UNWTO Panel: Opportunities galore for tourism in India
Facilitating inter-departmental coordination and promoting niche tourism can herald a new era for Indian tourism, say experts on the UNWTO forum
The first panel discussion at the recently concluded SATTE 2015 Conference very earnestly and successfully set an engrossing tone for the various panel discussions over the next day and a half at SATTE 2015. Moderated by John Bell, International Broadcasting Expert and Tourism Consultant, UNWTO Silk Road Task Force, the panel had Suman Billa, Joint Secretary, Indian Ministry of Tourism; Jonathan Karkut, UNWTO Silk Road Programme; Aashish Gupta, Founder, Strategy Pluto and Consulting CEO, FAITH and Subhash Goyal, President, IATO, as speakers.
Gupta put in perspective few points to ponder in order to gauge the growth opportunities that India tourism sits on. ‘Size of the opportunity’ he explained vis-a-vis number of tourists and tourism receipts that other destinations are generating, clearly showing that there is massive opportunity of growth for India. He also pointed out the immense growth opportunities that could be unlocked through growing the domestic tourism economy, targeting niche sectors such as cruise, adventure, MICE, heritage and other niche tourism products, and by facilitating inter-departmental coordination that can herald an entirely new era for Indian tourism by addressing issues such as connectivity, taxation and infrastructure development, amongst others.
Goyal pointed out that removing red tape in bureaucracy, bringing in a friendly and competitive open sky, launch of tourist visa on arrival are all steps in the direction to unlock the potential of new growth opportunities for the country.
Billa brought the hammer down with all earnestness, acknowledging that, at 7.5 million annual foreign tourist arrivals, India is still scratching the surface. “There is an enormous amount of headroom for us to grow. If we look at the inbound tourism growth rate, it is faster than the international average. But in summation, we are growing at a very small pace and therefore there is truly no comfort,” he acknowledged.
“We truly are at the cross roads today. And I think this is one bus all of us in the tourism sector must not miss. Rarely do we have a situation where all of the circumstances, all of the system comes together to create growth and drive. Never before has such a lot of political will, such a lot of enthusiasm been seen. India’s outbound is three times the size of inbound. But if your economy is strong enough to send X then it is also strong enough to receive X. It is now time for us to redefine the paradigm and take it forward to the next level,” he said.
The Joint Secretary informed that, in order to harness the true potential of tourism, the government is working on removing the pain points such as issues related to visa, which are really the game changer.
“We also need to look at hygiene and sanitation and we have launched Swachh tourism as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. We are also looking at the safety and security concern. After we have removed the pain points, made the changes, we need to become enablers. That is something we need to work on. We are rewriting the Tourism Policy. The idea really is that we need to grow and we need to grow within a format which is responsible, which is sustainable,” added Billa. He opined that the biggest challenge that we face is how to unleash the potential of private sectors.
Tourism : The best tool to counter terrorism
One of the panel discussions at the SATTE 2015 Conference dealt with the most relevant issues of tourism countering terrorism and bringing peace for the community, chaired by the IIPT India Chapter
Taking the credo that ‘terrorism or any kind of strife only divides, whereas tourism unites’ forward, SATTE 2015 brought together a very distinguished panel that included Lalit K. Panwar, Secretary - Tourism, Government of India; Rika Jean-François, Director, ITB Berlin; Valsa Nair Singh, Secretary, Tourism, Government of Maharashtra; Dipak Haksar, COO, ITC Hotels and Ajay Prakash, Founder President, International Institute of Peace Through Tourism, India chapter (IIPT India), to discuss one of the most relevant topics of the time, ‘Tourism – A Tool for Peace.’ The discussion was moderated by Sheldon Santwan, Advisor, IIPT India.
While extending a strong endorsement of peace in tourism, Panwar hailed India as an idea of peace in itself. “Look at India. Look at the variety of people we have, the cultures and languages. Even the people are like destinations. It is like an ethnographic museum. And yet we are a peaceful nation,” he said. Hailing India as the land of Gandhi, Buddha and Mahavira, all great apostles of peace, Panwar remarked that “peace means prosperity.”
Pitching Kashmir as a classic example of what tourism can do for peace, he said, “Kashmir is a classic case of tourism through peace, taking head on to terrorism. It attracted 1.4 million tourists in one year. Because terrorism divides and tourism unites. If you want peace go for tourism, if you want to be in pieces go for terrorism.”
Speaking about IIPT and putting the topic of discussion in perspective, Prakash said, “IIPT nurtures the idea that without peace there cannot be tourism. But peace is not just the absence of conflict.” He added that IIPT also strongly nurtures the idea of women empowerment, child protection, sustainability concerns about the tourism sector, creating awareness about holistic CSR policies, among others. Prakash stressed that all of the stakeholders need to look at how they can work together in harmony to channelise efforts and resources in order to bring peace through tourism.
Jean-François, while making a strong pitch for peace said, “When you look at the world, you get some horrible news. Hatred, wars, religious differences make people hate each other. We cannot just ignore these facts. I think that the only answer we can have is when each of us in her or his capacity does the right thing, trying to help create peace.” Jean-François also informed that ITB has signed a code of conduct against sexual exploitation of children, supports the code of ethics of UNWTO and has also signed for its commitments for human rights in tourism.
She said that all in the industry need to work together to achieve results. “It does not mean that we just talk about it. It means that we install criteria for human rights, for protection of the environment, in the policy. There is a lot of synergy that we can really use,” she stressed. She added that there are so many ways in which human rights are violated in the tourism industry. “It’s about water. It’s about fishermen on shores. It’s about gender. It’s about sexual exploitation. There are so many different levels of human rights that can be ignored in tourism,” she said.
Raising sustainability concerns as part of peace related issues in tourism, Haksar stated, “Peace brings goodwill, friendship and understanding about a culture. It is only when that happens that you have tourism. But there is another very important element to that, and that is sustainability or responsible tourism.”
He said that it is only when you have responsible tourism that you inculcate the value of preservation, understanding of others’ culture and heritage and are conscious of environmental footprint while travelling. According to him, there are multiple stakeholders who need to contribute towards responsible tourism while at the same time there is need to empower the host community, in order to avoid degradation and exceeding carrying capacity.
Haksar also made a strong pitch to grow domestic tourism for its pent up demand. He said that actions like cultural awareness, environmental sensitivity and others need to be taken, which are not mere words.
Bringing peace in perspective, Nair Singh said that her department believes that tourism is not just about selling destinations but is about people, and therefore Maharashtra has endorsed community based tourism for years. She informed that Maharashtra Tourism has a scheme called ‘Mahabhraman Scheme’ which is about people in the community recognising their assets and sharing their experiences. “That’s tourism for us,” she said. While sharing further information about the ‘Mahabhraman scheme,’ she also informed that the scheme has kicked off and is attracting amazing response. And lot of people are coming forward on their own.
The panel discussion also served as the platform to launch IIPT India Chapter on the second day of SATTE 2015, on January 30, which also happens to be the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
Marketing for Golf Tourism lacks in India
A panel discussion at the SATTE 2015 Conference debated the challenges and opportunities of the sector
At the recently concluded SATTE 2015 Conference, one of the topics of debate was the challenges and opportunities of Golf Tourism. Panellists included Shailendra Kumar (IAS), Commissioner/Secretary to Government, Tourism & Culture Department, J&K; Dato Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, Director General, Tourism Malaysia; Akash Ohri, Executive Director – Business Development, DLF Country and Golf Course; Abinash Manghani, Head – Travel Industry Sales & Regional Manager (North); Uday Marwah, Director, Uday Tours & Travels. The panel discussion was moderated by Rajan Sehgal, President, India Golf Tourism Association.
Kumar laid the platform for the discussion with some information on J&K’s offering. “We have three beautiful Golf Courses, one each in Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg. We are developing another Golf Course in Leh as well. We expect it to be ready in another two to three years,” he said.
Taiyab, while sharing the Malaysian experience of how his country went on to develop a strong golf tourism product, said that the first and foremost thing is to have the ‘political will’ supporting the idea. “Malaysia as a destination has arrived at a point where we are constantly looking at developing new tourism products. As part of Malaysian Tourism Transformation Plan 2020, we need to look at ways to take Malaysian tourism to a new level. The department identified niche tourism products such as golf tourism to grow,” he said.
Malaysia started building about 210 Golf courses, and that was accomplished between 1995 and 2005. Today, Kuala Lampur has 40 Golf courses within an hour’s drive to choose from. He informed that Malaysia recorded one million rounds of Golf played last year that yielded US$ 100 million. “Will, investment, time and support,” in summation, will deliver the desired result, he opined.
Ohri, who is also the President of Indian Golf Industry Owners Association, said that, fundamentally, government’s support to the sector is key to its growth. “According to our data, an average international golf tourism golfer spend is Rs. 15,000 as against Rs. 5,000 for ordinary guest golfers or members. Therefore, international golf tourism becomes important for businesses like ours, and will also help the government in doing what they want to do,” he said.
Showcasing the latest, most ambitious hospitality project by ITC, the Grand Bharat Resort, developed alongside a Golf Course, Manghani said that India is beginning to show promise in Golf tourism.
Sehgal informed that Scandinavian countries have an estimated 700,000 golfers. These golfers hardly are able to play for two to three months in their countries, and therefore, travel in charters to destinations such as Thailand or Malaysia just to play two or three rounds of golf, which is still cheaper for them. He said Japan, Singapore and Honk Kong are other key source markets in the region.
Marwah made a strong pitch for Golf marketing. He said India may not have 200 Golf Courses but has everything in place to promote Golf tourism. India has 40-50 great golf courses but the country has not been marketed as a golf tourism destination.