Union Minister of State for Tourism Alphons Kannanthanam on Friday said 10 million foreign tourists visited India last year and the country’s tourism industry achieved 15.5% growth at a time when the global tourism sector recorded just 5%.
Speaking after inaugurating the four-day Mysuru Travel Mart-2018, a tourism promotion initiative by Mysuru Travels’ Association and other stakeholders, at JK Grounds, he said revenue from tourism registered 20.5% growth and 43 million jobs (12.63%) had been generated by the industry.
The tourism industry’s contribution to the country’s GDP is 7.5%, generating about 27 billion dollars to the Indian economy. If efforts are made to draw more NRIs, tourist arrivals were expected to touch 16 million annually, according to Mr. Kannanthanam.
The Minister, however, felt that tourism growth was not sufficient considering the country’s reputation as a tourist destination. “Our vision is to double tourist arrivals and revenue in the next three years, creating a “new environment” to welcome tourists,” he said.
Arguing that any tourism project has to be “community driven”, the Minister said the benefits of growth have to reach all the stakeholders. Tourists’ stay will benefit the industry instead of a day’s visit. Their stay will result in shopping, hiring taxis, and bringing employment to locals. Mr. Kannanthanam said Mysuru has the potential to attract 10 million tourists annually. The stakeholders, including the hotel owners’ association, presented a memorandum to the Minister with a list of demands such as international convention centre in Mysuru, abolition of entry tax for tourist vehicles in south India, better road and air connectivity, and projecting Dasara as a global festival.
Mr. Kannanthanam said his ministry was ready to promote Dasara internationally if the government and stakeholders come up with an impressive 30-second video on the festival that catches global attention.
On entry tax, he said it was a State issue and his ministry has a limited role to play. He, however, said the Centre was spending ₹6,000 crore on the expansion of Bengaluru-Mysuru National Highway into a six-lane highway, which eventually takes care of connectivity.
With regard to the convention centre, he said the Centre would extend support if private players come with the plan of developing the centre on the land set aside for the purpose. “We are ready for viability gap funding.”
In his welcome address, Mysuru Travels’ Association president B.S. Prashanth sought tax relief for tourist vehicles operating in south India to boost tourist arrivals with the introduction of a single tax system. More than 500 travel agents from State, Kerala and Tamil Nadu are attending the event, which has over 100 stalls, he said.
Former Minister S.A. Ramdas said a vision document on tourism promotion in Mysuru will be presented to the State.
Hotelier Jagannath Shenoy said tourism industry in Mysuru awaits weekends with a hope of good arrivals since the sector needs a push from the governments. Mysuru needs to be developed as a major tourist destination with better marketing since the number of foreign tourists has been on the decline, he opined.
Karnataka Pradesh Hotel and Restaurants’ Association President M Rajendra also spoke. Mysuru Travel Mart-2018 Chairman Jayakumar was present.
‘What about garbage on roads?’
Mr. Kannanthanam felt Mysuru needs to improve its clean profile. “How can you claim your city to be the cleanest, when I saw garbage lying on the roadside while travelling to Mysuru by road from Bengaluru,” he said.
The Minister’s comment bewildered the event organisers, whose one-point agenda was to promote Mysuru as a major tourist destination citing milestones such as ‘swachh city’ tag, yoga capital, and heritage city.
It was unclear whether the Minister was referring to the garbage he saw en route Mysuru (along the highway) or after he entered Mysuru.
The Government of India ranked Mysuru as the cleanest city twice after a survey under the Swachh Bharat Mission.
The city lost to Indore last year, slipping to fifth position. The city is now making a fresh bid to retain the top slot, taking corrective steps.
The Minister’s comment came after he received a memorandum from stakeholders of the Mysuru tourism industry, which described Mysuru as ‘clean city’ and ‘yoga capital’.
Mr. Kannanthanam said Indore, Vijayawada and Dharamshala were among the cleanest cities currently.
The city corporation has to give importance for cleanliness and ensure ‘dirt-free’ environment, he said.
While acknowledging Mysuru as a big place for yoga and ayurveda, he said: “You are calling Mysuru a yoga capital, perhaps after bagging the Guinness record. Even Rishikesh is described as yoga capital. I don’t want to get into which city is actually the yoga capital. I am going to Rishikesh on Saturday for an international yoga event.”
Though Mysuru is part of the Centre’s UDAN scheme, the Minister told the organisers that he would speak to the Civil Aviation Minister to include Mysuru for the operation of flights to tourist destinations, including Goa.