Director General of Ministry of Tourism and Chairman and Managing Director of the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC)
Mr. Ganji Kamala Vardhana Rao is a man with vision and conviction. A veteran in the area of tourism Mr Rao is hopeful for a brighter future for the industry and multidimensional plans and roadmap to make tourism back on track. In an exclusive interview with T&E’s Editor Anirban Dasgupta, he shares his thoughts on various aspects of tourism prospects in the country in near future
If we name the sectors worst hit by the unprecedented pandemic situations in the last two years, tourism will top the list. Besides travel restrictions, there is also a sense of fear among people to travel with open minds. How do you perceive the situation today?
It would not be an exaggeration to admit that the bygone year has been unprecedented and uncertain. The tourism sector bore the maximum brunt of the covid-19 pandemic. The sector was the worst hit and the impact stayed for the longest time. Global WTTC states that the overall losses incurred is to the tune of a whopping USD 3815 billion. Therefore, the sector has to collectively adapt strategic steps in order to defuse this prevailing crisis. But as the pandemic comes under control, vaccination numbers surge worldwide, economic activity rebounds and international as well as state level curbs ease, domestic tourism is recording a rapid recovery. To bring the segment back to pre pandemic levels,however, tourism needs strategic investments and planning. Therefore, the ministry of Tourism has identified certain areas to push rapid growth and, accordingly undertaken several strategic initiatives. India has a huge domestic tourism market and it’s going to be key to the revival of the sector. It is very important that we cash in on this opportunity at hand and aid in the recovery of the sector.
With the world learning slowly to cope up with the ‘new normal’ and travel across the borders opening up, what are the steps taken into consideration to encourage foreign tourists to return to India?
The UNWTO has estimated that Asia and the Pacific’s tourism industry felt the largest negative impact from covid-19, with tourist arrivals down almost 33 million in the first trimester of 2020. With the surge in vaccination numbers the foreign travellers are showing confidence in travelling again to India, which is showing early signs of rebound. To assist the hospitality industry in their preparedness to continue operations safely and remove risks from the covid-19 pandemic, the ministry of Tourism has partnered with the Quality Council of India ( QCI), to assist them through an initiative called SAATHI (System for Assessment,Awareness, and Training for Hospitality Industry). This is aligned with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for Atmanirbhar Bharat. To build confidence among foreign tourists planning to visit India, The ministry of Tourism is working on a campaign to be promoted across television and digital platforms. The campaign will highlight the safety measures, better airports and road networks that connect various tourist spots as international borders open up and inbound tourism resumes. India’s union ministry of Tourism is on a roll, keeping people engaged during the pandemic and offering them a glimpse into the country and its various tourism offerings through a series of impactful webinars under its Dekho Apna Desh initiative launched by Prime Minister Sh. Narendra Modi and actioned by Minister of State of Tourism, Sh.Prahlad Singh Patel. Incredible India Tourist Facilitator certification program, which will act as an enabler for transforming a local citizen with no specified skills, having proficiency in a regional language, into a potential bread earner for their households.
Traditionally India is seen by many as a destination to rejuvenate your soul – a place for medication, wellness and spiritualism. Also, we have seen recent campaigns focusing on spiritual tourism in places like Varanasi, Uttarakhand etc. How important do you think this proposition is to attract inbound tourists from various countries, especially in this post covid frame of mind?
Religious and spiritual tourism have been the biggest tourism segment in the world. India has always been perceived as the land of spiritual and soul awakening. According to the UN World Tourism Organisation report on the sector, there are an estimated 600 million religious and spiritual voyages in the world and over 50% happened in Asia. For the longest time India has been the hub of religious and spiritual tourism and continues to be so in the modern new age world. While the ongoing
pandemic and uncertainties around it have impacted life and livelihood, it has also strengthened people’s reliance on spiritual and religious beliefs to garner strength to navigate through these difficult times. owing to the same, people across geographies have been seeking parts of religious and spiritual travel. According to a research report, India’s spiritual and religious tourism market touched $ 44 billion in 2020. between the forecast period of 2022 and 2027, it is slated to increase at a CAGR of 10%. With the segment touted for growth, the Government of India has been promoting multiple programs to drive growth in the segment. These include promotion of specific spiritual tourism circuits such as the renowned Chardham Yatra covering Badrinath, Puri, Dwarka. With foreign tourist numbers expected to touch 30.5 million by 2028, spiritual tourism would reflect a concomitant growth too. GOI’s PRASHAD (Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual, Heritage Augmentation Drive) Scheme, which focuses on developing tourism infrastructure across these destinations, including heritage cities and places of historical interest.
Under PRASHAD, 57 sites in 29 States and Union Territories have been shortlisted for development. Since the scheme was launched, 36 projects in 24 States were sanctioned INR 1,160.55 crore.
The concept of workation, homestays (which is also associated with local employment and cultural integration) etc. are most commonly discussed these days. What is your thought on this?
With work-home lines becoming blurred during the pandemic, the concept of workation that is combining business with leisure gained much popularity. people for the first time had an opportunity to work remotely, while travelling and staying at a place they would like to go for a vacation. This generated a lot of interest amongst the hotels, guest houses and hostels across the country. special arrangements were made to offer services like high-speed data access, dedicated workstations as well as enhanced sanitization and contactless services for ‘workations’. As per Federation of Association in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH), with the workstation trend, the revival of the domestic tourism industry was estimated to be of rupees 15 lakh crore. today tourists don’t wish for fancy hotels but want to experience the local flavours, this led to the upsurge and employment of small boutique hotels and homestays.
Besides spiritual tourism, the subject of green tourism or ‘sustainable tourism’ as coined by the UN environmental program is one of the most debated topics today. Do you think as citizens of the world we have learnt the lesson to respect nature and environment? What are your plans in the near future to encourage an atmosphere of green tourism in India?
Contributing to sustainable Tourism is a win-win situation for your own brand and for the world. New generations of tourists are emerging, showing behaviour that is moving away from pure consumerism and developing an environmental awareness mentality. This characterises them as tourists, who would prefer to stay in environmentally friendly accommodation using renewable energy sources. They are willing to pay more for green products and higher prices to stay in eco-friendly hotels. As people become better informed about the implications of their travels, they become more aware of ways to reduce their own negative impacts and want to partner with agencies that will help them make positive changes.But the main test for the hospitality industry lies in the budget hotel segment, which is popular in India. I understand that where the big hotel chains have already gone ahead and adopted renewable energy sources, soon the smaller hotels will follow. In the pre-Covid era, there were very few people who knew about “sustainable tourism” certified hotels and even today in India, no one has accurate data on the number of such hotels. As times change, business models will continue to evolve, to suit customers expectations. we have to see how the inbound tourism market will turn out in India, since everything has started to function normally. Will foreign tourists look for certified green hotels when they land in India?
With Google and other mega travel portals now boldly displaying sustainable tourism practices in their hotel listings; the market conditions and trends will encourage hotels to adopt green practices. The future is renewable energy and the sooner the tourism industry adopts it, the better it will be for the business and also better for our mother earth.
What would be your message to the travellers as well as the professionals associated with the tourism industry in India?
With the guiding philosophy of Atithi Devo Bhava, the Indian tourism and hospitality sector each year welcomes tourists from across countries of the world and offers them an unforgettable experience. but since the beginning of 2020 tourism sector for the front of unprecedented crisis with outbreak of covid-19 virus nevertheless
In the past few months with the gradual decrease in the regulation guidelines and rapid vaccination drives, the tourism industry has truly paved its way to revival. Moreover with the improving travel protocols, hygiene and also the ongoing development of new airports, the tourism industry is aiming towards achieving long-term inclusive growth. undoubtedly the Ministry of Tourism has been taking several steps to strengthen the hospitality and tourism industry in India, thereby ensuring and helping employers gain momentum. Therefore, my advice to the professionals in the tourism industry would be to ease up on their worries because the tourism sector is expected to grow at a rate, which is much higher than the pre-pandemic phase.