Incredible setback

The observation of a parliamentary standing committee that tourist arrivals in India have been steadily falling in the last three years should prompt governments to take corrective measures.

The committee found that the growth rate of tourist arrivals has fallen from 11.8 per cent in 2010 to 2.6 per cent till June 2013. The arrivals in the second half of 2013 would not have altered the picture substantially. The intervening period had also seen lower and lower growth rates. Foreign exchange earnings from the industry have also accordingly seen a substantial decline. This is when the tourism ministry had ambitious plans to double the tourist inflow in four years from 2011. The trend shows that the target will almost certainly not be achieved. There are even chances of stagnation or negative growth.

The main reasons cited by the committee for the falling growth rates are concerns over the safety of foreigners, lack of human and physical infrastructure to support greater inflow, shortage of funds for investment in the sector and lack of efforts to promote tourism. All these have contributed in different ways to the loss of momentum of the industry. The period of decline coincided with the slowdown of the economy and the  increasing number of cases of attacks on women in the country. There were some instances of attacks on tourists also.

Some countries issued advisories which cautioned foreigners against travelling to India. Some states have set up ‘tourist police’ to ensure the safety of tourists but this may not help to remove all concerns and apprehensions. The general law and order situation in a country is an important consideration for tourists, as Thailand has seen in the last few months. India will have to do much more to convince prospective tourists that they will be safe in the country.

Much more investment is also necessary to create more accommodation, improve transport facilities and to expand the pool of trained personnel who service the needs of tourists. While allocations have been insufficient, it is unfortunate that even the available funds have been found to be unused or underutilised. That only shows a lack of initiative and sincerity on the part of government agencies. The private sector has also not realised the full potential of the industry. It is considered to be the sector which creates the maximum number of jobs per unit of investment. More credible and effective steps are needed to make Incredible India more appealing.

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