The Visitor Economy, or just Travel and Tourism Connect

The time for disruption is here! That what we call ‘tourism’ can acquire a bigger picture, wherein the travel manifestations of all hues can get absorbed. Not just leisure, but the entire gamut! This will mean a new narrative for an industry that is increasingly becoming broader based, for all reasons and all seasons.

The Contradiction between Travel and Tourism

UNWTO’s definition of tourism is travelling for all reasons, regardless of purpose. Most countries, especially in the developing world, are yet unable to distinguish between travel and tourism. In India, we believe the big picture is travel, while tourism is leisure and sair sapatta, tourism is still not an accepted word for serious economic discourse. Travel has the bigger acceptance.

Hotels have a stigma attached to them as possible dens of the good life, where liquor flows and western culture is propagated. This, too, is changing at least within India. Hotels are fast being accepted as important and essential components of business and commerce travel, becoming more and more critical now, witness the recent successes of G20 summit!

From where tourism has emerged, in the last few decades, tourism was indeed a five-star activity, and pilgrimages for example were not associated with tourism. These were different activities. Hotels were essentially a five-star phenomenon and meant for the foreigner!  Tourism in evolved economies is accepted, where it is a state of development wherein travel economies and local economies have merged to acquire the same standard. Not so in the developing world, where locals are still unable to cherish this same standard of living. There is a glaring gap between the two, where islands of affluence can be seen amidst relative poverty. Much is changing, fortunately, as locals realise the buying power of these ‘islands’ which give them new opportunities for jobs and growth.

Travel is still the bigger discourse. It is the bigger picture that encompasses the entire gamut of the visitor economy. It Is not just air travel, but all transport, connectivity is the big business. Oganisations like the WTTC saw through this enigma, between travel and tourism, preferred to take the names of both travel and tourism to its title. In India, an event like SATTE took the same route almost 30 years ago, taking South Asia Travel and Tourism Exchange as its name.

Events like G20 bring additional heft to our destination

So, while travel is important as it opens up the economy, tourism is still a less important subject, so it would appear. But in a manner of speaking, every traveller becomes a tourist. But in India we have known senior leaders like the late PRS Oberoi and others like in a recent CAPA report, mention that out of India’s inbound 10 million plus, only half or one third or even one fourth is tourists, the rest are ‘others’.

This ‘others’ is interesting and can vary from country to country. In China’s case, their inbound is possibly half of their own origin incoming from as close as Hong Kong or for that matter from the US. In India’s case, ‘others’ considering our relatively smaller incoming number, could be VFR who do not use any of our basic infrastructure as they have a home in India. They just come home. It is important to know how many are which category. A large component could be foreign delegations, and in recent times, there have been many. Last year, with over 200 meetings scheduled under G20, this number grew phenomenally. One reason we must know is to understand the productivity of our promotional programmes. If we are spending millions in promotions and getting only a larger subset of VFRs, or government delegations, we don’t need to spend any money at all.

To get to the bottom of the picture, or to embrace the bigger picture, should we adopt ‘Travel and Tourism’, or T&T, as the new nomenclature for our industry?

We have not been Accepted as an Important Economic Activity. Do we Need to have a Second Look at our Narrative?

The industry’s data that is shared to express the importance of tourism are severely doubted. Possibly, there may be a feeling that sair sapatta cannot be all that important, so we don’t even want to evaluate them seriously. Is it a coincidence that most of our Ministers, when in office in tourism, express such overwhelming solidarity with tourism, but rarely speak of its importance when they have moved to other assignments within the same government?

Our Present Day Story. A New Narative under a New Name! A New Research that Gives us Fresh Clout as an Industry

Are the present-day summing statements on relevance and importance of tourism getting outdated? Are they losing steam? Are they in need to be refreshed? Tourism 2.0, to begin with, gets a new name in T&T or as VE. Therefore, we need a new assessment on how this larger narrative is transforming our cities, why it needs a holding hand, to grow this business in a structured and holistic manner.

Possibly, we pick up 50/100 cities, ranging from top 6 metro cities, to numerous tier 2 and tier 3. Some that have been around for ages on the tourism map, others coming up now as our infrastructure expands, and new airports and connectivity bring them into new focus. We pick a mix of heritage cities, pilgrim towns (Varanasi and Ujjain), education (Mangalore and Pune), medical, pure business or industrial, and of course, some with pure leisure appeal (Goa is prime).

Under each city or town, we look at how its entry points (air, rail, road, others) have impacted employment, investments and growth. We look at every other element of the city VE – its monuments, its industrial hubs, gaming centres, nightclubs, etc.  The emphasis is upon how by giving further sharp focus on the demands of VE, we will help locals live more happily and in harmony with the world around them.

If we adopt T&T as the Big Picture, then its verticals will flow automatically. Each, a very important pillar of the whole. There would be demand side and a supply side. The demand will come from Business Travel, MICE, Weddings, Experiential Travel, Leisure, Education, Medical, and so many others. The Supply side will essentially be the infrastructure and include roads, airlines and airports, hotels of all categories. Facilities will span out as per needs of destinations. Highway amenities will then get prioritised.

This could Eliminate Thinking in ‘Silos’ Mode!

Right across our national perspective, at the national or the state levels, government and industry work in silos, ensuring the importance of their turf. In many cases, these turf wars can get serious, with zealous guarding of their territories. To say tourism can take care of our heritage or that it is national highways is encroaching upon other ministries. T&T is a multi-sectoral activity, but much of it has been outside of its purview. ‘Tourism’, in its present-day avatar, has been viewed as a toothless tiger.  By adopting T&T, we can deliver on much of this. Our turf, as VE, becomes a much wider gamut which it actually is. But not recognised.

T&T or TE must capture the present priority is pride in all things Indian, our heritage, our folklore, our sense of uniqueness as a civilisation. It must capture it by first accepting it, embracing it and promoting it.

For instance, new experiential travel into the hinterland for great discoveries of our flora and fauna, our small little pockets of tucked away heritage, across the length and breadth of the country – there are hidden nuggets almost everywhere. Slowly we are bringing them alive with homestays and road and airline connectivity. This in itself needs to be captured in terms of both employment, national rejuvenation and heritage building and preservation.

This endeavour can take a look of an extensive programme, more in a mission mode. This is story telling about cities, their lure for visitors, how these grew, how facilities came up, how TE got into its own – its impact on the city. Its future growth as India has more than a few 1000 cities that are attracting visitors. Imagine a look at Muradabad and Firozabad as TE cities. Or, Vizag, Tirupati, Katra and then assessing what can happen to Murshidabad in Bengal.

It is a narrative that brings credibility to tourism and travel, in its present sweep.

How airports, clusters like the more recent invention of Aerocity, new road connectivity are transforming the lives of our people, giving new opportunities for locals to thrive. Arresting migrant movements, among others, becomes also a talking point.

We Have Seen Disruption Elsewhere, Not Yet In Our Thinking Of Tourism

Has the time come? That tourism will get disrupted, in terms of its overall perspective. That it would embrace the bigger picture, as either Travel & Tourism, or as Visitor Economy? Call it what you do, the name does count. There is so much in a name, after all. Under this new ambit, it would get its new recognition, where air transport, other modes of commuting, hospitality across its emerging spectrum – from luxury, mid-market, experiential, senior living, shared living spaces, whatever – inbound, domestic: all get inter woven into a single fabric. With heritage, culture, all things Indian, get packaged into a single mosaic called the ‘Pride of India’, or ‘ Made in India’.

Airlines and Hotels may well go across ministries, as they are then part of the Travel and Tourism spectrum, not just Tourism (of which MoT is the custodian). In this perspective, airlines are not civil aviation but essential air transport. Hotels should be viewed as essential infra just as much as hospitals, or medical care.

We could then look at cities and less at states. Globally, cities and not states have become the centre of activity. We then look at 100 cities across India. We look at the entire gamut of reasons of travel, on the demand side, and evaluate what the Travel & Tourism perspective holds for each, its demands and what it has to offer, wherein it is lacking.

Even more than T&T is an expression ‘Travel Economy’, which might be a still better expression of what this industry does. And possibly more appropriate too. It serves a double function. TE captures the entire gamut of travel, tourism, hospitality, transport of all types, and overrides any purpose of travel. Either way, whether T&T or as VE, each city has its own verticals. So, Mangalore and Pune have educational institutes, Udaipur has pure leisure, honeymooners, weddings and events, Goa has pure leisure as a way of life. Some have been touted as leisure but have a pronounced business profile – like Agra and Jaipur. How people travel and reach the destination, what do they do, where they spend, where they stay – all these encompass TE. Each city can nurture this economy best as it can. Each city already focuses upon developing what its TE demands. If captured in its full scope, in a structured response, in a bigger role play, it can give better returns for that city’s economy and its local people.


Navin Berry, Editor, Destination India, over five decades has edited publications like CityScan, India Debates and Travel Trends Today. He is the founder of SATTE, India’s first inbound tourism mart, biggest in Asia.



Leave a Reply

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