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tourism into a country is linked to the standing of its society and civic amenities

India is aiming to bring in 20 million tourist arrivals by 2020. Though there has been some action to bridge the gap with improving infrastructure facilities, the Incredible India 2.0 campaign, visa facilitation, however reaching that number may be a challenge. Himmat Anand, founder, The Tree of Life Resorts & Hotels, gets candid about the 20 million target

Will India reach the mark of 20 million by 2020, if yes why and if no, then why not?

I will go back a decade or little more when the India story was not supposed to be about ‘numbers’ – it was supposed to be about ‘quality of guests; that the country got; it was supposed to be about ‘length of stay’ where our overseas visitors were supposed to be spending an average of 18-20 nights in the country as against the usual six to eight nights in competing destinations. And I guess with time, yardsticks also change. The re-alignment of wealth has ensured that travellers tighten their belts and spend lesser. In my belief our product offering is also not that which will attract the high spending travellers in large numbers – hotel statistics will confirm that. And what used to be 18-20 nights is today an average of 12 nights, as people have started taking shorter holidays with more frequency. What has also impacted overseas arrivals is that short haul travel is more on the rise and long haul destinations, of which India is one, have a lower priority.

Having said all of the above, in order to reach the 20 million mark we need to be clear on two issues. Are we talking about 20 million overseas tourists or are we talking about 20 million overseas arrivals? What we get today, the 10.5 million claimed, are overseas arrivals and not overseas tourists. The former has NRIs, POIs, businessmen, airline crew, double entry passengers etc all included. Irrespective of this, in order to reach the 20 million number, we would need to have a compounded growth of around 27 per cent year on year for the next three years on the present figure being put up. Even present growth shows an increase of some 11 per cent from last year and it defeats me as to where this optimism is coming from. I am not seeing any new international airlines coming into the country in great numbers; bilaterals for increasing seat capacity are not moving fast enough; there are no plans for major cruise liners to dock at our ports – so how are these additional 10 million odd passengers going to get here ?

And I always wondered, given our product offering, which is what it is, why is the country not accepting the fact that some 13 million is great – if we can do that in the coming two years !

What according to you should be the India tourism story?

Incredible India, which was launched some two decades ago was the gamechanger for us and propelled India into another level of tourism marketing and destination positioning. Twenty years is a long time to wait for another similar gamechanger – that is what we need ! We need not push India necessarily as what India has in abundance – monuments – because a bulk of the travellers are no longer looking for just monuments. We must be a destination of fun, of activity, of music, of good, of wellness (not just Ayurveda), of beaches (we have a 3,200 km coastline and one effective beach destination – Goa !). We must be a destination where commuting on one’s own must be easy and safe; where as a tourist I am not an object of someone to be ripped off; where cleanliness is a way of life. Till we do not offer most of this, our story will continue just as it is….in hope!

Which are the niche areas that we need to fix for the international clientele?

I have over the years reached a very clear conclusion – tourism into a country is linked to the standing of its society and civic amenities. Look at any country successful in tourism and you will find a strong positive impact of both these aspects. The way we are today and the way we are heading, I see no positive change which will hugely impact our international arrivals. It is going to be a tough road for us, with a huge mismatch between potential and reality.

(As told to Reema Lokesh)

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