Today is National Tourism Day (January 25) and the Ministry of Railways, in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism, is launching its Jagannath Yatra train package, an eight-day tour that begins in from Delhi, traverses Kashi, Baidyanath Dham, Jagannath Puri, Bhubaneshwar and Konark, and ends at the Vishnupad temple in Gaya. All this is linked to using Bharat Gaurav Trains (or theme-based tourist circuit trains) to highlight India’s rich cultural heritage and history. The example given above is one of many cases of a Government of India ministry other than the Tourism Ministry taking the initiative to showcase India’s rich heritage using a ‘whole of government’ approach.
Campaigns so far
The government of India has always felt that the promotion of India’s tourism will only be effective when different Ministries at the Union level and States work in cohesion by combining their domain expertise. Over the last eight years, the Ministry of Tourism has prioritised the task of inter-ministerial cooperation and coordination, breaking down silos and working together effectively with other Ministries. Today, the Ministry of Tourism coordinates its work effectively with over 20 central government Ministries in the promotion and the development of tourism in the country. In October 2022, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Home Affairs organised the National Conference on Tourist Police (to develop tourist specific policing), aimed at working with the police and sensitising them on addressing the needs of foreign and domestic tourists.
In partnership with the Ministry of Education, the Tourism Ministry has begun establishing ‘Yuva Tourism’ clubs to nurture young ambassadors of Indian tourism. In another instance, the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways is aiming to make India an attractive cruise tourism destination using state-of-the-art infrastructure. India’s middle class is now prioritising some of their discretionary spending on new experiences such as cruises. In partnership with the Ministry of External Affairs, tourism officers have been placed in 20 Indian missions in countries that contribute to some of the highest foreign tourist arrivals in India. Their role includes facilitating and providing inputs for country-specific sensibilities and having them reflected in tourism products. Similarly, with the Ministry of Roadways and the Petroleum Ministry, steps are being taken to ensure that highways and fuel stations have clean sanitation infrastructure. The Ministry of Tourism is also funding several commercial flight routes in partnership with the Ministry of Civil Aviation, making them viable.
However, it is not just enough if there is a pledge to work together as this needs to be formalised through structures and institutions. The new draft National Tourism Policy 2022 aims to do just this. The policy has been formulated after situational analysis including the impact of COVID-19 and taking into account future projections for the tourism sector with a vision for India@100. One of the ideas includes an institutional structure that can take concurrent and coordinated action across the Union, State and local government levels in partnership with industry.
It is this ‘whole of government’ approach that has equipped India with the ability to host the G-20 presidency — 20 countries, 11 special invitee countries, and nearly one lakh delegates will participate in 200 meetings at over 50 locations. Every delegate or visitor who is in India to attend the G-20 summit will return as a brand ambassador and spread the word on India’s rich cultural, spiritual and natural heritage. In May 2022, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Copenhagen, Denmark, he urged the Indian diaspora to inspire at least five of their non-Indian friends to visit India.
A journey of discovery
Moving ahead on this, the Ministry of Tourism declaration of “Visit India Year 2023” aims to promote various tourism products and destinations to increase India’s share in the global tourism market. Data show that domestic tourism has recovered to pre-pandemic levels, even exceeding it in some cases. This is evident in a record 1.84 crore domestic tourists visiting Jammu and Kashmir in 2022. Similarly, foreign tourist arrivals are expected to reach pre-pandemic levels.
Travelling to India is not just a tourism experience. It is an avenue to find oneself. India has always been a popular destination for travellers exploring spiritual enlightenment and self-discovery. For centuries many great foreign travellers have visited India and shared their experiences in the form of memoirs, travelogues, poetry and books, as Megasthenes, Hiuen-Tsang, Marco Polo, and Fa-Hien have shown. India is a tourist destination to rekindle one’s inner self. As the birthplace to four major world religions, i.e., Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, India can truly claim to be the world’s spiritual beacon. This is at the core of the Visit India Year 2023.
G. Kishan Reddy is the Union Minister of Tourism, Culture and DoNER. He represents the Secunderabad parliamentary constituency