Monday, November 14, 2011

Where are all the visitors ( to India) ?

Where are all the visitors?

KANTI BAJPAI Nov 12, 2011, 12.00AM IST. Times of Inida

Shanghai today has more hotel rooms than all of India combined. It used to be said, a few years ago, that Bangkokhad more rooms than all of India combined. Perhaps India has moved up in the world a bit. In any case, what a couple of melancholy statistics.

Here are some more statistics. While tourist arrivals in India continue to grow (last year was about 8%) and so do revenues from tourism, India hosted only 5.5 million tourists in 2010 and earned a fairly modest $14 billion from them. This accounted for less than 1% of international tourism and less than 2% of global tourism earnings!

To understand the context, let us remember that India is the seventh largest landmass in the world, has the second largest population, and is perhaps the fourth largest economy. China, our peer, got 55 million tourists and earned $45 billion in revenue (some think much more). India ranked 40 {+t} {+h} globally in tourist arrivals and 11 {+t} {+h} in the Asia Pacific (China ranked third and first, respectively). Ahead of us? Titans such as Singapore, Macau,Hong Kong, Malaysia, Bulgaria, Romania, the UAE, Syria, Tunisia and Morocco.

But perhaps tourism does not matter too much to our economy. Not so. Tourism is India's third largest foreign exchange earner, amounting to over 2% of our GDP. That is a solid contribution to our national wealth, but it could be much bigger. Estimates suggest that tourism numbers for India could be vastly bigger. It is not just a matter of foreign exchange earnings. Tourism generates employment, in the service sector but also in manufacturing, food and crafts.

Why do we do so badly in global tourism?

Let's begin with visas. Try to get a tourist visa from an Indian mission. Some embassies are efficient and helpful, but on the whole if you are a foreigner trying to come to India, you will weep before you arrive on our lovely shores. Indian friends say that this serves the foreigners right because so many of them make us Indian visa-seekers miserable. But two wrongs don't add up to a right, and it is simply not in our national interest to be so horrible about the visa process.

Then there is the infrastructure. It is not just that our roads, buses, taxis, trains, airports and air services are so appalling (one trip to China will show what can be done in a generation). It is our tourist software. Tourists need good signage on the roads to tell them where they are. They need good city maps. They want friendly information booths. They need places to exchange money.

If you get past these problems, there is the horrendous state of health and sanitation. For a people obsessed with personal and household cleanliness, we have the filthiest public spaces. You can get all the vaccinations and inoculations you want, but are you protected from diarrhoea, dysentery and dengue? Travellers can put up with all of these and do, especially on a long trip, but, on a short trip, India is a health minefield.

We are terribly angry in India these days about corruption and cheating. So are the foreign tourists roaming our fair land, who encounter both in less consequential ways, to be sure, but who deal with it constantly and annoyingly - from the taxi on arrival to the taxi that takes them to the airport as they exit.

In sum, travelling in India is more hard work than holiday.

In a globalising and integrating world, our attitude to tourism is grudging, complacent and unimaginative. Many regard tourism as something frivolous and unworthy of serious policy concern. We are convinced that India is intrinsically attractive and that tourism will take care of itself. There are even those who see tourism as dangerous. Encouraging tourism, i have heard it said, means that terrorists will have easy entry, that India's pristine culture will be debased, its economy distorted by foreign spending, and its environment spoiled by the terrible consuming ways of irresponsible foreigners.

Tourism is a money-spinner. It wins you friends and admirers. In a competitive world, these are vital assets.

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