What is the current state of domestic tourism in India?
Lately, everyone has realised the importance of domestic tourism. Tourism departments have started recording the movement and some states have gone for detailed tourist traffic surveys. One of the major concerns for us is the exponential increase in the domestic airfare. The air fare, for instance, Delhi to Kochi is expensive than Delhi to Dubai. The airlines are not earning enough, and on the other hand, the passenger is paying three times the price. There is an appeal to the state government that they should reduce the taxes, and make it convenient for the masses to contribute to the domestic travel in the country.
What is the state of student travel within the country?
A lot of private players have been involved in this segment. I have been in talks with the ministry of Tourism that they should collaborate with ministry of Education to make it mandatory for school and colleges to take their students out on interstate trips. Student exchange programmes should be facilitated. They are the future of the nation, and since I have been talking about taking domestic tourism as the national movement, students cannot be taken out from this. They should be aware of not just about their state, but also the rest of the country.
Which are the states promoting domestic tourism?
At the moment, Kerala, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh are the key states driving domestic tourists in the country. While Andhra Pradesh (24 per cent), and Tamil Nadu (18 per cent) get the maximum percentage of domestic tourists, they have been driving a lot of pilgrimage traffic. They need to convert them into leisure and then see the output. Kumbh Mela which takes place once in twelve years witnesses more than double digit million tourists figures, making it the largest event apart from Haj. All the above facts reinforce the fact that the domestic tourism is of immense importance to India and domestic demand will grow year after year with growing business traffic and disposable income. There is an immense potential in our pilgrimage tourists, but what we lack is the infrastructure and facilities around these destinations.
Give an insight on how to convert pilgrims into leisure travellers.
It is a known fact that the emergence of a large urban middle class coupled with better transport and communication facilities has created a new class of holiday and leisure tourists. There is a need to develop some entertainment options around most popular destinations like Vaishno Devi, Tirupati, Golden Temple, Shirdi, Balaji, and many more so that people extend their stay and contribute to the local economy. A lot of new circuits have been opening up like Uttar Pradesh recently started Delhi-Agra-Lucknow-Varanasi, like the Golden Triangle and new circuits. Buddhist, Jainism, Sufi and Sikhism. We need to create a mass awareness and give people lot of options in and around.
What do you think about Delhi as a destination for domestic traffic?
Delhi, at the moment has become a transit destination for domestic tourists. People do not stay in Delhi. Delhi Tourism needs to sustain the traffic for a day or two, and the HOHO bus service is doing well. They need to develop and create awareness in the market about Delhi as a tourist destination. We have all the facilities here, but there is a need to develop more theme parks, entertainment options other than being a lucrative market for business travellers.
What do you think about the recent luxury tax levied on hotels charging Rs 1000 and above?
This news came to me and all the industry people as a shock. Hotels charging below Rs 4,000 should not be categorised as luxury. You are in turn, hampering the numbers of backpackers travelling to India, and I am not only talking about the international travellers, but also domestic travellers in the country, mostly students. Tourism is the key driver of what the economy holds true as it is evident from the fact that it is the number one export earner in 60 countries. The world’s biggest economy is negating the effect of economic recession through its tourism related initiatives. And, now when India has become one of the lucrative markets for the world in terms of tourism, it is the need of the hour is to abolish multiple taxes which are impediments in the growth of tourism, both domestic and inbound.