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Smooth landing

Coming out with a reference book on aviation and tourism, aviation expert S.S. Sidhu tells SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY that foreign tourist inflow, presently on a nosedive, can have a smooth take-off with enhanced aviation policies.

Hoping high... Aviation expert S.S. Sidhu talks about his work in New Delhi. Photo: Anu Pushkarna.

A VISIT to a touristy area of Delhi will provide you enough basis to believe that the country is not doing so badly on foreign tourist inflow. But actually it is not. Ask aviation expert S. S. Sidhu.

"Look at the statistics. It is on a nosedive. And, I strongly feel that the percentage will go up if we concentrate on improving the country's civil aviation policies. For, tourism and aviation are both interconnected."

Involved with The Foundation for Aviation and Sustainable Tourism, a Delhi-based think tank with the basic objective of promoting the growth of tourism and aviation for the last 17 years, Sidhu suggests, "The first thing that our policy-makers should look at is the first experience of a tourist at the airport. The never-ending processing of documents at Immigration itself puts off tourists."

Even in a small country like South Africa, immigration officials wear colourful uniforms just to make it easier to spot them, he says. Also, they wear on their sleeves the words `Welcome to You.'

"It sends across a friendly message. Can we also not get into doing similar things, a little one would also make a difference?" asks this former Chairman of Air India and Indian Airlines.

Coming out recently with "Aviation and Tourism - Synergy for Success," a reference book compiling the "important observations, conclusions and recommendations" of the Foundation's 5th International Conference held in December 2002, this former Secretary General of the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organisation of the United Nations hopes to "spread awareness" on the subject and consequent changes on the country's aviation policies.

"Look at U.S. It does not have a tourism department and yet gets 50 billion tourists every year. We should think how have they made it happen."

Though the book says that the 9/11 attacks have adversely affected tourism worldwide, increasing the number of hotel rooms and airline capacity, easy reservation of hotels, maintenance of hygiene and acquisition of new, spacious aircraft would definitely shoot up the statistics. It also suggests, "getting rid of foreign exchange business" and ushering in foreign airlines to operate flights.

"Also, there is nothing wrong in allowing our private domestic airliners to operate flights out of the country permanently, unlike only in festive seasons. Besides, let there be an increased partnership between private-public enterprises. All this will add to the efficiency and infrastructure facility of our civil aviation and consequently on tourism," Sidhu quotes from the book. The Foundation, he adds, has been in constant touch with the Government "to augment correct changes" so that we have a "leaner, fitter and efficient airline."

"What we ultimately need today is a synergy between private and public entities so that each can run smoothly and dish out enough facilities to foreign tourists for a comfortable to and fro," Sidhu sums up. But when asked whether things are as easily done as suggested, he flashes a weak smile. This Delhi School of Economics alumnus has spent 36 years in the Government in various capacities and knows how things move in the corridors of power.

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