Problems with tourism in India

Tourism in India is a tale of amazing potential, confusing paradoxes, missed opportunities and massive under utilisation of resources. Compared to rest of the tourist hotspots around the world, India has mind boggling variety of tourist attractions of all types which can attract almost every single type of tourist out there. Ancient archaeological heritage of India which goes back to nearly 4000 years is spread all over India, from Laddakh to Kanyakumari.

India is blessed with such awe inspiring ancient monuments at a scale unrivaled by any other country in the world. Forts of Rajput rulers in Rajasthan, artful temples of Bundels, luxurious monuments constructed by Mughals, amazingly beautiful Konkan temples are just a small fraction of this wealth spread across it’s length and breadth. Adventure tourists have some of the best and virtually untouched destinations in Laddakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttranchal, Sikkim, Mizoram and other north-eastern states . Wild life enthusiasts have the option of seeing some of the rarest wildlife not found anywhere else in world in Gir, Jim Corbett and many other national parks.

 Adventure tourism, specially in north-eastern states has a lot of potential but hasn’t been explored even partially. The north-eastern states states have some of the best places for adventure activities like trekking, mountain climbing, camping and much more. Culinary tourism in India which has the biggest potential is just a small speck. Considering the vast culinary diversity of India, the country should be the top destination for all foodie tourists.

So many religions like Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism originated in India and their followers from all over the world wish to visit places important to their faiths. Medical tourism in India due to high quality healthcare at very low prices attracts people from all over the world. Culture and food junkies can’t find any place better than India with it’s diversity in languages, people, food, music, literature and culture which go back thousands of years.  To top that, India is one of the cheapest tourist destinations compared to most of western countries. There is no other country in the world which offers so much diversity in such a package. Anyone would think that with so many blessings, India would be the tourist hub of the world. To top it all, India is one of the cheapest destinations in the world for tourists.

In 2011, 62 lakh foreigner tourists arrived in India. Tourism sector in India employs nearly 4 crore people and is $ 121 billion dollar industry. Seems impressive, only till compared to 2.5 crore tourists per year Malaysia which has little to offer except beaches and and cheap shopping. Top tourist destination in world is France with 8.2 crore tourists in 2011 and 8.3 crore in 2012. India is not even in top 10 tourist destinations in world or even Asia. It’s actually ranked 38, preceded by countries like Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Egypt and even Tunisia. Just for sake of perspective, go through the following list:

( 1 million = 10 lakh, 100 lakh = 1 crore)

Country         No. of tourists

Chandrataal lake, adventure tourism in India

Tourism in India is more than just Taj Mahal, Chandratal Lake, Spiti

Turkey               3.5 crore

Morocco            92 lakh

Tunisia              69 lakh

South Africa    80 lakh

China               5.8 crore

Saudi Arab      1.7 crore

Egypt               94 lakh

Thailand         1.9 crore

Looking at these figures, one can’t help but wonder what is wrong with Indian tourism sector. It’s not that people around the world are unaware of what India has to offer. Established travel forums like TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet are full of foreigners discussing and asking for information related to travel in India. Sections related to India are the ones with maximum number of posters. On Tripadvisor, India section has more than 10000 threads, exceeded only by 15000 threads of Thaliand. A lot people from all over the world wish to visit India but are turned away by numerous factors.

Some of such issues are:

1) Complicated visa procedures: Infamous Indian red tape and bureaucracy is a nuisance outside the country too. Unlike other tourist hotspots, India makes it much more difficult and expensive for tourists to get a visa. India offers on arrival visa to only a handful of countries including Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand and 4-5 others. In comparison, Malaysia offers on arrival visa to majority of countries except Israel, India, China and some African countries.

2) Bad infrastructure : Even though rapid development is happening, India is still a long way from having a world class tourist infrastructure.

3) Safety : Image of India has taken a severe beating recently due to various factors.  Pakistan sponsored terrorism in various parts of India is also a big turn 0ff.

4) Lack Of Promotion Unlike other countries where governments and private organisations, spend large amounts of money and effort to promote tourism in their own countries, Indian efforts in this case have been very limited. Incredible India campaign which was launched with much fanfare a few years back ran out of steam pretty quickly.

Above mentioned  points are not unique to just India. A lot of countries face similar problems, have very little tourist attractions but still manage to attract many more tourists than India. We need to learn from them and make necessary changes as soon as possible. Some recent high profile projects like Golden Quadrilateral Highway project, Delhi Agra expressway, high speed trains with bio toilets etc are steps in right direction. But a lot more needs to be done. A lot of our customers are solo travelers, men and women of all ages. Some of them spend months or even years traveling inside India without facing any problem. But the recent bad press and selective reporting has messed up image of India badly. In an industry where perception counts for a lot, an effort has to be made to promote the attractions and good points of India rather than just the bad news.

Development of infrastructure accompanied by positive publicity should be the top priority for us. There have been small baby steps, but what we need is a sustained organised effort.