India, a country endowed with ancient cultural heritage and natural beauty, has always been an attractive tourist destination and has great potential to become one of the leading tourism destinations in the world.
In recognition of this potential, the government has been conscious of the policies framed to regulate this sector which are conducive for its growth and expansion. Among such efforts are the bilateral agreements with other countries to facilitate travel and tourism between India and other nations. In this arena, India and the United States of America have recognized each other's inter dependence and have made constant efforts to explore the potential for growth in the sector between the two nations. One of the good examples of such recognition is the year 2017, which was celebrated as the "India-US travel and tourism partnership year" in order to promote tourism between the two countries and deepen people to people ties further. The Indian government recently also conducted 'Incredible India' roadshows in various cities across the US to further promote India as a tourism destination amongst Americans.
The statistics from recent years on tourism in India and especially between the US and India strengthen the expectation for a very robust future for travel and tourism between the two nations. The total foreign tourist arrivals in India in the year 2017 were 10.18 million with a growth of 15.6% over 2016. The total foreign tourist inflow from the US in 2016 was approximately 1.3 million. The Minister of State for tourism, Mr. K. J. Alphons recently in July, 2018 stated that the tourism sector had created 14.62 million job opportunities in the country in the last four years. India was recently ranked 40 on the World Economic Forum's travel and tourism competitiveness index of 2017, which is an improvement of 12 positions from 2015. International hotel chains are also increasing their presence in the country.
The success reflected in the statistics and recent spike in travel and tourism in India (including from the US) can be attributed to the persistent and innovative efforts made by the current government, which have also laid a strong foundation for creating an environment among Indians to support tourism and foster growth of the sector over the coming years.
With an aim to rapidly increase the foreign tourist arrivals in India, the Ministry of Tourism has launched the Incredible India 2.0 campaign, to promote India as an ideal destination for spiritual, wellness and medical tourism. This is in furtherance to the Incredible India campaign, which the government launched in the year 2002 and through which it has been promoting tourism in India ever since. The Incredible India 2.0 campaign focuses on niche tourism products like heritage tourism, adventure tourism, cruise tourism, rural tourism, wellness & medical tourism etc.
Interestingly, a scheme called "adopt a heritage" was carefully thought of and formulated by the current government to invite volunteers from the public and private sector to develop and maintain monuments and heritage sites across India. This would include providing basic and advanced amenities such as drinking water, cleanliness, signage, night viewing facilities, surveillance systems etc. The scheme met with overwhelming response leading to discussions between the government and corporates, which stepped forward to become "monument mitras" ("monument friends"). One of the most important achievement on this front so far is the memorandum of understanding signed between the government and the Dalmia Bharat Group for maintenance of amenities in the 'Red Fort' situated in Delhi.
The Swachh Bharat (Clean India) mission, which was launched by the current ruling government in the year 2014, has also led to increase in foreign tourist arrivals in India. Amongst the various achievements attributed by the government to the Swachh Bharat mission, the most significant one is perhaps the claim that rural India has now achieved 85% sanitation coverage which is a huge leap from the years before the mission was launched. This programme is recognised by the government as the largest behaviour change programme in the world. Further, in 2016, all 3,686 monuments of national importance and under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India were declared polythene free zones to reduce waste disposal at such sites.
The safety of foreign tourists in India has been a concern owing to certain serious incidents reported in the past years. We have witnessed that the current government has taken conscious measures and made endeavours to assure security in cities of interest to tourists and travellers in the last few years. These include launching of 24*7 multi-lingual toll-free tourist info helpline, deployment of special tourist police in various states/union territories such as Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra, Goa etc., issuance of guidelines for safety and security of tourists to the states and union territories in India and providing tips to travellers identifying best practices for a safe tourism experience. Such measures are likely to make foreign tourists coming to India feel safer and enjoy a more pleasant experience in the country.
The e-visa scheme launched by the Indian government in 2014 allows a prospective traveller to apply for a visa through an online portal without requiring a personal visit or an interview at the Indian consulate in his/her country of residence. This scheme facilitates and covers limited but popular types of visas including e-tourist visa, e-business visa and e-medical visa. The Ministry of Home Affairs proposes to include the e-conference and e-medical attendant visa in the scheme. This scheme was initially launched in 44 countries in 2014 but has now been extended to 165 countries. The e-visa scheme, in the words of the United States ambassador to India in 2016, has been an immense success and in fact, visitors from the United States are among the top users of the e-visa scheme.
To promote adventure tourism, 2018 has been declared as the "Year of Adventure Tourism" and a decision to purchase 25 satellite phones has been taken to be used by approved Adventure Tour Operators for mountaineering and trekking expeditions. The government has also issued guidelines on Safety and Quality Norms as Basic Minimum Standards for Adventure Tourism Activities.
India has been attracting tourists for medical treatment in large numbers. As per the 2017-18 annual report of the Ministry of Tourism, the government has taken some crucial initiatives to make India an even more attractive destination for medical tourism which includes, setting up a National Medical & Wellness Tourism Board. The Board will work as an umbrella organisation that governs and promotes medical tourism in an organised manner. The Board has set up sub-committees to look into the issues relating to visa, accreditation and allied services and marketing and promotion of medical and wellness tourism. To ease the travel for medical purposes, medical and medical attendant visa have been introduced for tourists travelling for medical purposes and the e-visa facility has been extended to medical tourists as well in the form of an e-medical visa. Such measures, among others, have helped India become one of the leading destinations in the world for medical tourism. The inflow of foreign tourists in India for medical purposes has increased dramatically from 233,918 in 2015 to 427,014 in 2016. These numbers also include substantial number of tourists from the United States of America.
Despite the constant, innovative and sincere efforts to push growth in the sector of travel and tourism, much of the tourism potential in India is yet to be tapped. Being the 7th largest country in the world and home to 37 world heritage sites as per the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, India has a huge potential to scale up its ranking on the World Economic Forum's travel and tourism competitiveness index, where it is currently ranked at 40. Some of the shortfalls can be seen in insufficient infrastructure, incidents relating to safety concerns of tourists, and effective marketing strategies.
It will take a while for India to reap the benefits of the policies and efforts being made by the government in relation to the sector, but it can be seen that India is on its way to becoming a strong player in the sector. Despite the positive trend at display, the key for growth of the sector would be sound and consistent efforts in implementation of the policies, schemes and programmes that have been designed and launched by the government.
This article was first published in IACC- 14th Indo US Economic Summit (book).
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