Policies for tourism and civil aviation need synergy

What does travel and tourism look like in the year ahead? The Indian economy will continue to grow, the only question is by how much. But grow it will, and remain among the bright spots on the world stage. So will travel and tourism grow, and so will the buying power of the Indian traveller. You can expect more Indians to travel, both within the country and also overseas. We expect oil prices to remain subdued and therefore attractive airfares will continue largely within the domestic ambit, but also possibly to close neighbouring destinations. Domestic travel and also tourism will both grow impressively. Given present conditions, we will have to wait and watch if we cross 100 million mark for air travel domestically in the calendar year!

There is better appreciation of the volume business, steered by the OTAs in the country. We expect their share of the overall business to grow. Mobile applications will become more standard for bookings. Customers will book more online for both air tickets as well as hotel rooms. Not too many new hotels are expected to open in most key markets and therefore supply will remain muted. Hospitality revenues should improve upon better occupancies, and possibly even slightly better rates. Expect more numbers but not necessarily equally better rates.

Policy will remain an issue for both tourism and civil aviation. Both are yet to be finally adopted and announced. Do these adequately, in their present forms, represent a big enough departure from present conditions to give these industries their desired leap in time and space? Will these become paradigm shifts to bring about a quantum leap? The irony is that one depends upon the other – growth for aviation and tourism is intrinsically and mutually inter-dependent – and perhaps the two need to view each other’s concerns more holistically.

Inbound tourism is becoming an issue of national concern and only recently a few voices have begun to be heard, complaining on the inactivity gripping the planners. We have for long felt that foreign tourism was being given short shrift in view of the many uncertainties at ground level, and domestic tourism being viewed as more certain, less vulnerable, and in many cases as more profitable. Nation-wide, it is possibly correct to estimate that Indians may now be around 75-80% of the overall Indian business. Should our tourism policy therefore just look at foreign tourists at the creamy layer level?

On the infra front, there are big ticket developments underway with regard to roads, highways and waterways. What we need as a goal for 2016 to see accomplished on the ground five circuits and five model destinations. We have been talking both these goals for last many years. How can we identify just five circuits that are doable, desirable and will comprehensively fulfil inclusive aspirations. These must also introduce new attractions and new tourism products for both domestic as well as international consumption. There are a few thousand unique Indian offerings waiting to be recognised and given their due importance – how can these become part of a larger bouquet of products. This would be our ‘Make in India’ and ‘Start-up India’ for the world.

Let us hope 2016 is the year of action.

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