Hearty congratulations on your appointment.
Hope you have had a good four weeks to understand the state of the tourism industry in India and the need for some urgent interventions?
Conscious you have had a detailed interaction with members of the various travel trade bodies in New Delhi in late June. I am certain it would have offered you a quality assessment of the ground realities and valuable inputs that can be considered for inclusion in the 100-day Action Plan and/or the Union Budget.
Though 2018 FTA numbers are yet to be published by the Ministry of Tourism, a CAPA – Centre for Aviation India Inbound Tourism report released in September 2018 had shown that India lost market share in five of the 10 source markets over the past three years, notably the UK, France and Sri Lanka. Excluding visitors from Bangladesh – the vast majority of whom do not come for leisure – growth in 2017 was 8.2 per cent. Bangladesh accounted for 2.16 million of India’s FTAs in 2017. CAPA estimated that only 2.4-2.6 million people visit India each year for the purpose of a holiday, a number that is far less compared to a city-state like Singapore or Bali or Thailand at 31 million. The 10 million FTA number reportedly achieved in 2017 appears erroneous. In 2018, the Taj Mahal, India’s most visited attraction by foreign tourists, only clocked 8,83,000 overseas visitors!
Climbing the charts in tourism performance and power indexes mean little and vexing issues plaguing the industry need more than a convention/conference approach.
An independent National Tourism Board guided by tourism industry leaders and managed by qualified tourism professionals is the need of the hour. For long, this has been a demand from the industry and vetoed by the bureaucracy. The government’s involvement should be limited to funding and oversight. This is the model followed by most progressive governments and successful destinations around the world.
According to official reports, over Rs. 6500 crores have been spent on tourism infrastructure creation under the various flagship programs in the last five years. The sad truth is master planning for these projects lack vision and the quality of infrastructure created is sub-standard with no agreement on maintenance post high profile inaugurals. Many of these projects are basically white washing existing poor planning and infrastructure or ‘band-aid’ solutions. A comprehensive and independent audit of these projects is highly warranted.
At present, there are only around 200,000 Chinese tourists visiting our country. As we stand today, the US-China trade war opens up new opportunities for our agenda. We should launch a mission to attract Chinese tourists to India as they reduce their travel to the US. Investing in Chinese language skills and changing road show focus from long haul to our backyard will help us achieve significant growth.
The new governance roadmap of Modi 2.0 is aimed at taking Indian economy to the $5 trillion mark by 2025 from the current $3.96 trillion. Tourism can play a key role in this mission. The socio-economic multiplier effect of tourism is well documented. The assertion that 14 million new jobs were created in tourism in the last five years is a tall claim. There is no denying that tourism industry can create thousands of skilled jobs directly and indirectly. Just focusing on the accommodations sector in tier II and III cities itself can deliver those jobs while allowing tourism to expand beyond the metros.
Industry status is yet to come by for the tourism sector in many States. Your able offices can drive this critical piece which can be a shot in the arm for the sector as it will ensure better regulation for the travel trade and elimination of touts through the creation of reasonable entry barriers. Granting infrastructure status especially to the hospitality industry will allow access to long term credit on better terms and a host of other incentives, making projects viable.
GST has been a major bone of contention for the tourism industry even making it non-competitive with neighboring destinations. The BJP manifesto talked about simplifying the GST. Doing away with the 28 per cent slab for the accommodations sector or hiking the applicable room tariff from Rs. 7500 to Rs. 15,000 will serve as a boon to the hospitality industry. We hope you can champion this?
When major airlines in India bleed and go bankrupt, should we blame just bad promoters and poor governance or take a closer look at our aviation policy and be willing to redraw the constructs? ATF rate rationalisation and parity across States is critical if we don’t want to make a joke of aviation business. With the exit of Jet Airways, the largest carrier by market share, airfares have shot up and the government needs to intervene to check this. The exorbitantly high cancellation charges imposed by airlines is another area of concern. UDAN RCS has to move at a faster pace. India badly needs regional connectivity with smaller aircrafts, 25-50-seater, to boost tourism in tier II and III cities.
The e-visa regime has been a great revolution. However, our visa fee continues to be higher than most of our competitors. The 20 million inbound FTA target by 2020 is unachievable. But a face saver could be by revisiting the visa fee or even following Thailand and waiving it off completely. Even a waiver during the lean months would be a good start.
Our ports are in a pathetic state – in fact metro stations and some of the bus depots look far better. Investing in modernising cruise ports to look like airports is a no brainer if cruise tourism has to flourish in this nation. If we have to touch four million passengers in 10 years, that is. Also GST waiver could serve as an impetus, considering cruise liners pay substantially higher port charges in India compared to those levied by competing ports.
You have a plate full of opportunities to make a difference and usher in change and transformation, and hopefully five years. There is a lot that can be achieved and the industry is with you. What they ask for is commitment, conviction and leadership.
Wish you all the very best.
Prahlad Singh Patel is India’s New Tourism Minister
Prahlad Singh Patel assumed charge as the Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Tourism, Government of India in the Narendra Modi 2.0 cabinet. The five-time MP, Prahlad Singh Patel represents Damoh Lok Sabha Constituency in Madhya Pradesh. He has previously been member of several Parliamentary Committees in the 16th Lok Sabha. The 59-year-old Minister takes interest in a wide range of activities including preservation of Indian culture, development of rural areas, farmers’ welfare and promotion of sports. Addressing media persons, soon after taking charge, he said that the Ministry will work to fulfill the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘New India’ by simultaneously investing in strengthening our cultural roots and promoting the tourism sector. He added that the works which were done in the last five years shall be taken forward at a much greater pace and in time bound manner.