Tourism in ‘Mission Mode’, says FM in her Budget; poised to become a Game Changer!

50 Model destinations, new airports, rail and road connectivity on the one hand, PPP mode and state and central coordination can all come together under one single authority – this can herald a new beginning for tourism in our country. Convergence is the key word for success but somebody has to oversee it!

The Union Budget made a historical departure from many in the past, with the significant mention of ‘tourism’ as an industry, when in previous years, even the ‘word’ often did not find mention. So, it is a most welcome change. And that it would be taken up on ‘mission mode’ is all the more welcome, as nothing short of that would deliver upon the promise that Incredible India holds for both Indians as well as foreigners. “Mission Mode” is not spelt out, but what has been said is that will bring together various programmes of the government, both existing and new ones, together as one collective effort to promote India’s tourism potential.

“There is a large potential to be tapped in tourism. The sector holds huge opportunities for jobs and entrepreneurship, for the youth in particular,” Sitharaman announced in the Union Budget 2023-24. The country offers “immense attraction” for domestic as well as foreign tourists, she added: “Promotion of tourism will be taken up on mission mode with active participation of states, convergence of government programmes, and public-private-partnerships.”

The minister further said that 50 destinations will be developed as a “complete package of tourism”, adding that these destinations will be selected through challenge mode, using an integrated and innovative approach. “States will be encouraged to set a ‘unity mall’ in state capital or the most popular tourist destination in the state for the promotion and sale of ‘One District, One product’ and GI products and other handicraft,” she said. This is one big area of convergence, especially if this one GI product can also be associated with one unique product that has tourism potential.

For instance, there is the existing scheme Swadesh Darshan, which covers the Integrated Development of Tourist Circuits around specific themes under the Swadesh Darshan scheme. The objective of the scheme “is to develop theme-based tourist circuits on the principles of high tourist value, competitiveness and sustainability in an integrated manner by synergising efforts to focus on needs and concerns of all stakeholders to enrich tourist experience and enhance employment opportunities”. Presently, there are 76 projects sanctioned under Swadesh Darshan Scheme covering 13 thematic circuits, as detailed in the budget.

How these identified circuits, the new focus on 50 destinations can be viewed holistically and how these can be dovetailed with the plan for 50 new airports, is the big question. If these can all be viewed together and if this was ‘mission mode’, then we have a game changer of a budget this year. Combine these with the increased budget for railways and road transport, that can ensure seamless and integrated development of connectivity, including last mile, we are sure to make the travel experience more convenient and pleasurable.

ASI has been allocated a budget provision of Rs. 1,103 crores, which again can be spent towards some of the integrated development that the Budget has pronounced. The question is: who will oversee the mission mode implementation? Our take is that this single one point implementation must be ensured – the right PPP mode, the state and central coordination and the linking of these various schemes and programmes. By an agency that is empowered to ensure coordination.

One question still begs an answer. The industry remains unhappy in that almost all its demands and expectations remain unattended. One can hope that once the mission mode is being worked upon, attention would also come onto those that facilitate the tourism experience. Then we will need to look at enhancing room capacity, and this is where the ‘infrastructure’ status for hotels would be taken up. And how to ensure sustainability for agents and tour operators? This, too, would be a most logical question, as we will need them to plan and facilitate tourists, both domestic and foreign! Hope is the answer, that good days are ahead, once tourism has caught the attention of not just the PM but also of his entire government.

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