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.
The year 2011 have a good beginning and there is a positive growth trend in the international tourist arrivals. As per the International tourist arrivals figures circulated by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India (Market Research Division) upto October end 2011 the figure showed a growth of 10% with international tourist arrivals reaching 49.38 lakhs as compared to the foreign tourist arrivals of 44.87 lakhs during January - October 2010. Even Foreign Exchange Earnings from Tourism in rupee terms during January - October 2011 were Rs 60,780 crore with a growth of 18.4% as compared to the Foreign Exchange Earning of Rs. 51,334 crore during January- October 2010. Foreign Exchange Earnings from tourism in terms of US$ during January- October 2011 were US$ 13,310 million with a growth of 19% as compared to US$ 11187 million during Jan- October, 2010.
Such progressive developments mainly due to aggressive initiatives taken by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India along with all the stake holders in the travel and hospitality industry mainly since 2010. Such timely actions helped to contain the negative impact of the global economic slowdown. Through sincere efforts put mainly by our tour operators to regain the loss of business mainly from major traffic generating by having enhanced Road Shows, Workshops, Seminars and enhanced participation in international Travel Exhibitions. These spreaded the message that India means business and tour operators are ready to develop long terms business relations. Most of the tour operators and other stake holders utilized the time in strengthening the manpower in the office by having special training programme and educational tours with in the country to launch new packages based on new products developed by the State Governments to acquaint themselves with the infrastructural facilities and interacted with local promoters. Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, increased enhanced the list of countries from initial 5 to 11 countries whose nationals were offered the Visa on Arrival facilities. Now the eleven countries are New zealand, Japan, Singapore, Australia, Luxembourg, Finland, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Cambodia. This has helped greater movements from these countries with the ease in visa relaxation and better air connectivity. Infact, it should be available from major traffic generating countries like UK , USA , France , and Germany which can give a real boost to the international tourist arrivals. IATO is pleading the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India regularly to do the necessary follow up and include all the 18 countries proposed in the original proposal.
The sea-change in "Infrastructure" with in the country be hotels, airports, roads, signages, shopping malls, hospitals, entertainment , upkeep of monuments at tourist places, internal air-connectivity, rail connectivity, highways and highway facilities etc made a big difference and India is now perceived as the right place to visit for holidays. Even cruise tourism has been increased arrivals. No doubt, this segment has good potential if explored systematically. The cruise tourist's arrivals have also shown a positive trend since last year with improved. Cruise terminal facilities in Mumbai, Kochi , Goa and Visakhapatnam . Many leading cruise liners have included India as Post of call in their global cruise packages.
With MICE segment being a very important to boost tourist arrivals, since last 5/6 years there are sincere efforts from the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, with support from all stake holders to project India as an important MICE destination. With new convention centers all over the country (Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune, Chennai etc) better international air connectivity, improved support services, hotels, rail services, car rentals, India started attracting big conventions in India and this brought multinational companies to India for investments and conventions . There is now quite a bit of efficiency in MICE operations with Indian Convention and Promotion Bureau (ICPB) taking the lead of MICE operations in a very professional manner. It is estimated that about 25% of the overall traffic to India could be for MICE purpose.
This also contributed in the increased international tourist arrivals in the main season i.e.-March. We saw more international delegates visiting India for exhibitions and conventions. Infact in August, 2011, with PATA Mart in Delhi, we could expect 1000 plus delegates from overseas in Delhi. This also gives us the confidence that 2011 will be good for tourism business. Charters will start from September and in Goa, Kerala and that bring about 150,000 tourists and charter arrivals are expected to go up with increased charters booked for India for the coming season as we come to know from hoteliers and the travel trade partners. Adventure Tourism with series of new trekking routs in Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh water sports, wildlife tour operators terms are offering attractive packages and quite a lot of younger aged tourists (between 25 to 45) are attracted for such eco-friendly holiday packages. Main season commences from August so we can expect good arrivals on this niche segments. Also Infrastructure is ready with quality tented accommodation for such operations. So India is being projected beyond the cultural monuments to more "Activity Oriented" tourism as per the global trends. This tourism has reached far flung areas in the mountains. Sports tourism also got a big boost after the Commonwealth Games in India, India winning cric world carpet. Golf Tourism is being focused in a big way.
Rural Tourism, Spiritual Tourism, Health and Wellness Tourism are being focused and these have started attracting tourists specially India as Medical Tourism destination. We can get average 150,000 - 200,000 tourists only this account based on unique offers available at our hospitals for varied treatments and especially post surgery packages ( Ayurvedic treatments) at our Ayurvedic resorts in Kerala, Goa , Karnataka, Tamilnadu etc are very popular with international tourists.
As the recovery pickup in major traffic generating countries, holiday spending will also be up in these countries and India is ready to take its due share. We can look forward to a good season in 2011. We keep our fingers crossed and ensure that no untoward events take place in the coming season our efforts will continue to keep this momentum continued. We mean business and we are ready to welcome of guests. We also feel happy with the media news about the 2012 year. Annual budget and the 12th Five Year Plan where Tourism will get a priority in view of its employment potential and the revenue generating capacity.
The Indian domestic consumption remains high despite the recession worldwide. Indian tourists are willing to use quality and life style products and there is need for more mid-market hotels in two/three tier cities like Lucknow, Varanasie, Coorg, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Indore, Hyderabad, Shimla, Chandigarh. There is a lot of talk in the industry about the need for rooms in mid-market segment. Holiday Inn property recently commissioned courtyard Marriot Golden Tulip proposed hotels in Lucknow, Gurgaon are targeted toward business travelers and mid - market segment travelers target audience would be a mix of business and leisure travelers with special focuss on business travelers. Thus there is a major foucss or domestic tourism. Where the tourist figures one approaching 700 million and always having average 15% growth year on basis there need is the diversification of tourism products in each state and boost longer stay in the region. Incredible India campaign is show more focused on destination wise and not just generic. In the tourism budget there is enhanced outlay for global and domestic campaign round the year. Mega tourist centers in the country are in progress with identified 29 destinations circuits on the basis of footfalls and future potential in consultation with the concerned state government.
It is heartening to see that the worst seems to be behind us. The year 2011 will be much better than 2010 and we can move forward with confidence.