Speaking at the Amity International Tourism & Hospitality Conference, to an audience that included hundreds of young students and a number of industry veterans, Tourism Minster Mahesh Sharma touched upon some of the key initiatives undertaken by the MoT to improve tourism and ease of travel in the country. He stressed on the need for skill development at the grassroots to better harness India’s tourism potential.
Tourism Minster Mahesh Sharma noting, in quite a poetic nuance, equated a traveller to a honey-bee, who absorbed the best of cultures, traditions and culinary exploits and passed it on to the next destination. “Tourism does not mean moving from one place to another, one city to another and even one nation to another. When a traveller moves, like a honey-bee, he carries the culture and customs of one place to another,” he said. Striking a comparison between developed and developing economies, he argued that “when looking at tourism in developed and developing countries, maybe it is the economic need that makes a developing country more dependent on tourism.”
Sharing an interesting anecdote, he described his first reaction when he was asked to lead the trio of Civil Aviation, Culture and Tourism ministries. “I asked PM one day about the vision for handing me three ministries of tourism, hospitality and civil aviation, together, when I come from a medical background,” he recalled. Noting that when industry stakeholders spoke at international forums, they did not talk about billions of dollars of foreign reserves that India had, but, instead, talked of the rich Indian heritage and culture, “and India’s rich heritage and culture needs to be passed on to the corners of the world by giving it the wings of tourism and aviation,” he said. “That was the vision behind giving me these three ministries,” he added.
Commenting that the conference was an opportunity to ponder on means of making tourism a pillar of nation’s economy, besides exploring ways of developing tourism and hospitality industry as modes to promote human empowerment, he said “how can we take this industry forward for youth empowerment and employment is the issue that needs to be looked into.”
Mahesh Sharma illustrated his argument by sharing that when he visited Maldives, he saw that agricultural production was almost nil there. “Almost 90 percent of the nation’s economy is dependent on tourism, but they have developed tourism in a big way,” he said.
Reiterating government’s commitment to augment tourism related services, he said that the issue of tourism augmentation was “the need of the time” and “touchy to the heart of our PM Narendra Modi.”
The tourism minister outlined three core pillars essential for development of tourism – cleanliness, security and hospitality. “We are known for our hospitality. We treat our guests with the ethos of ‘Atithi Devo Bhawah’ and that is our strength. We are addressing the issue related to cleanliness by linking it to Prime Minister’s vision of making India clean, making our tourist destinations clean. And he has really created a momentum out of common man’s thought of keeping India and our surroundings clean – Swaccha Bharat Abhiyaan’, clean tourism and monuments, that is our mission,” he said.
He mentioned government’s efforts to improve security and safety of travellers, especially international travellers, noting that the MoT had come out with a toll free centralised number, 1363 – a helpline number available in 12 international languages. “It is the first initiative of the government of India. A Japanese tourist can place queries in Japanese language. It has helped tourists cross the language barrier, giving them a choice. This is the first such initiative anywhere in the world,” he stressed.
Making a mention of the e-visa scheme – a scheme rolled out by the government in early November of 2014 to facilitate easy visa application – he said that the government had extended the facility to 150 out of 193 countries in the world. “Another 35 countries will be added shortly. There is a growth of over 300 percent in international tourist arrival. Let us be proud of saying that!” he said. “The World Economic Forum has ranked India at 52nd spot – a jump of 13 places, in just one year. Our earnings from foreign tourists was `1,23,000 crores and this year it is `1,35,000 crores, giving us a jump of almost 9.86 percent, at a time when the world’s growth has only been about 4.6 percent,” he added.
Batting for India as a nation with immense potential to become the destination by choice for global outbound, he advocated a stronger and more concerted push in this regard. “Our PM has always thought that tourism has the potential to become an economic engine, an employment generator and a carrier of our rich culture and heritage. Whether he talks from the Madison Square or from the ramparts of the Red Fort, he has always mentioned these issues. It is high time to figure out how can we take the modalities of tourism and hospitality and promote them in a big way,” he said. Suggesting a road forward, he noted that India was on its way to becoming the human resource capital for the world in coming years. “We are the largest democracy of the world. We have the youngest population in the world; almost 65 percent of our population is below the age of 35. It is at a time when the world is facing a crisis in this area. Let us make the use of this strength,” he said to a packed gathering.
Mahesh Sharma was of the opinion that youth needed to be empowered with skill development with focussed training in their areas of interest. “To meet the challenges of hospitality and tourism industry, we must look at new ways. Our government is training Dhabawalas on how to even serve a glass of water to the guest. We are looking at imparting basic skills to people like boatmen and priests on how to address international clients,” he said.
In his concluding remarks, he termed Noida a ‘complete destination’, mentioning amidst thunderous applause that path was being laid to construct an international airport near Noida. “Noida is already on the international tourism map. Starting from Akshardham Temple, Bahujan Prerna Park, most beautiful Botanical Garden near the Sector 18 metro station, and going to ISCKON temple and then Shadeed Stambh, there is no dearth of offerings in Noida,” he said. He also mentioned that nation’s maiden night safari was going to be operationalised in Greater Noida.