Tourism has become a priority industry under this government: Nakul Anand, chairman FAITH

Nakul Anand, chairman FAITH

Narendra Modi’s government has completed its first year. We take stock of what has happened during this time, speaking with Nakul Anand, Executive Director, ITC Hotels, and also the present chairman of FAITH, a body that recently came into being, bringing eleven industry associations onto one single platform. Anand sees a dramatic sea-change, with tourism having become a top priority!

How has been the journey for tourism in the first year of the present NDA government? Where do you see we have arrived, as an industry?

Going back to the very basics, the first thing is that tourism has been accepted by everyone including the PM as an engine of growth for the economy. Till many years it was considered to be an elitist activity and it is now considered to be an economic activity. The PM has mentioned it in his speech from the Ref Fort, the Finance Minister mentions it in the first five minutes of his budget speech. Time and again,​ tourism is being spoken about in every major international overseas visit that the PM has made​. H​e had made some announcement​ or the other,​ on tourism​ matters, whether it is visa on arrival etc. There is definitely an acceptance in the States and Centre that tourism can be the engine that can power the growth of the economy. This is a big achievement.

Coming from that a great achievement has been the e-visa. There are two-three absolutely essential tools that you require to travel. One is of course an open sky policy and airports to facilitate that open sky policy and prior to that is visa. Whether it is a leisure or business traveller, today the two lines are blurred, but​he does not have time to deposit ​his​ passport for 15 days in the Indian High Commission​. S​o a big achievement is the electronic travel authorisation where ​the visitor​ could be doing ​his ​business and can travel within a few days. Those people who have tried it out are very happy with it. And I must quote and say that a good benchmark is ​getting the ​Sri Lankan​ visa, which is also based on the same methodolgy, and as we travel often to Colombo ​because of our investments in ​that country. Earlier, it used to take 8-9 days to get the visa but the last we went​,​ my colleague got her visa in 10 minutes.

I think Swatch Bharat is also a great movement and is going to work positively towards tourism. The investments that have come forward in tourism are a lot. Tourism has been included in the Make in India as well. All this lends credibility to how tourism is being accepted. There is some great work that is being done by the Ministry of Tourism and there is a draft national tourism policy which we have been talking about for a while and is now going to see the light of the day as two separate committees – one a monitoring​ ​committee and the other really an operating committee. My own experience as Chairman of FAITH, which has 11 different associations as part of it, wherever we have gone and said that we represent the tourism industry, every ministry has opened its doors for us and wanted to sit and discuss with us as to what they can do for us. And either they have come back and said why it cannot be done due to national interest or they have done it for us.

Th ​ere​ is ​a ​tremendous​ change in the​ mind-set that I am also seeing from the government​ -​ how doors are being opened. If you look at closer homes, at the hotels, FSI in every state has been increased. In Delhi, other than Lutyens ​zone,​ it has been increased. In Mumbai for a hotel, on the same piece of land if you could build a 100 rooms, you can now build 400 rooms. In Ahmedabad, we bought a site ​of​ 2​ ​acres​, some​ 7 years back​. ​W​hen we sort of put pen to paper, we realized we could only make 90 rooms. We went back to the government and explained to them how tourism and hotel projects have to be different from commercial projects. So the PM himself​, then the state CM, asked us to do a benchmark of all the states against each criteria and recommend for Gujarat. On that same site, I am today building 300 rooms.

You look at some of the things Railways is doing for tourism. We hear things like putting a coach on every train meant for tourists etc. So I think there is phenomenal amount of things happening. We didn’t expect wonders from day one but we are seeing things moving in a very positive direction.

I can certainly say that what was earlier a red tape is today a red carpet. Wherever we go and we say we are from tourism, you will be surprised with ​the kind of meetings we have had​,​ such as inter-ministerial meetings, or inter-sectoral meetings. People are listening to us​ (tourism)​.

​How important is it to distinguish between business and leisure travellers? 

There is no country really that looks at the two separately, whether is a business traveller or the number of foreign arrivals. Today it is very difficult to distinguish between a business traveller and a leisure traveller.

Few countries in the world, with exceptions such as China, who have such a large PIO segment, as India does. Does this tilt our understanding of visitor counts from various countries, confuses between genuine tourists and our own people holding foreign passports? How many Canadians or Americans are coming who are actually not tourists but are coming home? So I would think that why most countries in the world don’t distinguish these is that few countries in the world would actually have a reason to distinguish between th​em?.

If you are talking about NRIs, I fully agree with you. But a couple of things​ that are important to take note here, is that​ they are no different from tourists. If you see the average spend in India by a tourist​,​ it is far higher than in other ​countries. So​,​ irrespective of the fact that whether these guys are tourists or not, the country is realizing the benefit of foreign exchange. We may be less than one percent of the total number of tourists but if you take the foreign exchange earnings of the world we are about 2.5%. Therefore the spending is far more. All this is a means to an end. Rather than looking at number of tourists, I would look at the total foreign exchange earning that we are getting and the average spending per tourist.

​That said and understood, let me ask you in another way – could our efforts to speed up tourist numbers do better?

The tourist arrivals of 6-8 million that you and I talk, every time the PM​,​ or the Finance ministry talk of tourism​,​ as a word they are talking of the tourist -t​ourist that we are talking about. They are talking about touris​m​. So every activity that they do is really not for the business traveller. They are looking for the business centre facilities etc. For the tourist, they are talking about ​C​lean India, the ​maintenance of monuments, multi lingual headphone sets or guides etc. All the efforts of the government and the states​, and other concerned agencies, ​are focussed on the tourist​-​tourist.

Cumulatively they add up to make a more seamless visitor or tourist experience.


How is FAITH playing its part in the entire….

FAITH is playing a phenomenal role. I think that FAITH has sort of become the voice of the industry. Whether it is the tourism ministry or the PMO or Make in India it ​has always referred to us. Many of our suggestions have been accepted​,​ whether it is on foreign trade, service tax etc. So​,​ certainly the ministry has realized that the industry has arrived with one voice. Also​,​ look at it from a ministerial point of view, you have one HAI coming, one FHRAI coming, one IATO coming and often could be at cross purposes.

So has that stopped?

Absolutely. There would still some very industry specific aspects that can come up. I will break it up into sub-industry specific issues which FAITH wont take u​p, but where ever there is a holistic look at the industry, it has been literally FAITH at work.​

Is there any plan to impart a more institutional character to FAITH?

We kept i​t​ low cost initially. It didn’t require to come with a bang. The work must speak for itself first and we have to work with the government and the associations.

Do you see the possibility, the Ministry of Tourism is putting up their Paryatan Bhawan, you see half a floor coming to FAITH offices, as a statement of working together even more closely?

No, and I don’t think that is necessary also. They have their own role and we our own role.

But you essentially see your role in sync with the role of the Ministry?

Yes, and I don’t think we have been at cross purposes anywhere. Very often our problems are across different arms of the government. So the tourism ministry can and does become a conduit for us. I don’t think any other ministry listens to the voice of the customer as much as the tourism ministry does.

Coming closer to the hotels, how is the environment helping the hotel occupancies?

It is a little early again. But I am very optimistic, we have got the international sentiment back. We have people like the World Bank talking positively about us and putting ​u​s back on track as ​one of the​ fast growing econom​ies​ in the world. All this is going to lead to business travel which is tourism.

By Navin Berry


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