ETW Staff– Mumbai
Buddhist heritage spans a long and rich history dating back almost 2,500 years. While Buddhism is followed by seven per cent of the world’s population, India holds the distinction of being the origin of the Buddhist philosophy and home to a number of significant destinations that Lord Buddha traversed on his path of enlightenment. With development of the sector accorded priority by the Government, it is imperative to harness the immense potential of the Buddhist Tourism Circuit. The Sarnath-Bodh Gaya patch alone is expected to fuel a sizeable 15 per cent annual growth in the tourism industry.
Rana Kapoor, president, ASSOCHAM, said, “Towards the fast track growth of the tourism in the country, it is an imperative that we must harness the potential of Buddhist Tourism Circuit. Today, Buddhist Tourism has the potential to shape the contours of India’s cultural diplomacy as we engage with our partners in East and South East Asia regions. The Buddhist Circuit is not only an important pilgrimage destination for the 450 million practicing Buddhists, but also for the vast number of other travellers interested in history, culture or religion.”
“Further, the Buddhist pilgrimage not only brings in large volume of tourists, but foreign exchange as well to our shores. As such, the development of this sector has been accorded priority by the Central Government in its first budget itself with union finance minister, Arun Jaitley, focusing on the development of Sarnath-Bodh Gaya patch of Buddhist Circuit. The development of this hub alone, into a world class tourism centre is expected to fuel a sizeable, 15 per cent annual growth in the Tourism industry of the Buddhist circuit,” added Kapoor
The first visit of prime minister Narendra Modi to a South Asian country was Bhutan, which is predominantly Buddhist, and then to Nepal, where Gautam Buddha was born. And now, Japan, where Buddhism is a significant religion. The visit to Japan witnessed the signing of a MoU to develop Varanasi into a ‘smart city’ by using the experience of Kyoto, the ‘smart city’ of Japan. Incidentally, Kyoto is a heritage city with immense Buddhist culture and this partnership will enhance cooperation in heritage conservation, city modernisation and in the fields of art, culture and academics.
ASSOCHAM highlights a few focus areas that can be collectively realised in order to provide significant boost to this critical sector:
Infrastructure development – The Landmark infrastructure projects, such as the proposed Kushinagar International Airport, will provide a great boost to the tourist traffic. Further, it is important to develop the ancillary infrastructure especially visitor amenities like tourist information centers / contact centers. PPP mode will be integral to carry forward required infrastructure upgrades.
India should look to replicate successful ideas / initiatives from other countries: Republic of Korea’s ‘Temple Stay’ Programme provides an opportunity to domestic and international tourists to experience Korean Buddhism, its lifestyle & rituals. It entails staying at a traditional Buddhist temple and engage in daily monastic activities. This programme has had more than 850,000 participants in the last decade in Korea. India’s rich Buddhist heritage should also be made more accessible to tourists through such programmes
Collaboration with international agencies – The government under the guidance of prime minister Narendra Modi has collaborated with the World Bank – IFC, Japan International Cooperation Agency etc., primarily for infrastructure development of Buddhist Circuit.
Skill development – A skilled tourism workforce, especially for niche tourist segments is very important. Specialised course in tourism are need of the hour for capacity building.
Moreover, integrating technology and tourism is critical to fulfill its vast potential. Kapoor said, “I am pleased to apprise you that Yes Bank in association with the ministry of tourism, launched the ‘Yes Bank-Incredible India Travel Card’ to make travel within India a cashless, trouble free experience. Introduction of tourism specific mobile apps for instant information and communication and similar innovative ideas can achieve the true convergence potential of travel, tourism and technology.
The Government has demonstrated a strong focus in the tourism and hospitality sector through significant budget allocations such as INR500 Crore for developing five tourist circuits, INR100 Crore for National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive (PRASAD), INR200 Crore for National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), among others.