Need to Develop New Destinations across India: Puneet Chhatwal

HAI President Puneet Chhatwal, in his inaugural speech reiterated the role of tourism in nation building.

The theme of our conclave is an ideal fit for an aspirational India – the engine of GDP growth and employment. When we last met, the atmosphere was one of expectations. And at the same time of some uncertainties. We meet today with the satisfaction of a year behind us, in which the industry showed remarkable journey of resilience to the path of unprecedented growth, hopefully also sustainable in the years to come. Today we gather here, as always, to share experiences, exchange ideas, and drive innovations at the same time. It is an opportunity to analyze the challenges and deliberate on how to align ourselves not only to stay relevant, but how we stay fit in a fast-changing world and position our sector in the rightful place where it belongs. We have all been making an effort, and in many ways, we have succeeded in many ways.

There is a lot, lot, lot that needs to be done. Almost 18 months ago, I had also authored an article which said hospitality is in its ‘AmritKaal’ and the last 18 months have demonstrated that to a great extent. This coupled with a confident nation marching on strong economic performance is aiming at the GDP growth of 5 trillion. And last year I heard the chief economic advisor say 7 trillion in 7 years. So, 2030 would be that number of 7 trillion.

The theme of the conclave is an introspection on what role the industry can play in making the country achieve this objective. The role of tourism, that it is a pillar of development, creates about 10% of total employment, contributes 8% to GDP, and with a huge multiplier effect can help inclusive growth.

All these points are very well known, but these need reiterating, continuous repeating because unfortunately, there is often a gap between this realization and the actual policy implementation. I had earlier advocated that the unlocking of India’s immense tourism potential requires a strategy that addresses the six key Ps – planning, place, people, policy, process, and promotion. Hope is not a strategy. Of course, hope is not a strategy. However, recent developments give much scope for hope. The Prime Minister has often referred to tourism and hospitality as an important pillar of development. The last two years’ budget presentations did see tourism featured and mentioned either as a direct or as an indirect beneficiary. The indirect benefit of the government spend in infrastructure has created huge potential for our sector to grow. The kind of investment that has gone into road infrastructure and others that is fostering travel, and that is in return fostering stays in hotels.

It is important that a collaborative approach is taken so that we can develop in a mission mode with focus on convergence, PPP, creativity, innovation, digitization, and destination development. Ministry of Tourism has also shared the vision of a hundred million tourist arrivals by 2047. This goal is to be seen in conjunction with the booming domestic tourism, both globally in all countries as well as in India. And this domestic tourism, has helped us sustain during our worst crisis and has equally boosted the revival thereafter. In our executive committee of HAI, we have had really two main issues, but I come to the first, which we just added at the CII tourism committee level that needs attention.

So, there are three really priority issues.

First, a stronger drive on international tourist arrivals. Now we are not having a tourism conclave. We’re having a hotel association conclave, but we can’t do without each other. And our friends in the tourism sector, in the inbound sector are suffering. We are very, very much behind the pre covid levels. The rate of increase of foreign arrivals in India has really been sluggish. The G20 meetings created the groundwork for projecting India in the prime source markets. We feel this advantage should be carried forward by aggressive marketing, and the recent slash in marketing budgets is not in sync with the strategy of attracting more people. We need the help, the blessings, the support of campaigns beyond the ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ to Incredible India, created by our distinguished guest or marketing campaigns like God’s Own Country.

Number 2, is our drive for hospitality sector to be granted full infrastructure status at the centre level. I have just not understood what is such a difficult thing in just doing that. Almost 12 years ago, certain limitations were imposed and this would be just in sync with the government’s effort in investment in infrastructure.

The projected national tourism growth, both domestic and foreign, will require huge coordinated developments in infrastructure, particularly accommodation. A recent report says that a record 14,000 rooms were added in 2023. This year, another 23,000 rooms are expected to be added. While these are welcome developments, they will definitely not be able to bridge the demand supply gap. As we all know, supply is not increasing at the same rate as the demand is, which is very good. That has driven occupancies, that has driven rates, but that’s a short-term thing. Over longer term, if we are all a part of a larger pie, it’ll help us in our sustainable profitable growth. The infrastructure status for hospitality sector can undoubtedly push greater investments not only to create accommodation, but also in the process boost income and employment generation.

Third, which is the third key point. We have never asked for any kind of money. We never asked for financial aid. Even in the worst of our times is just the positioning, and that is at the state level to get industry status. The government is aware of the urgent need to professionally develop new destinations. It’ll disperse load from the already overcrowded unsustainable destinations, as well as distribute the benefits of tourism widely. Destination development is primarily the responsibility of the states. The travel and tourism industry can fill up many of the components of the destination development if, again, the benefits allowed to the industry are also extended to them. HAI has been in touch with the states to highlight the benefits of such a policy and is extremely happy that some states have taken policy decisions. We shall continue to pursue in larger interests of tourism and hope that more states will follow, and that the implementation of the policy will be meaningful.

Now, our introspection will not be complete unless we discuss the challenges we face and the opportunities we can seize. The greatest challenge, a stark lesson from the pandemic is of sustainability of which climate change is a part in the context of our operations. We see sustainability as being aware of the challenge, being alive to the small things that in daily operations can make a change and being committed to do one’s bit. We feel proud to say that HAI members have always shown the way, in recycling water, electricity, conservation, sewage and wastage management, use of plastic housekeeping operations, and so on and on. But sustainability is not a static concept. It is set that business and hospitality in industries transformative role must be resilient in its operations, regenerative and resource management, and synthesized with the responsible and restorative principles of what is now called the circular economy. There is much scope for collaborative action with the government facilitating and incentivizing sustainable practices.

The other inescapable challenge is of technology, which has revolutionized travel and tourism industry. Fast changing technology, each new one, compounding the speed and capability of the ones that came before, provide challenge of adoption, as well as adaption. Technology also offers immense, immense opportunities of efficiency in operations, reductions in cost, strong personalized service and consumer interface, and the bottom line of profitability. Already, digital concierge has become the in thing.

In the coming days. I can foresee three challenges before the industry and the government related to technology. First, how to widen and intensify the beneficial reach of technology across all segments of the industry. Second, how to create enabling capacity for this wider group. And third, how to guard against the misuse of this power. This is really not only for our sector, it’s getting difficult for all sectors.

HAI will continue to be the face and voice of the industry, building strong collaborative partnerships with the government, networking with other industry bodies for common good and being industry’s interface with the people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *