India needs to streamline visa, infrastructure to tap tourism potential: Experts

India needs to streamline visa, infrastructure to tap tourism potential: Experts

As tourism becomes a key driver of the Indian economy with its growing foreign exchange earnings and income generating potential, the government has to streamline infrastructure and visa procedures to tap the segment's full potential, experts across the industry say.

"Travel and tourism is the second largest employer in India and the second largest revenue earner. It needs no introduction. The country is a continent in itself. But the government has to sort out the visa road blocks and infrastructure loopholes," Iqbal Mulla, president of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), told IANS on the sidelines of a South Asia Travel and Tourism Exchange (SATTE) business forum.

Mulla said: "India gets the second highest tourist traffic from the UK but the new Indian visa regulations stipulate that a visitor from UK cannot return to India within two months of visiting the country".

"You need easier visa policy so that foreign tourists can stay longer or return on repeat trips. India cannot be seen in a week's time," Mulla said. He said TAAI has taken it up with the tourism and civil aviation ministries.

Like other countries in the west, India too must introduce visa on arrival, Harkripal Singh, chief representative of the TAAI said.

"Security threats are all make-belief. People can stand in queues in airports at metros for their visa," Singh said.

Pointing to a mismatch between inbound and outbound tourism arising from visa controls and poor infrastructure, Mulla said "outbound tourism was growing by 25 per cent and all tourism boards were buying from India".

The outbound tourism figure from India is expected to touch 50 million by 2020, estimates by leading South Asian tourism monitors say.

"We are losing foreign exchange because of this huge mismatch between footfalls and growth rate in inbound (nearly 6.28 million foreign arrivals last year) and outbound tourism. Issues like multiple taxes and entertainment licenses are slowing down growth of inbound tourism...if you want to host a dinner at a five star property for a group of foreign tourists, the tour operator has to acquire at least 54 licenses," Mulla explained.

India should do much more to attract foreign tourists to the country, Timmy S. Kandhari, executive director of leader, hospitality and leisure of PricewaterhouseCoopers, said.

"India gets only 6 million tourists while Istanbul alone gets 13 to 15 million tourists. India lacks infrastructure and rooms. We currently have 120,000 rooms and are short of 150,000 rooms. Land acquisition for new properties is a major problem as well as connectivity to smaller cities," Kandhari told IANS.

The marketing strategy for India as a destination should also shift from a heritage-culture oriented packages to more experiential itineraries. "Today's traveller likes to eat, experience and shop," Rajeev Kohli, joint managing director of Creative Travel Pvt Ltd, said.

The government needs to allocate more for tourism, Nawang Rogzin Jora, the tourism minister of Jammu and Kashmir said. "The ministry allocation of Rs.1,000 crore by the government is pathetic. This shows clearly that there is no appreciation for tourism," Jora said at SATTE on Saturday.

"International tourist arrival in India is expected to grow with a CAGR of 7.9 per cent for a period spanning 2010-2015. Indian outbound departure is expected to reach 20.5 million by 2015," Sanjeev Khaira, managing director of the exhibition firm UBM India, said.

UBM-India organised the South Asia Travel and Tourism Exchange (SATTE), a buyers-sellers' forum, Feb 10-12 in the capital.

Addressing a session, "Tourism: A Driver of Indian Economy", Khaire said "the strong support from the government on the tourism industry front through investments and the Incredible India campaign attracting more than 750 million in the hospitality and tourism sector were definitely signs of growth that need to be nurtured".

A research note by the auditing and consulting firm Deloitte Touche observes that the sector is expected to generate around USD 42.8 billion (nearly Rs.1,897.7 billion) by 2017.

The ministry of tourism figures suggest that foreign tourist arrival (FTA) is expected to grow to 10 million by 2010-12 while volume of domestic tourism is expected to increase by 15 percent to 20 percent over the next five years.

Estimates say domestic tourism translates into 700 million footfall in destinations across the country.