Secretary Vinod Zutshi, speaking at the 32 annual IATO conference held in Chennai, listed out some of the key initiatives undertaken by the MoT and the government. In a welcome move, the government has given an “in-principle approval” to extending the e-visa facility to 60 days, besides allowing multiple-entry on a single visa. Also, thanks to the e-visa facility, India is set to breach the 9 million inbound mark by the end of the year. Excerpts of his speech.
Speaking at the 32nd annual IATO conference held at Chennai, Tourism Secretary Vinod Zutshi highlighted the gamut of undertakings initiated by the MoT to strengthen travel and tourism in the country. Reminiscing his stint as the Secretary (Tourism) in the government of Rajasthan, he noted that it had taken serious efforts to persuade travel agents for hosting IATO in Jaipur. “It speaks volumes of the importance and the credibility of IATO. The convention offers an opportunity to meet and review the developments in the tourism industry; to look up to new opportunities and to explore how to implement them,” he said.
Re-iterating the government’s commitment of making India a preferred tourism destination, he said that “a number of steps are being undertaken to strengthen and diversify the tourism economy, aimed at positioning India as a global brand and to take advantage of the burgeoning global travel and trade to tap the nation’s vast potential.”
Listing out some key initiatives undertaken in the recent months by the MoT and the government, he noted that the e-visa facility was going to touch a million mark in the current calendar year. “It is phenomenally high; more than double of what we had achieved in the previous year,” he said.
He reassured the agent fraternity of MoT’s commitment of extending the e-visa facility from 30 to 60 days, besides making single-entry visa to a multiple-entry, noting that the matter was under the active consideration of the central government and the Union home minster had given his “in-principle” approval to these demands. “It is, now, just a matter of process and time before these are implemented,” the Secretary shared.
Lack of a concerted media outreach has been one of the Achilles Heel for India in courting international visitors to its shores. The Secretary informed the gathering that the MoT was going to launch a sustained media campaign to plug in this long-standing loophole. He highlighted that “it is perhaps for the first time that the media plan of the government of India and MoT has been shared with the tourism sector. It is aimed at synergizing efforts for launching an aggressive media campaign all over the world.”He further added that diverse media channels, including global channels, country-specific channels, print, electronic and social media were on the radar of the MoT.
The Secretary emphasised that the growth in the tourism sector was needed to be complemented with the growth in related infrastructure. In a bid to expedite injection of infrastructure, the MoT had sanctioned a sum of 3200 crores under Swadesh Darshan, and 500 crores under PRASAD only in the last 18 months, he said. “Just about 3 days ago, we approved projects worth 500 crores for Jammu and Kashmir, and about 1000 crores worth projects under Swadesh Darshan has been approved for the North-eastern region. We have, also, recently approved projects worth 100 crores for the coastal region of Tamil Nadu.”
The Secretary further informed that the MoT begun an Indian Culinary Institute for the first time in India at Tirupati with 30 students in the first batch. “The multi-lingual helpline for tourists is proving to be very useful. We have made some special efforts in the niche area of cruise tourism – where sea and river cruising are in the take-off stage,” he said, indicating a pro-active approach to tackling India’s tourism sector’s woes.
“The ministry of tourism and culture have identified 100 Adarsh (model) monuments all over the country and we are looking at integrated development of these monuments – which also includes World Heritage Sites. We are going to provide all facilities, that are missing after a gap assessment, including Wi-Fi at these places,” he further detailed.
He said that a number of MoUs and bilateral agreements with various countries had been inked – which included MoUs with countries like Egypt, UAE, Cambodia, Maldives and Qatar. “We have had joint-working groups which Sri Lanka, SAARC nations and Cambodia in the last two months,” he said. “All the MoUs and bilateral agreements signed between India and the other country have a distinct clause that ensures that not only the government officials, but organisations and travel-trade fraternity of the two nations, too, would meet with each other,” he added.
Stressing that the government was keen on implementing new ideas, he expressed hope that the IATO convention would usher in some innovative steps for the government to look into. “I look forward to get the final report of the Chennai declaration of IATO,” he said.
Taking stock of the larger picture of travel and travel, he said that the sector was doing well and the statistics available for the current year bolstered the argument. Conceding that 2015 was bit of a slump, when looking at overall numbers, he pointed out that the growth in 2016 was looking up. “The growth this year, in the first six months, has been 10.2%. Domestic tourism is rising at a rate of 15%. Foreign exchange earnings, too, is growing at 15%, compared to 12% in the previous year,” he said.
Delving further into statistical data, the Secretary shared that the total international inbound was slated to hit the 9 million mark by the end of the year. “Our forex earnings are pegged at 1.55 lakh crores, as compared to 1.25 lakh crores in 2015. India stands 40th in tourist arrivals, but we are 14th in total foreign exchange earnings. Air traffic is increasing at a rate of more than 20% and medical tourism is growing at more than 24%,” the Secretary informed.
He also highlighted that steps were being taken to augment religious tourism. “In the realm of religious tourism, we are promoting Buddha trail and circuit. We are going to have a conclave in two weeks’ time which is expected to be inaugurated by the Hon’ble PM himself,” he shared.