E-visa a success, but poor infrastructure a hurdle
Going by the information released by the tourism ministry, the e-visa scheme seems to be a hit with international tourists. According to official records, over 4.45 lakh tourists arrived in India last year through the online visa scheme alone, registering a growth of 1040.4% as compared to 2014. The most tourists were from the UK, followed by those from the United States and Russia.
The maximum number of foreign tourists (36.23%) arrived through the Delhi airport, followed by 21.90% arrivals at the Mumbai airport and 16.54% at the Goa airport.
The considerable increase in foreign tourist arrivals is attributed to the fact that the number of countries eligible for the e-visa was increased to 113 in November 2014 as against 40 countries earlier. Applying for a visa online is easier for foreign visitors and requires less time.
However, tourists availing of the e-visa facility at present are only a small fraction of the total number of international tourists coming to India. For example, while the total number of foreign tourist arrivals in 2015 was around 7 million, those who arrived by applying for an e-visa were just 4.45 lakhs, barely 6% of the total foreign tourists.
Failure to boost Indian tourism is an opportunity lost
Like in the rest of the world, tourism is an industry with a vast potential for bringing in revenue and creating job opportunities. In India, the tourism industry is the largest service industry accounting for over 6% of the national GDP and around 9% of the total employment in India. But if the tourism industry were to achieve its full potential these figures could have been much higher.
If we consider India’s rich potential as a fascinating tourism destination, it is truly a matter of shame that even a single city like say New York (or even Hong Kong) attracts more foreign tourists a year than a large country like ours. Our figure of 7 to 8 million foreign tourists a year seems puny when you see that smaller Asian countries like Thailand and Malaysia are attracting three to four times this number. Even Bulgaria, a small East European country that’s just one-third the size of Maharashtra draws more foreign tourists than India. As for China, it draws around 55-60 million foreign tourists annually, being ranked third in the world after the US and France!
Advertisements on TV and on brightly painted buses tell us that India is an incredible country. But apparently, international tourists don’t think it is, as a mere 0.6% of the total world tourists come to India. And what’s keeping them away is not a mystery. What’s holding Indian tourism back is our refusal to accept the harsh truth that there are many things here that are a nightmare for tourists.
Our own domestic tourists came out with some interesting answers in a recently conducted survey when asked about what hassles they have to face while travelling in the country. “Give us more public toilets along highways and around tourist hubs” was their number 1 demand! Yes, something as basic as that.
Why Indian tourism is lagging behind
Our biggest problem is inadequate infrastructure. Every segment of the tourism industry, whether it is airports, trains, road transport, or hotel accommodation, is lacking in infrastructure.
We need more budget hotels, better and cleaner roads, better connectivity to popular tourist places, better public amenities like clean and hygienic toilets, clean public spaces and better garbage clearance, better enforcement of the law, and more security for women. These are the major hurdles we have to overcome if we want to bring in more tourists.
Recently, Aamir Khan’s services as the brand ambassador of Incredible India were discontinued, apparently because some statement he made about intolerance is giving India a bad name and turning away tourists. But when you see the ground reality in Incredible India, it is so clear that such actions are akin to shooting the messenger.
When will we open our eyes and acknowledge the elephants in the room? When will we acknowledge the real reasons why we’re lagging behind even Bulgaria? When will we see the huge, real obstacles blocking the path of international and domestic tourists who want to travel around India? In fact, just tackling the infrastructure problem would give a tremendous boost to our tourism industry.
While initiatives like the introduction of the e-visa for increasing foreign tourist arrivals are commendable, trying to attract more tourists without having adequate infrastructure in place is like putting the cart before the horse.
By Veena Patwardhan