India needs an Independent Tourism Board. With Teeth

Throughout my career in travel and tourism I have heard the argument that India has not reached its potential on Tourism. Early on, it was about flight seats into the country, the condition of our roads and railways, and the lack of minimum infrastructure and inane visa policies.

In the last decade, however, India has made great strides in these areas. Domestic trips have exploded 10 times since 2020. Yet, the foreign tourist arrivals remain a dismal 10 million or just 5% of our domestic trip numbers, languishing at 34th rank worldwide and growing much slower than competing destinations. In fact, there are several tiny countries out there and city states that receive and manage way more foreign tourists than India.

On every ranking, India is one of the top-rated destinations by quality of monuments, natural biospheres, local culture and arts. In fact, India cannot be covered in one trip. One needs several to cover even the minimum wonders the country offers.

So what’s missing? The answer could be in the way tourism is structured in our country. Our constitution does not provide for tourism except as pilgrimage and this is in the state list. We have a union tourism ministry operated by bureaucrats, who routinely come and go, as and when posted between assignments, and the same goes for the ministers as well.

States have more powers on tourism and each is following their own policy.

Even the various associations are several and narrowly focused on nature of business rather than the experience of the users. The result is a fully fragmented tourism oversight for the country and the complete lack of both power and responsibility with any single organization.

Currently tourism is 5% of GDP and 15% of jobs. It is reasonably one of the least polluting industries and adept at getting this exceptional amount of employment per rupee invested. It can single handedly lift a large chunk of India’s poor from poverty and give them dignity of a career. It can allow people to earn from gigs and make a second income. Most of all, it can give people across the world an insight into India’s mindset and vision for the world and grow our soft power.

It’s a whole new world out there post the pandemic and if India has to reach its potential to be one of the highest recipients of international tourism arrivals, then it may be high time to constitute an independent Tourism Board much like how Invest India was created to promote investment and help businesses navigate the lacunae in our notoriously intertwined system of approvals and local laws.

With blessings from the PMO, such a board would need teeth and revenue to remain
independent and able to meet its objectives without pandering for funds. It could have an advisory board from union ministries, state ministries and various associations like hotels, travel agents, airlines, railways and eminent citizens. But it would have to be run CEO style with a Chief Executive with a clear mandate and a team of technocrats who can get the work done.

This Independent Tourism Board would, among other things, be responsible for:

  • A common national tourism mission where the states have to sign up in order to receive their share of promotions.
  • Accreditation and affiliation to operators of various spokes of tourism from hotels to guides and home stays to transport operators.
  • Mapping the country into 10 major and 30 minor circuits and capturing unique experiences available in each.
  • Identifying infrastructure gaps and highlighting them to various ministries to complete the user experience.
  • Plan, design and execute the international marketing strategy and to pitch relevant products to each source market as per their traveller dynamics and to keep refreshing products from India’s multiple options to keep content and products fresh.
  • Creating a platform for part timers to sign up for gigs including harnessing the power of the huge hobby travel influencer community and giving them opportunity to emerge as curators and guides.
  • Ensuring basic standards of service, sustainability, and hygiene for users and to provide a platform for bad experience escalation that can be enforced by accreditation.
  • Identifying a panel of experts from industry, local governments, architects etc. to be custodians of each circuit identified.
  • Seeking corporate sponsorship of sites that need refurbishment as part of their CSR.
  • Providing an online platform where the whole tourism landscape can be made available on one site and assist potential visitors with the whole travel experience from itinerary planning to actual booking. Artificial Intelligence has a massive role to create efficient itineraries based on Interests, budgets and duration of travel.
  • Retain and earn from all the IPs belonging to the India Tourism mission and offer fee-based accreditation and listing of service providers across the tourism landscape.

The list of possibilities is long and perhaps beyond the word count limit I have, but the point is that it needs to be done and the time is ripe.

India can be a tourism powerhouse and pull a whole generation from overtly poorer sections into the middle class with better standards of living. It can also quite easily generate 10 percent of our GDP and 20-25% of gross national employment and add to the GDP growth rate. It is the lowest hanging fruit available to this country to leverage on its journey towards a developed economy if one is willing to go through the pains of structuring it in a way that it works.


The author is former hotel chain CEO, founder – The Avatar Hotel and co-founder of



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