The writer is the former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India and presently working as Executive Director with Indian Association of Tour Operators, New Delhi, views expressed in the article are his own
Indian Tourism sector is going through a very exciting phase. There is huge spurt in demand from all over the world. Our USP is that we present unique experience which one may not get in their own country. We also offer value for money products. The variety is the key word. One need not travel beyond 500 km to see a lot in a travel circuit concept. Each circuit is self contained with architecture, wild life, mountains, lakes, festivals and fairs, Rural Tourism experience, unique food, handicrafts and tiers of accommodation. This makes India package most exciting. All stake holders constantly try to innovate and revaluate the way they can offer the best service to their customers. They try to give plethora of options to choose from. Each circuit has so many things to offer and they need to see the maximum within the limited time at disposal. Take for example one chooses to see Southern Circuit with Thiruvananthapuram as the entry point. He has the options to have beach holidays viz Kovalam Beach Resorts and also have a day visit to the tip end of India Kanyakumari where three oceans meet - Indian ocean, Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal can see excellent Sunset view or visit Vivekanenda Rock Memorial. In the itinerary one can add back water drive from Alleppy Quilon on a Country boat or visit to colam waterfalls or Periyar wildlife Sancturay, Munar Hills, Tea and spice gardens visit Kathakali Art centre or learn Yoga or get Aryurvedic Massage at any Kerala Ayurvedic resorts. One can also learn some lessons about South Indian unique cuisine or musical instruments, join festivals or some cultural events, visit temples, mosque - churches and see the religious harmony. 15 to 20 days will go so fast that one may find he has covered only500-550 km but saw so much that he would have never seen in a visit to any other country. That is the charm and magic of India. In addition it is the human touch that makes the difference. English language is commonly spoken so communication and coprehension is much better. Tourists are not required to jump from one airport to another. One remains in one southern circuit of Kerala. Same could be for Tamilnadu Circuit with Chennai - Mahabalipuram - Thanjavur-Tiruchirapalli.Madurai,Kanyakumari(12/15 days itinerary to explore Tamilnadu comfortably)or Karnataka circuit with Bengaluru, Mysore, Hampi, Halebid -Hassan - Pattadakal - Jog falls Hampi and can have exit out from Goa with 5 days beach holidays. One can visit Hyderabad as entry point and cover Visakhapatnam - Arakurvalley (day visit) Tirupathi - and combine Chennai. So options are varied. Same applies for East India, North India, West India, North East or one can have thematic holidays like Rail Heritage Tours, Wildlife Tours, Rural Tourism visits, Photo Safari tours or visit to world Heritage sites (16 of them are must for any visitor). In short, one can see the world in India - whatever is his interest; he will get a lot to satisfy his interest. It is the country for all reasons and all seasons. Now there is acceptable infrastructure at all these places mentioned in the article and tourist can reserve the packages from tour operators and even State Tourism Corporations have readymade packages on offer at an affordable price. Please note that accommodation is of one star or no star category but clean and comfortable. Good hotels are also available.
Ministry has now identified 30 such of Tourism circuits for integrated development and work is in progress. North India and South India Circuits are ready for tourists and already attracting thousands of tourists every year. Even charters are coming to South India and Goa Circuits.
Another area where India has made an impact is Medical Tourism. Here the USP for India is the state of art hospitals with world class facilities and Doctors of International repute. All type of treatments at an affordable price and no waiting. All these have made India a choice destination for medical treatments from both developed and developing countries, over 250,000 tourists visited India in 2010 on Health Tourism and wellness tourism purpose at a rough estimate as made known by experts.
India is now focusing itself on Spiritual Tourism. Whole world is looking at India for mental solace. They are coming for lessons in yoga and meditation. Often they visit catholic pilgrimage places viz Goa, Chennai, Pondicherry or Buddhist Circuits in UP and Bihar Sufi centers or Islamic heritage centers (Ajmer, Hyderabad etc) Jain pilgrimage, Sikh Pilgrimage Places Char-Dham, Sai, Timpath, Vaishnodevi among hindu centeres. They attend religious discourses and get mentally satisfied. Religious journey to India is an added attraction which is combined with regular leisure tourism by overseas tourists especially with Indian origins.
Responsible Tourism which is often called Eco-Tourism is also being focused, as new breed of tourists would like to visit a place which is sensitive to nature and environment and they only visit those Countries. It is about engaging with the mountain destinations enjoying a range of winter activities in beautiful surroundings and having a fun and memorable experience but not at the cost of the environment or ignoring the local population. Keeping these tourists in mind and the above objectives, Ministry of Tourism is now promoting Rural Tourism. This is based on customers growing demand to be in nature and to achieve the key objective to provide a unique experience. Over 139 such rural tourism centers have been developed all over the country. Here the focus is on development of Sustainable tourism by involving all stake holders, understanding of the contribution of tourism to the local economy, society, preservation of culture environment and though research and training to enhance the ability to manage tourism more sustainably with local participation. This niche segment of tourism has made some beginning now and hope to do well when the western world has become concrete jungle. Whereas India offers an unique rural experience in natural surroundings. All these efforts have helped increasing in international tourist arrivals which is now progressively maintaining double digit figure since the last two years this also spicing up Foreign Exchange Earnings which is having an average since last year and this upward trend to continue.
As today the consumers is more experimental and aspirational and customers are willing to pay more for such unique experience we are moving at the right direction by promoting Niche Tourism. But we have to keep on innovating new products. With such mix of culture and tourism destinations we can always put something new as many places remain unexplored till this date like - North East Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand. Chattisgarh,Orrisa and all these have enough ingredients to keep tourists for 10-15 days in each state. Food itself can be a big attraction in course of visit to India and shopping as real bargain which can be combined in packages in these places.
Time is now to project all these new destinations i.e. - India beyond Golden Triangle. Let us put our thoughts which are real driver of growth areas and propone proper strategy. This is the right time and we should not miss the opportunity. Let us do it now.