What Next in India’s Tourism?

Clearly, with PM Modi we have ushered in spiritual tourism, with Ayodhya is a most deserving Mascot. What next for the pilgrim town?

So, only recently, Navin (the editor) called me and asked “ Dada, as we get ready for the next government on June 4, where do you think Indian Tourism is going to be in the next five years?”

We chatted about old times for a while, when I was JS in the ministry of tourism, discovering new dimensions in Indian tourism, among them being the lure of river rafting and drafting guidelines for heritage hotels, his next question was “why don’t you put some of your thoughts down for me?”

Stuck at home in Gurugram in my room with the heat wave outside, in which only the wild dogs and politicians venture out (the English men having left long ago) and the relative comfort of the room AC (yes, no load shedding so far) he let my thoughts go forward instead of back. So, what did I think?

The first thought that struck me was it will be a Modi government. Of all the PMs India has had, PM Modi is clearly the most Tourism Oriented PM India has had.

The first time a PM had presided over a tourism event was in 1994(?) was during Tourism Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad term as Union Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister. It was in 1994 (?) when PM Narsimha Rao gave away the National Tourism Awards to the hotel and travel Industry.

The tourism industry had finally been accepted by the system as deserving serious attention. But yet only marginally so. Tourism Infrastructure and its development was far from mainstream and did not find a place in serious government deliberations. Its potential as a driver of economic growth and employment was yet to be recognised.

PM Modi was the first to see it as such. And like everything else he does, he thought big! And he saw, this was possible only with the required infrastructure. So, every time he has inaugurated a national expressway, or an airport, he has mentioned his hope that such developments will open new vistas for travel and tourism.

As I look forward, I see Tourism becoming a major player In India’s economic growth story. Led clearly from the front, by PM Modi himself. So, what is the first thing that will happen? Very obviously and clearly, the consolidation of the Ayodhya phenomena.

The creation of the Rama Janma Bhumi as a temple town out of a forgotten memory has suddenly opened the eyes of my economist son to what can happen. Ayodhya has left all the other well-known temple towns far behind, not only in arrivals but in the quality of experience. In fact, it has outrun Mecca and Vatican in months at a sprint what should be a marathon! Where it is going and what will be the outcomes is mind boggling to say the least. Presently, it is only a religious experience and the systems are yet to stabilise. But the spin offs are difficult to foretell.  But some are easily visible.

The tourist transport and accommodation sector are taking off like at no other destination. Next, clearly will be the culture experience. The Ramayana story with its timeless theme will be played out in many ways. The Ramayana drama has been played in every state in India in its own way. Also, in many other countries of the world. The repertoire is endless. So also music, both religious as in kirtans, kathas, and also in dance composition as well. This will happen not only in Ayodhya but in Delhi, Lucknow and the rest of India…. Kolkata included. Rama and Ramayana will suddenly be considered being “cool” in the contemporary sense, and grip the imagination of the young who will next do their own thing. This will influence not only entertainment, but also dress, food, jewellery, life styles. There is no end to the possibilities.

The spin-offs will lead to other such destinations related to the Ramayana. The Bharadwaj Muni Ashram project in Prayagraj is already underway. The Home Minister has already promised a Sita Temple at Sitamahri in Bihar. Kishkinda in Karnataka is another obvious choice… Chitrakoot…the list is endless.

Back to Destination Ayodhya… hand in hand with Temple Tourism and related Infrastructure the sudden growth of access and social infrastructure is bound to create opportunity in related fields in Education Institutions and Medical Facilities. Vedic learning, Ayurveda, Conferences, Destination Weddings will all be new possibilities.

To top it is the five acres given to the Muslim community as per Supreme Court’s Resolution of the age-old dispute. Will that take off separately, riding the wave of infrastructure growth in the vicinity. I will be surprised if it does not. It should and will. This could well be a really rewarding demonstration of the multi-facetted national benefits of communal harmony. I would really look forward for it to happen. It will set off a whole new and much needed national narrative.

Still another dimension to Ayodhya as a growth centre is the Sarayu River itself. It flows in the Kali River on the Nepal border and is potentially a great River Adventure Tourism destination for white water sports and for Mahseer fishing. I foresee this growing in a big way, once access and infrastructure improves.

A completely new area of economic development is the opportunity for creating a new level of Urban infrastructure.  New state-of-the art Rail, Road and Air connections are already in place.

Starting with a clean slate, Ayodhya can be set up as a Green City with Solar Power and Green Energy. Recently the city of Lancaster in the U.S.A has created an urban cluster with Green Energy. Could we do the same in Ayodhya? The next government, Modi 3.0 can well make Ayodhya the Model for its next generation urban plan a reality as a model to follow.
As in all success stories, one success leads to the next. I await with great expectations for the next five years as Ayodhya can well set the narrative of Ram Rajya for the next generation and the future of India as a Nation.

Clearly, we too see this happening. To ensure this development becomes a model city, a lead example for other cities to follow, it is early days yet and the right time to create a holistic city development authority that oversees the entire development, not just that of the temple precincts. Amenities for visitors of all pockets, signages, public toilets, basic and clean transport and above all packaging of the product and its marketing. There is such an authority in place but it should be charged as well with packaging and marketing– Editor


Jayant  Sanyal is a former civil servant who has had extensive experience in the tourism sector, having led West Bengal tourism and been JS and ADG in the central ministry of tourism. He has overseen the rise of heritage hotels and adventure tourism in the country. He writes extensively on the subject.


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