India needs a National Tourism Mission

There is a growing school of thought that the Indian tourism product is woefully short on new product offerings; in fact, over the years, the entire basket may have become somewhat jaded. This is particularly proving a disincentive for repeat tourists, one segment that can always be attractive for a long haul destination such as India. The flip side is the irony that a country like India can actually fall short of tourism products – one would have imagined there are products in every nook and corner. If so, where is the problem?

MrBerryThe answer perhaps lies in the possibility that our tourism products, literally thousands of them, are getting wasted for lack of ownership, or patronage, or both; they remain unrecognized and unclaimed as part of the tourism process. A hundred odd properties across the country have been salvaged as heritage hotels; but many more have yet to get assimilated. In fact, similar stories are commonplace in other segments, whether it be the numerous museums across India, and so much more – the story is the same. Apart from a few that have joined the mainstream of Indian tourism, most open daily and close at night without any national identity for them, over the years.

What makes our tourism product? One would have thought it would be monuments and our culture. Yes, indeed, they do. But there is so much more of history in our people, our traditions, our natural legacy, our flora and fauna. The entire cast would be unfathomable to most. It is literally a bewildering array across lakes and rivers, fairs and festivals, and now our modern day cities with their nightlife and cuisines. The question is: how does one bring them together under one single movement called tourism. Not patronise them, as such, but to provide some form of nourishment as part and parcel of India’s tourism product offering.  Not only bring them together but give them a united mainstream identity, so that even our countryside gets noticed, sits up and feel proud of being an intrinsic part of the country’s tourism process. This would also require technology, hand-holding and adoption of best practices to make them authentic and yet world class. The broader pursuit should be to give our products seamless connectivity and viability and to create local, regional and national grids with mix and match options which are mostly referred as tourism circuits.

Our belief is that this would give our tourism a new momentum, and our various unattended products a chance of becoming self-sustaining and vibrant vestiges of our overall heritage. All this first for Indians to explore and discover, and then, for our foreign visitors. We are proposing a National Tourism Mission to be formed much like the Telecom Commission (eminently spearheaded by Sam Pitroda in 1980’s) and others, to take stock of the Indian tourism product and to bring it together as a single, seamless experience for everybody to savour and thereby also nurture. Such a Mission would be different from an often suggested National Tourism Board, which would be narrower in scope, more charged with the management of tourism, as a structure. But the National Tourism Mission will go much beyond. It will truly answer the aspirations of every Indian to feel proud of what we have and it will emphasise the Make in India process for our tourism industry. It will address the key challenges like provisioning for viability gap funding for tourism products. The Mission would endeavour to establish the primacy of the product in the tourism process, identify what is truly unique about India in all her manifestations, create iconic experiences wrapped around India’s history and its people, including our poets, freedom fighters, historical figures and regional heroes. Establish linkages with diverse disciplines, drawing tourism into a mainstreamm activity and thereby ensure tourism becomes inclusive. It will possibly also provide an answer for Prime Minister Modi’s vision of where tourism can take India; or where India can take its tourism to!

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