MoT to chair taskforce on connectivity; to rope in railways, NH and aviation, says Zutshi

The government has constituted a taskforce to be chaired by Secretary (tourism), involving ministry of civil aviation, Nation Highways and ministry of railways. The concerted push is aimed at creating better linkages between tourist destinations, improving ‘ease of travel’ and seamless connectivity. 

Vinod ZutshiVinod Zutshi was of the opinion that tourism in the country was undergoing a paradigm shift, and the role of tourism in the economy of the country, not just in India but world over, was increasingly becoming phenomenal. Advocating viewing tourism as an inclusive and encompassing engine of economic growth, and an employment generator and a contributor to the GDP, he said that it was an irrefutable reality that its role was changing. However, the nation and the larger tourism fraternity was yet to acknowledge it. “I will be more candid and frank, at all levels, whether at the level of ministry, level of travel and trade, or at the level of hospitality, we all have been focussed more on the demand side. Our focus has been on increasing inflow which, of course, is one of the primary objectives of the tourism industry,” he said.  

Pointing out the anomaly of not putting adequate focus on the supply-chain, which was also termed as investment potential in tourism, he said that there had not really been commensurate efforts put in on the demand side. “We will have to find a match between supply and demand. If there is a mismatch, it will affect the carrying capacity. Let us not forget that in terms of quantity and demand, we are doing pretty well. Nine percent growth in FTAs, compared 4.5 percent growth, globally, and fifteen percent growth in the domestic sector is actually putting a lot of burden on India’s available carrying capacity. And that burden will have an impact on the infrastructure,” he explained the linkage between creating enough capacity in accommodating burgeoning numbers.  

Noting that India needed to gallop to even cope with the existing demand gap, the secretary said that the gap referred to infrastructure and it could be of varied types. “It could be related to hotels, roads, airline connectivity, and many more things. That gap assessment needs to be done. And filling up the void will take concerted efforts from diverse stakeholders of the tourism industry,” he mooted. 

Comparing India’s infra with existing infra, world over, he noted that India had a fair distance to travel. “You have examples of cities, internationally, getting more tourists than India as a country put together,” he said, referring to some of the more successful tourist cities and destinations. 

Reiterating the role of tourism in generating employment, he shared that as per the records at disposal with the ministry of tourism, travel and tourism accounted for over 12.36 percent of all jobs generated in the country. As he compared tourism’s contribution to GDP which stood at 6.88 percent, he reflected on the fact the GDP output remained far below than the percentage of people employed, indicating that the productivity levels of people engaged in this sector was low. “There is no doubt about the fact that tourism is a low-value industry, but with concerted efforts from, both, the government and private sector, this void can be filled,” he said.   

Examining key areas that needed maximum attention, irrespective of government or private sector investment, the secretary noted that India’s immediate priority was to create adequate core infrastructure. Arguing that accessibility to destinations for tourists depended on wholesome development of infrastructure – which included road, rail, airports and waterways – Vinod Zutshi said that India hadn’t yet acquired the level where in it could claim to have world-class infrastructure in its midst.

Suggesting a way forward, he advocated construction of new airports while reviving existing ones. “We need to build swanky new terminals and revive air-strips that are already in existence. Both, in the last budget announcement and the recently unveiled civil aviation policy, there is a scheme for revival of fifty air-strips.  The ministry of civil aviation has been requested by the MoT to involve us in shortlisting the first batch of 50 air-strips that are slated for a revamp,” he detailed. 

He elaborated on efforts put in by the ministry railways and MoT, together, for upgradation of 24 railway stations, stating that MoT had taken up 24 railway stations where in it intended to bring in the best of passenger amenities. “Whether it is restrooms or executive lounges, or bringing in tourist coaches in some of the major tourist destinations, we intend to go all out. Tourist coaches will be financed by, both, ministry of railways and MoT” he added. 

On the road infrastructure front, he shared that MoT had recently met the secretary of National Highways and raised the issue of lack of quality signage on key roads. Vinod Zutshi pressed on the need for connecting major destinations, sharing that MoT was planning on pushing for a list of destinations wherein it hoped that NH authority would come up projects, linking those destinations on priority. 

“On the waterways front, our focus is equally on inland tourism and sea-cruises. We have done a lot on that front in the last six months. Starting from bringing in a new standard operating procedure -which has reduced harassment of cruiseliners – to the level of starting new cruise services from Mumbai to Maldives. We have been to cater to the biggest commercial cruiseliner having a port of call in Kochi,” he said, giving a well-rounded view of infra-related development on the waterways front. 

 Taking note of government’s key tourism initiatives, secretary mentioned that the government had spent over Rs. 2,500 crores in the last one year on investments in various circuits, under two flagship schemes of ‘Swadesh Darshan’ and PRASAD. Further sharing that MoT was working on a new Coastal Circuit which was likely to instil a new vigour into India’s offerings, he said “Revival of destinations and beaches that are lying unutilized will be done on priority basis and made destinations out of.”  

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