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Monday, April 7, 2014

Need to look beyond!


Monday, 07 April 2014 | Ashwani Lohani | in Oped
Tourism, which has been handled in a slip-shod fashion, needs to emerge as one of the focal sectors of the new dispensation at the Centre
The national perspective on tourism should not remain confined merely to figures of foreign tourist arrivals and the home population moving within the country. Unfortunately the mindset of the sector has been unable to rise above the jugglery of statistics, and therein lies the malaise. Even while remaining confined to statistics, the essential difference between the tourist, who is basically an explorer, and the traveller, who may be moving for many reasons, is not being appreciated, though both form part of the tourism statistics that are regularly being churned out and touted by those who matter in the matter of tourism in the country.
Another fallacy is related to promotional advertising. Our sheer inability to appreciate that the bottleneck in so far as foreign tourist arrivals is concerned, is not the inability to showcase but the excessive load factors on the flights plying between our country and the rest of the world. Advertising has to be primarily driven by Indian ethos, culture and achievements and not merely the number game.
And the third is about infrastructure. The much-needed basic tourist infrastructure is a physical necessity and merely dumping loads of money on hapless State Governments who permit only a trickle to reach the ground, is not going to help. The release of funds needs to be followed by proportionate conversion into hard reality, and without that happening, patting the back is not really in order. Perhaps the emergence of a good monitoring and executing machinery is the need of the hour.
The story of the (in)famous India Tourism Development Corporation says it all. An inherentlyprofitable business brought to seed by inept management is indeed the sad story of India’s tourism. Tourism development is the mandate, yet the corporation finds it difficult even to stand on its own feet and has emerged as perhaps the glaring national example of sloth, inefficiency and corruption. Now, matters seem to have improved. But almost a decade and a half ago, whenever I visited the Ministry of Environment and Forests, I wondered how a ministry that fails to maintain the environment within its headquarters can be expected to do justice to the environment of the country.
There is absolutely no doubt that tourism as an activity almost always happens on its own, without prodding from the Governments, and that it helps local economies to grow at a pace much higher than in other sectors. The employment potential as well as the multiplier effect of tourism have already received adequate hype. Tourism definitely needs to emerge as one of the focal sectors of the new dispensation at the Centre.
Emerge it shall, provided the new Government looks beyond the established clichés and takes necessary steps to enable tourism drive local economies, besides giving a thrust to the re-emergence and positioning of ancient Indian heritage, art, culture and thought.  It would indeed be a futile exercise to look at tourism without looking at all that the country stands for. The sectors encompassing tourism and culture are complimentary and a much higher natural synergy can be achieved by merging, once and for all the two separate ministries.
Tourist offices that earlier formed the backbone of the national effort to give a thrust to tourism need to be revitalised by suitable empowerment and injection of fundamentals of administration and management. The unfortunate state of affairs in which these offices and the men who man them stand castigated only because of the envious environment that foreign postings tend to create, should not be allowed to continue.
The focus on numbers has to go and the emphasis must be on setting the ground in order. Tourism can happen on its own, with timely facilitation by the Centre and State Governments.

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