Earlier this month, the Dhauladhar ranges in the Himalayas were the setting for a gathering of State Tourism Ministers — a first-of-its-kind meeting to discuss, debate and deliberate on modes and mechanisms to develop tourism in India.
The Ministers brainstormed for three days, co-developing ‘The Dharamshala Declaration’ by drawing inspiration from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Whole of Government’ approach, which enables the breaking down of silos and encouraging synergies across various government corridors.
On the occasion of World Tourism Day (it is held on September 27), I am happy to share this collective vision. ‘The Dharamshala Declaration’ aims to recognise India’s role in contributing towards global tourism as well as focusing on recovery by also promoting domestic tourism — which has been overlooked for long. In his Independence Day speech in 2019, Mr. Modi urged every Indian who could afford to travel, to visit at least 15 locations in India by 2022 and discover the country. However, COVID-19 made this vision a challenge.
In the declaration, the Tourism Ministry has come up with a strategy and action plan to encourage more Indians to travel domestically and explore India’s natural, cultural, and spiritual beauty while simultaneously reaching the goal of an ‘Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat’ (interaction and mutual understanding). In parallel, the Ministry has also been working with the Ministry of External Affairs to identify 20 Indian missions abroad with the highest tourist footfalls to India and build country-specific strategies to attract foreign tourists.
Rethinking and reimagining tourism
Tourism has been one of the sectors severely affected by COVID-19. The Government of India’s Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme was recently enhanced by ₹50,000 crore, from ₹4.5 lakh crore to ₹5 lakh crore to benefit enterprises in hospitality and related sectors such as hotels and restaurants, marriage halls, travel agents, tour operators, adventure and heritage facilities. The pandemic has also given us the time to reset and rethink the way forward for tourism in India. The Ministry of Tourism, after wide-ranging consultations, has prepared a draft National Tourism Policy 2022, which aims at improving the framework conditions for tourism development in the country, supporting tourism industries, strengthening tourism support functions and developing tourism sub-sectors.
The guiding principles include promoting sustainable, responsible and inclusive tourism in line with our civilisational ethos. From Gautama to Gandhi, India has always spoken about the inherent need to live harmoniously with nature and within our means. The National Green Tourism Mission aims at institutionalising this approach.
The National Tourism policy also aims to give impetus to digitalisation, innovation and technology through the National Digital Tourism Mission and skilling through the Tourism and Hospitality Sector Skill Mission. The policy also gives a special impetus to private sector participation through public-private-partnerships (PPP). After 2002, this has been the first such attempt to bring forth a transformative tourism policy. Once the new policy is ratified, the Ministry would have a new set of tools and frameworks that are required to execute on the vision and goals we have set for ourselves.
Potential during the G20 presidency
The country has an opportunity to position itself as a major tourism destination during India’s presidency of the G20 (December 2022- November 2023). India’s age-old dictum of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ will come to the fore as it welcomes delegates from the 20 countries/European Union. Delegates include personnel from the central banks and finance ministries of the G20 countries, close to 15 working groups ranging from anti-corruption and agriculture to health, culture and tourism and foreign ministers, and other ministerial meetings. All these tracks would mean that India will be hosting close to 200 meetings.
Even as the final list of cities is being finalised based on a set of transparent criteria such as conference infrastructure, accommodation availability, rankings in Swachh Bharat and other parameters, close to 35 cities with this potential have already been identified. During this time, the plan is to ensure due rigour, dedication and showcase the country’s cultural richness while welcoming the world to India. The Ministry of Tourism also plans to work with other Ministries to bring in necessary interventions such as visa reforms, ease of travel, traveller-friendly and improved immigration facilities at airports.
Over the past few months, all the major tourism indices such as domestic air passenger traffic, hotel occupancy and tourist footfalls have shown signs of recovery and are going back to pre-pandemic levels. By mid-2024, we would be at pre-pandemic levels, with India achieving $150 billion as GDP contribution from tourism and $30 billion in foreign exchange earnings with 15 million foreign tourist arrivals.
By 2030, India is estimated to grow at 7%-9% compounded annual growth rate and we expect the enabling policy framework to bring in $250 billion in GDP contribution from tourism, 140 million jobs in the tourism sector and $56 billion in foreign exchange earnings with more than 25 million foreign arrivals.
The Ministry is committed to delivering on these goals to ensure the positioning of India as one of the world’s best tourism destinations by 2047. World Tourism Day, therefore, is an appropriate day to renew this pledge.
G. Kishan Reddy is the Union Minister of Tourism, Culture and Development of North East Region and represents the Secunderabad Constituency in the Lok Sabha