Shri Sasikanth Senthil, (IAS) Rtd., the former DC of Mangaluru in Karnataka dwells on what the country needs to focus on to energize the tourism sector in this thought-provoking article.
Anybody who has done a little bit of traveling in our great country would relate with one word - Diversity. Only a few other countries in the world would be able to equal India in the diversity that one could enjoy as a traveler. From the landforms to the people, from the culture to the colors it is a sheer pleasure for any experience seeker. Albeit, it is often a hard question of why tourism doesn't take off in the country as we see in the western world. Two reasons which would quickly come to the common mind is 'Government Apathy' and 'lack of Infrastructure'. Although it is hard to dispute the importance of these two crucial factors the changing trends in the realm of tourism in recent times might provide a window of opportunity for various local destinations to capitalize on the sector without the help of the central or federal governments.
The changing demography of tourism
Without dwelling into the complex domain of domestic tourism let us consider the data of international tourism to understand the changing trends. it is important to understand the fact that tourism is a game-changer for any economy. Notwithstanding domestic tourism, it could be seen that the international Tourist arrival has grown by 5% in the last year to reach 1.4 billion. The export earnings globally have reached 1.7 trillion USD. More than half of this growth has happened in Europe. Despite Europe being the market leader the highest growth in the sector is seen in the Asia-Pacific region. The foreign tourists' arrival in India was 10.56 million with an increase of 5.2 % in 2018 earning a foreign exchange of 28.59 billion USD in the same period. All this with a significant shift in the trend.
The search for a different, a unique experience
Firstly, travelers have started traveling towards change. ie the tourists and travelers have started moving towards different experiences a place can offer. These experiences need not necessarily be leisure and the farther they are from their traditional environments the better. The western tourist destinations with its planned development and copycat designs have started appearing mundane and boring for the traveler. The solo traveler or the backpackers have significantly increased in number. A study shows that the Asia-pacific particularly South- East Asia is the most favored destination for backpacking. With budget facilities and varied experiences, this category of tourism can immediately be leveraged by various destinations in India without much of an investment. However, the local administration needs to find these experiences and showcase them in a proper way so that it attains adequate visibility among the traveling community.
Secondly, travelers have started to travel to show the world about their travel. With the advent of high-speed networks and cheap cameras, the travelers have started significantly showing the world what a place has to offer. Earlier, Promos for a destination needed to be done only by the government. Nowadays the average traveler gives a true account of the experience a place has to offer. Studies show that people tend to believe the accounts of genuine travelers more than any sponsored advertisement. Platforms like trip adviser and the likes are accessed and read actively by the traveling community. This is a great boon to a county like India where the advertising cost to promote a place may be totally eliminated by ensuring some minimum standards of service which could be laid down by local administration.
Thirdly, the health and wellness aspect has also added to the overall experience of traveling and the attraction of tourists. People in this category select destinations that would offer some sort of wellness facilities for the travelers. It is important that tourist destinations realize their resources which creates the potential for wellness travel and help the local administration to generate policies that direct development without disturbing these resources.
Business and Technology altering tourism patterns
Business along with tourism has become a significant area where conferences and other business meetings are being conducted at tourist destinations. The concerned destinations should have enough infrastructure to take up such endeavors. With the advent of digital technologies, the average traveler has become more tech-centric and expects a minimum amount of digital services to be available in the destinations. Facilities, especially in cities with respect to logistics and other cost-saving initiatives, are expected.
Another great technological contribution to various destinations in India is the online service for accommodation and logistics which is offered by platforms like Airbnb and OYO. This is a win-win situation where no new infrastructure needs to be created for the traveler and the residents of the destination can also capitalize economically on the tourism sector. This also would encourage responsible tourism and the acceptance of tourism with the common public. However, an initial drive for these technology platforms to develop in a destination should be done by the local administration
Sustainability is the overarching umbrella under which tourism needs to develop. Tourism cannot impact positively if sustainable tourism is not promoted. With the advent of the technologies and the changing mindset of the tourist every city or village aspiring to be a great tourist destination can do so without any major financial support from the central or state governments. The destination should first understand the unique experiences that the place has to offer and invest in preserving that. These experiences should also be showcased in the social media domains and facilitation has to be provided for the interaction and experience.
The need of the hour to kick-start tourism has to start from the local bodies by starting to introspect on the positives which are available with the destinations and showcase them. They should actively desist from the infrastructure-centric thinking and should start leveraging on the changing trend in tourism and the technological interventions to break the current state of paralysis in tourism.
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