From a business sentiment perspective, Modi’s re-election is a big thumbs up for all industries. The victory ensures continuation of policies initiated by the BJP government in the last term and another precious five years to see through some of the economic and social development programs and reforms which are midway in execution.
As far as Ministry of Tourism (MoT) is concerned, it is again less likely, though unfortunate, that the portfolio will see a minister of Cabinet rank. Let’s hope, like the previous term, there will be a Minister of State (MoS) with independent charge at least, not burdened with few other light weight ministries. Considering the economic impact of tourism, the foreign exchange and taxes it earns, the number of people it employs and the huge nation branding it fosters, the industry deserves a minister of Cabinet rank, no less. But over the years, every government has treated tourism as an elitist activity that cannot garner ‘aam admi’ votes (nothing can be farther from the truth) and is hence, also not a sought-after portfolio by any senior leader.
Everyone in the tourism industry will agree that the last two years we have had an able administrator as MoS Tourism. K J Alphons was accessible (a big deal in government), willing to listen and have a conversation. The minister was known to respond to ‘whatsapp’ messages directly and confirm appointments without the usual red tape involved. Considering the drubbing his party received in his home State Kerala (again BJP could not open its account in God’s Own Country), the possibility of Alphons making it to the Council of Ministers remains uncertain at the time of writing this. Let’s hope wisdom prevails over petty party politics.
The new government has some urgent issues to settle for tourism to prosper. Solving the Jet Airways conundrum is one. Privatisation of Air India is another. Formulation of an Island Tourism Policy that can work wonders for Lakshadweep and Andamans is top priority. A Cruise Tourism Policy that can leverage our vast coastline, various attractions for short excursions and the millions of tourists, is need of the hour. Moreover, the hotel industry has been demanding a further reduction is GST and expecting the MoT to take up their case with the new Union Minister of Finance.
Hundreds of projects for which crores of rupees have already been spent under the MoT’s flagship programs like Swadesh Darshan and PRASAD need to come up as planned and audited as well for performance and impact. MoT also has to continue its close collaboration with Ministry of Civil Aviation to expedite the UDAN Regional Connectivity Scheme by opening up more airports and routes to spur domestic tourism.
If India has to grow at 10 per cent for the next 10 years, then tourism which contributes a tenth of the national GDP, 42 million jobs and Rs. 16 trillion in receipts, cannot be ignored. Let’s hope the PM accords the tourism ministry a well-deserved spot in the pecking order and assigns an able leader who can steer the course.