Nation-Building Using International Tourism As Rocket Fuel: A 15-Point Roadmap

by Kheersana Yumlembam - Jan 25, 2017 11:35 AM +05:30 IST
Nation-Building Using
International Tourism As Rocket Fuel: A 15-Point Roadmap A tableau of the Samudra Manthan, Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • India receives only 0.7 per cent of the world’s tourists and 1.45 per cent of the world’s tourism revenues. The current 11 per cent tourism growth rate is mediocre and unambitious; it does not do justice to India’s immense unrealised potential.

    Part One of the article on nation-building through tourism puts forward a roadmap that can transform India into a highly competitive and attractive tourism destination.

The international tourism industry is a highly lucrative, fiercely competitive, fast-growing $1.4 trillion behemoth (2014 statistics). Worldwide revenues have nearly doubled between 2004 and 2014, and continue to rise rapidly. Over 1.16 billion people went on international tourist trips in the year 2014, up from 778 million a decade ago.

In 2014, the world’s top five tourism superpowers - the US, France, Spain, the UK, and China - together accounted for nearly 27 per cent of tourist arrivals and 33 per cent of tourism revenues worldwide. The US alone received over 75 million tourists and earned over $200 billion in revenues, enjoying over 15 per cent of the entire world’s tourism revenues.

India received 7.68 million tourists in 2014 and earned $20.76 billion in revenue, less than far smaller countries and territories such as Macao, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, Australia and Switzerland, just to name a few. India received only 6 tourists per 1000 people, with even disaster-ravaged Haiti, sanctions-stricken Iran and Myanmar, drug war-torn Mexico and Colombia, repressive Saudi Arabia, and neighbouring Sri Lanka performing far better.

Comparison of top tourist destinations in 2014
Comparison of top tourist destinations in 2014

There are two ways of reacting to these dismal statistics. One is to be resigned to the fact that India languishes at the bottom of the heap in terms of tourists per capita, just as it does in Olympic medals per capita and be satisfied with gradual, incremental growth.

The other is to realise that India is sitting atop a goldmine. A vast, untapped, largely unknown, almost boundless goldmine called tourism, one whose surface has barely been scratched, one that can transform India’s economy and living standards. The US, which is less than 250 years old, attracts over 10 times more tourists per year than India. It is not difficult to imagine what India can achieve, with a little effort.

India has all the ingredients necessary for it to develop into a tourism superpower, and even claim the top spot. As the world’s oldest continuously existing civilization India has an incredibly rich and diverse culture which manifests itself in a dazzling variety of languages and dialects, attires, customs, cuisines, dance forms, musical styles and architectural styles.

Our ancestors have bequeathed us thousands of ancient monuments of breathtaking splendor and beauty, whose architectural and engineering sophistication often defy belief. Many more lie undiscovered and cry out to be excavated and preserved.

Our country is blessed with enviable natural resources. India has every type of terrain and climate. We have mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, a vast coastline, as well as some of the world’s most picturesque archipelagos.

These are precisely the things that tourists crave.

Why do tourists leave the comfort of their home, travel thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars in foreign countries? They do so for various reasons. They travel so that they can see beauty, participate in an adventure, experience the richness and greatness of an ancient culture, and take back memories that last a lifetime. Each tourist seeks something different.

Some want to experience a different world and way of life. Some love visiting historic monuments and museums. Some love photography; others love architecture. Most of us love novel cuisines and great food. Some are film, theatre, and performing arts (music, dance, opera, etc.) aficionados. Some love nature and wildlife, while others seek the thrill of adventure sports. Others want to party and experience the nightlife. There are those who love fitness and martial arts, and then there are religious tourists and pilgrims.

India has the potential and the resources to offer a wide variety of extraordinary and memorable experiences to each of these kinds of tourists.

A Worthy Objective: Tenfold Increase In Tourists In A Decade

The number of tourists visiting India is slowly increasing every year. There were 10.8 per cent more tourist arrivals in 2016, as compared to 2015.

I am happy to see that tourism is growing in India. However, an 11 per cent growth rate is mediocre, pedestrian, and unambitious. It is not even close to good enough for a vast nation like India, with its immense unrealised potential. It is little more than a gradual, incremental change, a proportional increase caused to a large extent by the yearly growth in tourist numbers worldwide. It does not indicate that India has become more attractive to international tourists. Many countries are experiencing a similar increase in numbers. Many others are doing far better. At this rate, India will never catch up with the world.

The metric that really matters is the market share - the percentage of the world tourism market that a country is able to capture. In 2014, the US captured 15.4 per cent of the worldwide tourism market. France captured 7.2 per cent of the market, Spain 5.6 per cent, China 4 per cent, and India only 1.45 per cent. This the metric India needs to improve.

India needs to be ambitious, determined, and driven. It is not inconceivable to see India increasing its annual number of tourist arrivals tenfold within a decade to around 80 million per year, if the right steps are taken in a concerted nationwide effort. That would place India at the pinnacle of world tourism in terms of arrivals, and possibly also in term of revenues.

For example, India succeeded in increasing its international tourism arrivals over two-fold and revenues over three-fold in the 2004-2014 decade, without putting in a serious effort. This happened simply because awareness of India grew over time, thanks largely to the internet. Why should India not aim for a tenfold increase over the next decade? One must aim for the stars in order to land on the moon. Were India’s tourism revenues to increase tenfold what they are today to around $200 billion, it would cause a staggering 10 per cent increase in the country’s GDP. Such is the immense, transformative potential of international tourism.

A Roadmap For Massively Increasing International Tourism In A Decade

In my previous article I proposed five Atithi Devo Bhava standards that India’s tourist destinations must adopt and adhere to, in order to give international tourists a consistently good experience. I now propose a roadmap for a decade-long nationwide effort, owned and executed by India’s states, and facilitated by the Center.

Its objective to transform India into a highly competitive and attractive tourism destination and attract massive international tourism within a decade by creating a nationwide cultural and tourism infrastructure that: (A) employs and benefits millions of Indians directly and (B) injects at least $100 billion (and growing) in foreign money into India’s grassroots economy every year, benefiting the common man and woman directly.

My roadmap consists of 15 investments that each of India’s States must make within a decade, in order to transform India into a tourism superpower.

Each of India’s states must invest in, and develop the following:

A World-Class Museum

Consider the beautiful city of Geneva, Switzerland, which has a population of less than 2 lakh people. It has more than 40 museums and 50 art galleries, all exquisitely maintained. The city is an art and culture lover’s paradise. One can spend a month there and still not be able to fully experience all the cultural delights the museums and galleries have to offer. Is it any surprise that Switzerland attracts more tourists per year than its entire population?

A world-class museum is an affirmation of pride in one’s history and culture. It is a tourist magnet. The Met in New York City, the Louvre in Paris, and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo immediately come to mind. Not only do these museums increase their countries’ international reputation and soft power, they also keep tourists on location longer, encouraging them to spend more money in the local economy.

Every state must develop one world-class museum. It should be modeled after the worthies mentioned above or any other internationally renowned museum. It must showcase the state’s archaeological, historical, natural, and cultural heritage.

A World-Class Culinary Institute

Despite having possibly the world’s greatest variety of regional cuisines, India doesn’t have a single internationally recognised chef or Michelin star restaurant, unlike other competing Asian countries. The reason for this is simple: India does not have professional, world-class culinary institutes. The numerous cooking schools run by amateurs and enthusiasts (including some local “celebrity chefs”) do not count.

Every state must develop one world-class culinary institute, modeled on a top institute such as the Culinary Institute of America. It must train budding chefs according to international standards, as well as develop and augment the state’s local cuisine. It should have on-campus restaurants and cooking classes for tourists, the revenues from which should be utilized for running it.

A World-Class Film Institute

India’s film industry is closeted, myopic and one-dimensional. It does not represent the real India. It is not taken seriously internationally. This must be changed, by creating a world-class film institute in every state, modeled after the top schools in Europe and America. It should teach students the various aspects of film making such as film production, broadcasting, cinematography, editing, audio engineering, digital media production, animation, film history, etc. Students should be encouraged to use the local language and explore subjects of local interest.

A World-Class Theatre Institute

It should be modelled after the best theatre and drama schools in Europe and America. It should teach students theatre, drama, and acting, and collaborate with the film institutes.

A World-Class Music Institute

India is home to the world’s oldest, greatest, and most sophisticated classical and folk music traditions, all of which are on the verge of dying out. Great, iconic musicians and vocalists such as Pandit Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee, Bhimsen Joshi, M Balamuralikrishna, and many others have passed away, and India is no longer able to produce new musicians capable of filling the void.

Each state must have a music institute tasked with reviving India’s classical and folk music and instruments, helping bring them in the modern, 21st century context, and helping the state develop a high-quality music industry independent of monopolistic and increasingly culturally irrelevant and creatively bankrupt film industries such as Bollywood.

A World-Class Dance Institute

A small country like Spain receives more tourists per year than its entire population, fuelled to a large extent by the worldwide craze for its national dance, Flamenco. Interestingly, Flamenco owes its origin to Spain’s Indian-origin Romani people, and has much in common with India’s classical Kathak dance.

Spain has just one iconic dance form. India has more than 10 major classical dance forms, and dozens of amazing folk dances, most of which are in danger of extinction. This is a unique and peerless cultural heritage that tourism can help preserve. As with the music institutes, the dance institutes must revive India’s classical and folk dances, and help bring them in the modern, 21st century context.

A World-Class Art Institute

It should teach painting, sculpture, and other allied arts. A cursory glance at India’s ancient monuments is sufficient to see that India has rich artistic traditions going back thousands of years. The art institutes must revive the artistic talent and creativity in the country, which will help attract the millions of tourists who travel in search of art every year. They should be equipped with on-campus galleries and should conduct regular art exhibitions.

A World-Class Yoga Institute

India must build upon Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s efforts and create a world-class yoga institute or university in each state, where yoga is not only taught and practiced, but also studied by historians, and researched and developed further by scientists and medical experts. The institutes must set the world's standards in yoga, and determine what constitutes yoga, and what does not.

They should offer brief lessons for beginners, week or month long courses for enthusiasts, as well as degree courses for serious students. Foreign tourists should be encouraged to participate and enroll, just as they are in China’s Kung Fu schools.

The Shaolin Temple’s Kung Fu school is famous for its iconic imagery of thousands of students practicing in unison. Millions of tourists travel to China just to witness such scenes. India’s yoga institutes must do the same, for yoga.

30,000 Kung Fu students perform at the Shaolin temple in China’s Henan province.
30,000 Kung Fu students perform at the Shaolin temple in China’s Henan province.

Yearly, Week-Long Cultural Festival

Each state should conduct a yearly week-long festival to celebrate its culture and heritage, with the participation of the state’s institutes and museum. The festival should be modelled after high-quality, internationally renowned cultural festivals such as England’s Glastonbury Festival Nevada’s Burning Man and China’s Snow and Ice Festival in Harbin, to name a few.

One Beautiful, World-Class Modern Cultural Monument Per 10 Million People

What do monuments such as the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, the Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin) Statue in Sanya, China, the numerous modern Vishnu and Garuda statues in Bali and Indonesia, the many giant Ganesha statues in Thailand, the giant Thai Shiva, and the tableau of Samudra Manthan at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport have in common? The answer is that these are tourist magnets. They bring in lakhs or even millions of tourists every year. Not only do they make their cities beautiful and attractive, they also bring in millions of dollars in tourism revenue every year.

A 108-metre (354 ft) statue of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in Sanya, China.
A 108-metre (354 ft) statue of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in Sanya, China.

Giant statue of Lord Shiva in Koh Samui, Thailand.
Giant statue of Lord Shiva in Koh Samui, Thailand.

India has no iconic modern cultural monuments. It would appear that our neighbouring countries take more pride in our culture than we ourselves do! I propose that India’s states should construct one giant, beautiful, world-class modern cultural monument, inspired by India’s own indigenous cultural heritage, per 10 million people. This means that Uttar Pradesh, which has a population of 204 million (2012), should construct 20 such monuments. Maharashtra, with a population of 114 million (2012), should construct 11 such monuments. Overall, India, with a population of 1.2 billion, should have 120 giant, beautiful, iconic modern cultural monuments. The art institutes I have proposed can help create them. Imagine how much tourism this will attract!

One Well Maintained Historic Archaeological Monument Per 10 Million People

India has thousands of incredible archaeological sites that need restoration and maintenance. Thousands more lie undiscovered. Every state should develop one such site per 10 million people, giving India a total of 130 such monuments, instead of just the Taj Mahal and a handful more.

The monuments should be professionally restored by experts, using original materials. The Archaeological Survey of India, which is tasked with protecting and maintaining India’s ancient monuments, and has produced truly great luminaries such as professor B B Lal in the past, does not have the know-how, the state-of-the-art technology, and the world-class expertise needed to maintain and restore our ancient heritage. The disastrous way in which the Bandra fort and the numerous ancient caves and monuments in Mumbai have been handled is a case in point. Foreign experts should be hired to lead the restoration teams, and as consultants and mentors to train the next generation of Indian experts.

A World-Class National Park

One national park in each state must be brought up to world-class standards by modelling it after national parks such as, Jasper, Serengeti, etc. It should be well-staffed with park rangers and have world-class facilities, amenities, and infrastructure.

A World-Class Entertainment Capital - A Special Administrative Region (SAR)

India’s cities are notoriously devoid of entertainment, stifled by paternalistic administrators and politicians who find “fun” immoral and inappropriate and impose arbitrary restrictions and bans on nightlife. As a consequence, a vast segment of tourists - fun lovers, party lovers, and nightlife connoisseurs - give India a wide berth, preferring to visit places such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Macao, etc. Even places such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the far more socially conservative Middle East have leapfrogged ahead of India and become elite entertainment destinations.

Every state should have a world-class entertainment capital designated as a Special Administrative Zone (SAR) along the lines of Hong Kong and Macao. These should be open 24/7 and modeled after top holiday destinations such as the ones just mentioned.

A World-Class High-Capacity Multi-Disciplinary Medical City

Imagine an entire city dedicated to medicine, and filled with top-quality hospitals and clinics. Every state should have one. This will help people in every state get access to quality medical treatment, as well as boost medical tourism, which is already a growing phenomenon with India being one of its largest beneficiaries. Priority for treatment should be given to Indian citizens, but hospitals should be allowed to set aside a percentage of beds for foreign medical tourists.

Acceptable Travel Infrastructure

It is next to impossible to develop world-class roads, railways, and airports throughout a country as vast as ours within a decade, which is why “acceptable” travel infrastructure will be a good start. The development of numerous world-class institutes, museums, monuments, and cities must catalyze every state to develop adequate transport infrastructure that is safe, convenient, and reasonably comfortable.

These are my 15 recommendations, which must be implemented within a decade at most. If implemented properly, they will give clear, measurable results, in terms of tourist arrivals and tourism revenues, within five to 10 years.

Also read: A Roadmap To The Future: How To Tap India’s Phenomenal Tourism Potential For Nation-Building

Kheersana Yumlembam is a Manipur-born, Mumbai-based, Ministry of Tourism and Culture approved tourist guide with a licence to operate in the western region of India. She has been conducting tours for foreign tourists for over ten years.

She has a M.A. in Sociology, a M.Sc. in Home Science, a three year Diploma in Manipuri Classical Dance with two gold medals, and a Diploma in Women’s Studies.

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