The writer is the former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India. The views expressed are his own.
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Efficiency and sustainability are the two mantras to emerge from the economic slow down. In this recovery smart infrastructure is expected to play an important role. In India the government has made it clear that infrastructure will be an area of sharp focus ahead and with in infrastructure, the focuss will be Accommodation Road, Airports, Internal Transport and Power Supply. Looks like an ambitions goal but a termination to do something solid can really make the difference. It is the vision and desire to achieve has made many small countries to stand big even at the time of economic down turn especially Asian Countries.
Visualize India even 5 years back, hotels were few in numbers mainly located in metro cities, roads existed by name only, Pot hotels visible even on highways, power supply better not to talk and what's more airport was not much a better place thanr our crowded rail stations. Tourists experience was horrible never to return being the usual comments from our tourists who had visited India. Now state of art International Airport in Delhi is proved to be the third best airports in the world
(T-3 IGI) and airport in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kochi and even in Chennai, Kolkata are talking of vibrant India. Now tourism products are not restricted to metro cities. The domestic air connectivity and budget airlines have made distribution of products and services across the hinterland and is providing opportunity for tourists to experience India even visiting rural areas. Connectivity is the key for this revolutionary change Road built in the last decade have had a significant impact for development of Surface Tourism. This is probably the largest drive toward infrastructure augmentation. Even Automobile industry helped in providing civilized way to move around and explore various heritage sites located deep interiors of the country. Driving down four lane highway is a common site now. Road signages improved basic facilities, food joints, Petrol pumps give a totally new look to Indian tourism infrastructure Some of the small towns envoute to Agra provide an unique rural tourism experience. Communications was earlier a big issue. Now mobile phones are all pervasive. Now you can remain connected. It is very difficult to say whether you are in rural area or in urban area. How people are comfortable with mobile technology is to be seen to believe even villagers are very smart in using mobile phones. A silent revolution has taken place. There is a change in the mindset that has made the real difference in this new look. Literacy has gone up. Female literacy has out spaced over all literacy in India. There is woman empowerment visible in all possible areas in tourism related sectors, with double in come in the families; standard of living has gone up. Poverty visibility is not that acute as it used to be decade back. There is happiness visible in faces every where. Technology is in use. Tourism information service and marketing, promotions are web based and on digital technology. High-tech cars are available for sight-sing Indians are craving for newer model-BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen and latest ones there is openness in investments Economy is open for foreign investments. All leading chain hotels are now in India and everyday new partnerships are being signed. Room inventory has gone up from 90,000 in 2008 to 150,000. Budget hotels have come up in cities Clarion in Bangalore launched, Matthan hotels entered India, Berggren hotels opened Keys hotel. New properties from Marriot,Taj Group,Welcome heritage,Hilton, Radission Mercure in Hydrabad. India now boasts of accommodation at various places and of various categories. This has come up very fast and beyond one's expectation. Commonwealth games in Delhi really boosted the infrastructure development in all respects. Metro connectivity is the biggest boon as one can now avoid mad rush on Indian capital roads. Low floor A/C coaches, Hop on hop off sight sing coaches, state of art shopping malls, and modern street lightings Illumination of ASI monuments, Modern Road Signage's, Entertainment centers, Stadiums, new look Connaught Place city centre, Metro-connectivity to all most all tourist sites in Delhi, NCR and city shopping Malls, airport city metro-connectivity, walkways, modern bus stops, information Kiosks Police assistance booth, regular events at Museums, Dilli hut etc made Delhi one of the modern cities of the world. Tourists feel so comfortable and confident to move around. Even safety part is very improved with police assistance booth. They were specially trained to handle tourists by having regular training programme under capacity building programme of the Ministry of Tourism. Taxi Service & coach services are now of international standard, Radio taxis have made visits very comfortable and safe for tourists. Old dilapidated taxis are not visible these days. Even auto three wheeler scooters have new look drivers and behave properly. Metro connectivity has brought some behavioral change in these auto drivers people use metro more now leaving behind their own cars. Pollution and crowd on roads is under control. Civil governance is visible in every space of activities. People appear to be more disciplined now and more tourists friendly. While talking about infrastructure, the shortage of hotels rooms in India was the prime trigger factor for getting business traffic from the companies overseas. This bottleneck area got an urgent support from the Government. Now US based MGM Mirage Hospitality, Fairmont Raffle Hotels, Thailand based Amari, Movenpick hotels, Golden Tulip hotels Corinthian Hotels group from Europe are among the chains that are betting high on Indian market and thus the availability of rooms of international quality will be met soon. Industry experts predict that around 40 international hotels are expected to be operational in India by end 2011/2012. Infact, India's hotel pipeline is the second largest in the Asia Pacific after China, Airlines are flying into better weather since mid 2010. Now Jet Airways, Kingfisher, Spice jet all have international operations. Better connectivity and increased seat capacity which remained problem all through the last decade eased the capacity problem changed. Thanks to the new policy initiatives of the Ministry of Tourism the road ahead is much smoother. Thanks to the seamless travel being put into action, scene changed dramatically. This has contributed significant to boost surface tourism. Now it is for the Delhi - Agra - Jaipur sector and may soon cover other states also. This is an urgent need and being looked into seriously. Comprehensive Entry Tickets to ASI Heritage, Monuments in Delhi - Agra etc have made a big change in tourist experience to visit heritage monuments. Tickets can now be purchased in advance, saving valuable time which tourists earlier used to waste by standing in que to purchase entry tickets. Illuminated monuments have boosted tourists visit to monuments beyond sunrise-sunset timings. Followed by exclusive dinner and entertainment - this aspect, which was lacking earlier, has brought increased stay. Evening entertainment was totally missing & was the need of the hour. Human Resource Development programme have enabled regular supply of trained man power. More guides and more courteous services are now on offer. This makes lot of difference in tourist experience. They go back with happy memories of their visit to India. All the more, our guides speak their languages tourists feel the warmth & confidence. The change is visible in new tourism products Earlier it was only the Golden Triangle as the last end of India Tourism. With Government initiatives, tour operators in India have launched niche products and those are actively promoted by forming public, public partnership by holding road shows in various emerging markets. This enable them to understand the needs of the local travelers and workout strategies so that tourists get best of services. Pricing is very competitive now with availability of increased hotel rooms. Ministry of Tourism is continuing with Incredible India campaign and have reached new markets in Latin America. Africa, Middle East, that is, beyond Europe and USA/Canada, Vietnam, South Korea, Philippines, China, CIS, countries, Kenya, South Africa, Manritins are new focused markets and lot of Educational tours are in pipeline from these markets for both Tour Operators & Media members. Increased travel delegations are now visiting India and interacting with our trade, from Mexico, Brazil, China Japan, Bahamas , Bermuda Iceland, Finland and they are opening representative offices in India. This shows how important they feel India as an up market destination for them. They hold regular trade meetins, roadshows and thus promoting two ways traffic. But tourism sector is upset over neglect in budget. This sector need tax concessions to place India as competitive destination. But tourism sector is heavily taxed. However in the budget, emphasis is on improvement of infrastructure that has helped tourism in a big way. Investments have improved tourism recently Education, Medical and Wellness tourism, MICE Tourism, Cruise Tourism, Sports Tourism, Adventure Tourism, Amusement Parks, Spiritual Tourism, Festivals & Fairs and many new segments which were never focused earlier are now in focuss in a bigway.
Technology is in use in all promotional efforts and visibility of India is more in overseas markets through participation in Travel & Tourism exhibitions, India hosting international events - Sports event, PATA, conference etc. Convention infrastructure, communication infrastructure, visa relaxations etc to a limited way made India known as conference & convention destination & recently concluded commonwealth Games with latest infrastructure promising India as sports destination. The journey ahead appears to be very premising for India. It is the smarter way adopted by the tourism stake holders that have brought this change Felicitations, India can show to the world how smartly it has changed to meet the challenges and India means business. We have and we can do more and do it in style.