Friday, July 5, 2013

Strategy for Indian Tourism: Need for a Paradigm Shift

The growth of a nation as an economic power is dependent on all sectors of the economy, including agriculture, industry and services. Amongst the services, tourism is an important sector that distributes domestic earnings, generates employment, gives fillip to traditional arts and crafts and connects India to the rest of the world. Despite the mystique and awe that surrounds India, tourism in India is still a minor economic sector. The annual tourist arrivals figure of about 6 million is indeed a small number given the burgeoning economy of India, and the increased interest of people from advanced countries in the Indian heritage sites and culture. The Minister for Tourism at the Centre has resolved to make India a hub for global tourism. He has also been making fiscal allocations to boost tourism in specific parts of the country. It is unlikely that such fiscal measures, even if they are meant to strengthen tourism infrastructure, will provide any better thrust than what the previous such measures could achieve.

For tourism in India to be a transformational sector in services, the sector needs some game-changing planning and execution.  A comprehensive and innovative strategic approach, rather than an annual fiscal approach is called for to make a meaningful impact. Such a strategic approach would need to recognize the specific objectives why tourism exists and evolves. Tourism emanates from a man's inner and intrinsic desire to explore and connect with the past and the present, the local and the global and the external environment and internal self. Tourism helps a person achieve peace in solitude or joy in groups. Tourism expands knowledge of various cultures and promotes global integration. For an avid tourist, tourism is a multi-dimension experience which can rejuvenate the body, expand mental awareness, improve cultural sensitivity, achieve familial bonding and enable spiritual fulfillment.These objectives are, however, difficult to achieve in practice unless the development strategy addresses the multi-faceted nature of tourism in totality.

Approaches to tourism

Essentially there are two fundamentally different approaches to developing tourism. These are thematic tourism and holistic tourism. The greatest examples of thematic tourism can be found in the USA with places like Florida, Miami, New York, Colorado,  Las Vegas and Las Angeles getting to specialize one exclusive kind of tourism theme such as beaches, surfing, modernity, mountaineering and casino playing, for example. The thematic tourism is supported by the development of massive infrastructure around the themes in each such dedicated hub to attract tourists in droves. Holistic tourism, on the other hand, provides a spectrum of tourism opportunities ranging from religion to modernity and from heritage to futurism based on natural and historical evolution of a country. Japan and certain European nations are prime examples of holistic tourism. Holistic tourism also requires world-class development and maintenance of the past, current and future infrastructure.

The advantage of thematic tourism is that the themes become not only the central attractions for tourists but also the core competence for tourism managers to establish new infrastructure and also expand constantly to find new frontiers in the themes. Las Vegas has, for example, supplemented its downtown casinos and entertainment districts with ultra-luxury thematic hotels in the Strip, each with computerized casinos, malls and multiple shows. As a result, Las Vegas has become the tourism hub for an eclectic mix of gambling and elegance. The disadvantage of thematic tourism, however, is that the tourist foot-falls tend to get narrowed. The advantage of holistic tourism is that it builds on an existing and evolutionary tourism map and would appeal to the full spectrum of population. By its very nature, holistic tourism makes it difficult for tourists to seek thematic satiationbut provides a total fulfillment.The disadvantage is that development tends to be limited by a historical base and core thematic competencies are not well developed in terms of either the infrastructure or service capability.

Indian conundrum
Indian tourism has all the potential of both thematic tourism and holistic tourism as defined above. India's Himalayas and the Kashmir valley offered enduring themes but also provided holistic experiences. Himalayas, in particular, provide a holistic combination of sublime nature, tough mountaineering, religious spirituality and yogic rejuvenation. The performance of the tourism sector has, however, failed to live up to the promise. Inadequate maintenance of the established infrastructure coupled with lack of additions for expansive holistic approach has led to near stagnation in the Indian tourism sector. The efforts of the Indian Railways or the large multi-tier hotel chains such as Taj and ITC have enhanced comfortable connectivity and stay options but have not helped to develop the basic tourism core. Kerala as a state has been innovative in positioning itself as the Ayurvedic Spa set in sylvan backwaters but probably could do much more on that score.

The challenge India faces in addressing the woes of its tourism sector are both mindset and investment related. The first challenge of mindset is one of lack of appreciation of the two fundamental approaches that need to be taken to take Indian tourism onto global visibility. There have been no strategic plans to promote thematic tourism and/or holistic tourism. The second challenge is the low priority of tourism investments by both public and private players, including foreign investors, on tourism infrastructure. The Indian governments, central and state, have tended to provide green field land to special economic zones rather than to new tourism zones. The foreign investors have been more proactive in terms of other service sectors like retail rather than tourism. It is time that these self-imposed restraints and challenges are ignored and an innovative and a bold new tourism strategy is put in place.

Indian advantage

Clearly, India has an advantage in terms of creating a new tourism experience combining both thematic and holistic experiences. With its rich tapestry of religion, temples, historical relics, arts, crafts, forests, hills and mountains, rivers, valleys and seacoasts as well as relatively moderate temperature differentials for most part of the year, India can offer a pan-India tourism experience all through the year. Amongst thematic experiences, religious tourism, spiritual tourism, cinema tourism, wellness tourism and nature tourism would rank high. Cross-country high-speed safe transport operations are the key to realizing this potential. The huge tragedy caused by failure of infrastructure under torrential rains in Uttarkhand is a grim reminder of how vulnerable could the Indian religious tourism segment be. Clearly, huge investments have to be committed to strengthen the safety of the tourists and population in general.

The second strategy would be to create new cities of thematic tourism in appropriate regions of the country on a green field basis. These could be India's hollywood, disney land, yoga and meditation city, ayurvedic spa and so on. Each city will need to be a 25 to 100 square metre project set up on a greenfield basis with world class facilities. Ramoji Filmcity in Hyderabad has been an equivalent of a hollywood studio and could be developed further. Another theme could be a yoga city which houses all the myriad Indian yoga and meditation streams. Wellness city could house all the reputed Indian hospital chains. Each such investment would require the governments to provide such vast expanses of land free of cash payment but in return for equity in a new public-private partnership mode. Given the right policy environment, this would also take the shape of foreign theme developers creating replicas in India as they have done in other nations, more notably Disneyland.  

Creation of new theme cities does not mean conversion of Mumbai into Shanghai or Chennai into Detroit. Those industrial and economic evolutionary developments must occur through normal economic development. New theme cities must aim at recreating Indian ethos. The current project, driven by Professor Amartya Sen and supported by the Governmnts of India and Bihar, to recreate the hoary tradition of Nalanda, the famous ancient seat of learning in India is a perfect example of doing something uniquely Indian. There must be themes woven around our ancient treasures of vedas, epics, dance and music forms, and art and craft forms as well as recent novelties of bollywood and folk entertainment. As an example, if Kuchipudi the village of the dance form of Andhra Pradesh is developed into a dance theme city it could constitute a typical Indian tourism advancement.There are hundreds of such thematic developments that can be planned and executed in India.  

Tourism mindset

For India to become a global tourist hub, a new thrust has paradoxically to be through domestic tourism. Indians need to treat vacations as occasions for rejuvenation of the mind and the body. Despite the rigors and hastles of planning and executing a fulfilling vacation, which range from securing off-time from work to securing reservation slots for chosen vacation spots, vacations can be an essential part of work-life balance. In advanced countries and regions such as USA, Canada, and Europe vacations are treated as a must-have each year. As a result, vacations, and more particularly theme vacations, have become a boom industry in these countries. Indians and India as a country has not yet made organized vacationing a part of the social and economic life. Indian vacationing habit has to develop alongside the new Indian tourism phenomenon.

The vacation day spirit of the richer Indians has been wafting towards global destinations over the years. If the Indian tourism infrastructure develops as advocated herein, part of the drift would be stopped while a whole new base of domestic travelers will be created. India has so much to offer and experience for the eager traveler that a lifetime is not often sufficient to cover all the tourism spots. By creating theme campuses and cities, probably more in the nature of one-stop cities, the Indian vacationing mindset can be reoriented internally. Las Vegas, for example, could not have been successful without it attracting a huge domestic tourist base. The more the domestic tourism the more would be the base level of services that can be offered to overseas tourists.

Immersive experience

Effective tourism has to be an immersive and integrative experience. Whether the nature is brought into modern structures as in Las Vegas hotels or natural ecosystems are built around modern structures as in Singapre or both nature and modernity are co-developed as in Japan, or untouched natural habitat is explored as in forests, a complete immersive experience is the hallmark of effective tourism. Tourism cannot therefore be the subject matter of one ministry. It requires an inter-ministerial empowered group to plan and execute a total tourism infrastructure. It also requires two nodal agencies; one to drive the inter-ministerial coordination and the other to attract investments and deploy them effectively in public-private partnerships. While the Tourism Corporation of India may be restructured and remandated to be the coordinating nodal agency, duly disinvested for private management participation, a new Tourism Finance Corporation of India (TFCI) is required to be set up. It may be established in public-private partnership with a starting capital of say Rs 1000 crore and with 50 percent each being contributed by the cenral and state governments and 50 percent by private industrial corporations. The TCFI may finance tourism development projects and seek repayments and returns as infrastructure finance corporations do.

Simple as it may sound, tourism is actually a complex and challenging domain. If India has to move up from the current low ranking as the 42nd preferred nation in terms of global tourism preference to a top ranking in line with its move as a top economic power, major strategic and structural initiatives as outlined in the blog post will be called for. The Ministry of Tourism may do well to undertake a comprehensive review of India's tourism potential complete with a study of global tourism practices and technologies and develop a total strategic plan. Initiatives like this will also require passionate and iconoc leadership. Like the Milk Revolution,Telecom Policy initiative and the UID Aadhaar initiative had its successes through leadership (T J Kurien, Sam Pitroda and Nandan Nilekani respectively), Indian tourism would also achieve structural transformation with a leader who is dedicated to taking Indian tourism to global scale. Identification of such a leader should be the first priority for the Union Tourism Minister.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on July 5, 2013


murugan said...

Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

Eco Tourism in India

Unknown said...

I really appreciate it, I will visit whenever I have found the stuff That I have been searching for in all the web for, keep up the great work!
corporate relocation services ghaziabad.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much... your blog is giving very useful knowledge for all.i didn’t have the knowledge in this now i get an idea about this..
thks a lot:-)To know more Read here