As Vinod Zutshi, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism- India lit the path of India Tourism and was associated with some path breaking changes that gave an impetus to the Tourism sector; he now hands over charge, after completing a successful tenure. TravelScapes speaks to him about the milestones achieved in 2016 and the way forward for India Tourism in 2017 and the years to come.
India with its secularism, its culture, beautiful coastline, virgin forests, unscathed serene islands and the rich heritage has fascinated people from all over the world. Bounded by the Himalayan ranges in the north, surrounded by the captivating water bodies, India offers a wide array of places to see and things to do. The Ministry of Tourism, from last two years, has been undertaking initiatives to provide a further boost to the sector but the international footfalls, however, seem to dwindle. TravelScapes talks to Vinod Zutshi, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism about the recent MoT initiatives, their implementation, achievements in year gone by and the way forward to make India, a favourable tourist destination.
“India has been growing at a faster pace in terms of arrival of foreign tourists compared to the growth worldwide. We saw a phenomenal increase in the numbers of Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India during 2016 which was 8.9 million (Provisional), registering a double digit growth of 10.7 per cent as compared to the 8.0 million FTAs with a growth of 4.7 per cent in 2015 over 2014.” informs Zutshi.
To facilitate the growth in India tourism sector, the Government took several initiatives in the year of 2016. According to Zutshi, 2016 was a year of achievements for MoT, given the increasing visibility of the Brand- “Incredible India” across the regions. Commenting further on the schemes that were put to action, Zutshi says “The Ministry of Tourism launched a Mobile App ‘Swachh Paryatan’ and to start with, 25 Marsh Smarak Monuments protected by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) were identified for inclusion in the app. This mobile app enables a citizen to take photograph of garbage at the monument and upload the same along with his remarks. This initiative was to send across the message of keeping the historic monuments clean.”
Talking about the enhanced visa regime, Zutshi shares “The government has successfully initiated e-visa which has three components- e-tourist visa, e-medical visa, e-business visa. We have extended the facility of e-tourist Visa for citizens of 161 countries. Under the scheme, an applicant receives an email authorising him or her to travel to India after it has been approved. The tourist can travel with a print-out of this authorization. For the first time in India, medical visa is going the electronic way and so is the case with business visa.”
“We have made e-tourist visa and e-business visa double entry. For e-medical visa, the government has provided triple entry, which is a redeeming feature. Film visa has also been streamlined and rationalised, which has come at the right time and would encourage filming in India.” he adds.
“Another milestone for us was when we launched a 24X7 Toll Free Multi-Lingual Tourist helpline/infoline handling 10 international languages besides Hindi and English. The focus is exclusively on IEC i.e. Information, Education and Communication for the Tourists followed by a Helpdesk and safety and security of the Tourists. The website of Incredible India is also being revived to make it more Tourist friendly. This service primarily serves those who know very little about India or about travelling within India, and those who do not understand the Indian systems and often not even English. We also distribute the ‘Welcome Booklet’ to tourists arriving at international airports with information on Do’s and Don’ts for tourists including the contact details of India Tourism domestic offices and Tourist Helpline Number at immigration counters.”
Zutshi emphasises that the Ministry regularly releases print, electronic, online and outdoor media campaigns in the international markets, under the ‘Incredible India’ brand- name to promote various tourism destinations and products of India with the objective of boosting foreign tourist arrivals to the country. He says promotion of activities in tourist generating markets overseas through the India Tourism Offices abroad and active participation in International Tourism Events has been a major focus.
The International Buddhist Conclave-2016 officially inaugurated on October 20, 2016 in New Delhi, opened its sessions for the first time in Sarnath, UP– the heartland of Buddhist pilgrimage and was well received by people. Zutshi said that India is prepared for developing a Trans-border Buddhist Circuit across ASEAN and SAARC countries to enhance movement of Buddhist pilgrims in the region from remaining parts of the world. He expects 2017 to be an amazing year for the people coming to India for Buddhist Tourism. The Ministry of Tourism also organised the ‘International Tourism Mart’ in association with the North East states and West Bengal in Imphal, Manipur where buyers and media delegates from around the world and from different regions of the country participated and engaged in one-to-one meetings with sellers from the North East Region. This enabled the tourism product suppliers from the region to reach out to international and domestic buyers, with the objective of promoting tourism to the region.
Zutshi further highlights that Niche tourism is another area of focus for the Government, keeping in mind, the increasing trend of experiential travel. MoT launched new strategies to focus on niche tourism areas like adventure, coastal, wildlife, golf, films, heritage and many more. “As India has the potential to get tourists from anywhere in the world, we have picked up all the beams. We have the finest beaches for the adventure lovers, best wildlife sanctuaries for the nature enthusiasts, attractive MICE destinations for corporates, holistic places for the spiritual souls, cruising options for the voyagers and a variety that no one could ignore. From MICE tourism, cruise tourism, golf tourism to adventure tourism, wellness tourism and medical tourism, every segment in India is seeing a tremendous growth.”
“We are going to focus on those destinations which are lesser known, as per the specific demand of each source market and promote them aggressively. We are also taking actions to develop the much known and preferred destinations of the travelers.” shares Zutshi
MoT, in the previous year had also provided financial assistance to stakeholders and State tourism departments and UTs for undertaking promotional activities under the Market Development Assistance Scheme in order to develop the locations to entice more tourists. The recent initiatives include signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for implementation of tourism projects in Jammu and Kashmir between Ministry of Tourism, NPCC and NBCC and Government of Jammu and Kashmir which aims at integrated Development of tourist facilities at Gulmarg, Baramulla, Kupwara, Leh, Mantalai, Sudhmahadev and Patnitop. Major components sanctioned under the projects are Yoga centre, wellness SPA, Log Huts, heliports, Open air theatre, walking trail, landscaping, solar lighting, solid waste management and public amenities and more.
Medical tourism is another area that is developing fast, he accentuates. “The medical treatments in India as compared to a similar kind of facility elsewhere in the world, is the cheapest. We have some of the best state-of-the-art hospitals and more than that we have the best physicians and doctors. People from Middle East, Europe and many other countries come to India for medical treatments and we are doing very well. We have also identified Yoga as one of the USPs of Indian tourism because we can impart Yoga in a more professional manner than any other country. And with International Yoga Day being celebrated, it has given a big enhancement to India as a country promoting wellness and spirituality. That’s the reason why we have been promoting Yoga at international tourism fairs like WTM London, FITUR Madrid and ITB Berlin,” Zutshi says.
The secretary, in the previous year had also announced the formation of National Task Force on Adventure Tourism for the development and promotion of adventure tourism in India. The task force aimed to resolve the issues related to the segment which includes safety and security of adventure tourists, accessibility, products and promotion, among others. Irrespective of the budget constraints, the MoT is planning out the strategies well so that the Incredible India visibility remains the same on both the national and international platforms.
“Keeping in view the growth trend in FTAs during 2016 and various initiatives of the Government, as mentioned above, we expect that the tourism will grow at 15 per cent during 2017 which will be 4 percentage points more than 11 per cent registered in 2016. We have been excelling the world growth rate over the last four to five years and we expect to see this extraordinary growth in numbers in the years to come.” Zutshi concludes.