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Tourism is often flaunted as the sunrise industry in India with the potential to grow faster and to contribute to development more than others. But the achievement has always lagged behind potential. It is still the largest service industry in the country and contributes about 9 per cent to the national economy.

Recently, the tourism ministry announced plans to increase the share of the sector to about 12 per cent in the next five years and to increase the number of tourist arrivals to  one per cent of the global traffic from the present 0.6 per cent. Even this should be a modest target, considering the attractions India can offer and the advantages it has got over many other countries.

With its varied geographical, historical, cultural and other assets India is well placed to attract much more tourists than it does now. The performance has been patchy and uneven in the past. Some regions, like the Delhi-Rajasthan-Agra belt and states like Kerala and Goa, have done better than others and account for much of the tourist traffic.

But every part of the country has something to offer to tourists with diverse tastes and interests. There are new areas like medical and environmental tourism which offer great scope. Many countries which are much less endowed have done much better than India. Even tiny Singapore attracted 12 million tourists, twice its population, last year while the number of tourists visiting India was over 17 million. Much smaller countries have registered more tourist arrivals than India.

It is yet to be realised that tourism has greater employment potential than other industries. It is estimated that Rs 10 lakh invested in tourism creates 78 new jobs while the same investment in manufacturing yields only 45 jobs. These jobs are created across various sections of people, like women, unskilled workers and professionals, unlike in manufacturing where there is mostly scope for skilled labour.

A growing tourism sector also contributes to creation of better awareness about the country in the world and helps enhance the country’s soft power. The key to promotion of the sector is the development of infrastructure like good roads and hotels which cater to all tastes and budgets, professional attitudes and hospitality management and effective campaigns which project the country’s strengths and diversities. A growing economy and growing tourism can promote each other and benefit the country.