“The one land that all men desire to see and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give the glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined”: Mark Twain on India. (Read in Hindi: विश्व पर्यटन का केन्द्र बनने की ओर अग्रसर भारत)
The usage 'incredible India' brings to mind a plethora of unique images--ranging from the snow-capped mountains of Himalayas in the north, unsparing expanses of deserts of the west, tropical rainforests and exotic flora of the east and panoramic lakes, beaches and monsoon rains of the south; besides this, a range of historic, cultural and heritage sites, the torch bearers of the diversity of a country which boasts of centuries-old legacy.
This mixed bag of experiences makes India 'incredible' and a paradise which is much sought after by global tourists. While many other countries offer one or other monolithic experience of holidaying for a tourist, India opens the portals to diversified experiences of climate, geography, culture, art, literature, ethnicity and food.
And the government's various plans to market our incredible legacy, heritage and nature seems to have achieved its results. The increased footfall of foreign tourists and revenue growth in terms of Foreign Exchange Earnings (FEEs) is a clear proof for that.
An inclusive and sustainable growth of economy and revenue, employment generation, foreign investment and fostering of cultural ties are some of the objectives the government is targeting to achieve through its new tourism policies and programmes.
The Evolution of Tourism in India
India has been an attraction for foreign travelers, tourists and traders since centuries ago. The sub-continent’s constant contact with other countries, civilisations and people are very much evident in our cultural diversity indicators including language, customs, festivities, music, dance, art and so on.
However, the tourism sector did not get much attention in the initial years after Independence as tourism those days could not be perceived as a huge revenue earning industry.
One of the first significant episodes in the history of Indian tourism was the formation of the Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), in 1966. The core objective for its establishment was to develop tourist infrastructure and services. Similar organizations were set up in the states also.
The tourism activities and policy initiatives in the sector got a real momentum in the country after 1980s. It was in 1982, thirty five years after independence, that a National Policy on Tourism was announced in India for the first time. The country’s plans of hosting Asian Games in this year and the prospective arrival and accommodation and entertainment of large number of people from outside had triggered serious debates on tourism in the country. This general interest and debates on tourism had been translated into the first National Policy on Tourism which provided an action plan for the development of the sector.
India’s changed global image- from a land of slums and poverty to a developing country and emerging economic super power- accelerated the inflow of foreign tourists to the country in the later decades.
During NDA’s first term, the Government of India came out with a new Tourism Policy in 2002 with the objective of “positioning tourism as a major engine of economic growth and to harness its direct and multiplier effects for employment and poverty eradication in an environmentally sustainable manner.
The Incredible India
The soul of ‘incredible India’ lies in its unity in diversity. India offers ‘variety of experience’ to travelers at ‘one go’ as each part of the country gives them identifiable difference from the rest of the nation.
The northern part of the country may offer them mountain experience to the core from gigantic peaks to snow-covered valleys while the sprawling coastlines of the south may give a breathtaking contrast experience of beaches, lakes and riversides.
The Andaman and Nicobar islands or the Lakshadweep archipelago offer a unique experience of marine life and pristine beauty of islands. Participation in ‘Kumbha mela’, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, may give a rare glimpse and first-hand experience on the centuries-old religious tradition of the country.
Annual literary festivals, held across the length and breadth of the country, offer a clear picture of the art and literary tradition.
Thus, exotic destinations, rustic country sides, vibrant festivities, harmonious co-existence of different faiths, colourful attires and ethnic cuisines make India a wondrous land for a global holidayer.
New policies and programmes
The experience of diversity, economical holiday destinations, special brand images of places and private and foreign investments have also contributed to the growth of tourist inflow from other countries into India.
The introduction of ‘Niche Tourism Products’ to expand and diversify the tourism prospects and make the country a 365 days destination has given an impetus to the increased inflow. Eco & Wildlife Tourism, MICE Tourism (MICE – Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events), Sustainable Tourism, Cruise Tourism, Golf Tourism, Polo Tourism, Medical Tourism and Wellness Tourism are some among such niche products.
The introduction of ‘Visa on Arrival’ (VoA) and ‘e-Tourist Visa’ have also accelerated the Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs). According to official figures, the number of FTAs in May, 2017 was 6.30 lakh as compared to FTAs of 5.27 lakh in May, 2016 and 5.09 lakh in May, 2015. The Foreign Exchange Earnings (FEEs) during the period January- May 2017 were ₹74,008 crore with a growth of 19.2%.
The government's focus on new areas like spiritual tourism and pilgrimage tourism is also expected to tap the potential of the sector further and increase the inflow of visitors. The Government has also launched the scheme Swadesh Darshan with a view to develop circuits having tourist potential in a planned and prioritized manner. Swadesh Darshan aims at promoting cultural and heritage values of the country.
With the increasing clout of the country as it is poised to become an economic superpower of the world, it is hoped that India is visited by more and more people in the years to come.
(Author is a journalist. Views expressed in the article is author’s personal.)