Several initiatives have been launched to strengthen tourism sector in India which is expected to contribute around Rs 55, 455 billion to the country’s GDP by 2028

In 2023, particularly under its G20 leadership, India has a plan to establish the country as the key tourism destination in the world. In keeping with the plan, as many as 50 destinations across the country will be developed in order to impart a fillip to the tourism sector which contributes significantly to the country’s GDP along with creating millions of jobs.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the travel and tourism sector contributed 9.2% to India's GDP in 2019 and supported over 42 million jobs, which is about 8.1% of total employment in the country.

Furthermore, as per the Council, the travel and tourism sector is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 7.7% between 2021 and 2028. The report predicts that the sector will contribute around Rs 55,455 billion to India's GDP by 2028, which is up from Rs 29,585 billion in 2019.

As the country has multiple tourist destinations ranging from historical monuments and cultural sites to beaches and national parks, further growth in the travel sector is anticipated.

Recognizing the importance of the sector for the economy, several initiatives have been launched in the country. These initiatives include the development of digital platforms to promote tourism, creation of a national tourism database, and improvement of transportation links to many destinations.

Roadmap for development of tourism destinations

On March 3, addressing a Post Budget Webinar on ‘Developing Tourism in Mission Mode’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the scope of tourism in the country and listed out coastal tourism, beach tourism, mangrove tourism, Himalayan tourism, adventure tourism, wildlife tourism, eco-tourism, heritage tourism, spiritual tourism, wedding destinations, tourism via conferences and sports tourism.

He also gave the example of Ramayana Circuit, Buddha Circuit, Krishna Circuit, Northeast Circuit, Gandhi Circuit, and pilgrimages of all saints, and stressed the need to work together collectively on this.

The Prime Minister informed that several places in India have been identified through the route of competitive spirit and challenge in this year’s Budget while also focusing on the holistic development of the destinations.

He gave the example of Kashi Vishwanath Dham in Varanasi and informed that around 80 lakh people used to visit the temple in a year before it was rebuilt, but the tourist footfall crossed 7 crores last year after the renovation. He also informed that 15 lakh devotees have gone to see Baba Kedar compared to only 4-5 lakhs before the completion of reconstruction work in Kedarghati. Similarly, in Pavagadh of Gujarat, the PM informed that 80 thousand pilgrims go for the darshan of Maa Kalika compared to only 4 to 5 thousand people before the renovation.

The PM noted that the increase in facilities has a direct impact on the number of tourists and the increasing numbers mean more opportunities for employment and self-employment.

PM Modi also touched upon the Statue of Unity, the tallest statue in the world and informed that 27 lakh tourists visited the place within a year of its completion. He underlined that India's tourism sector can increase manifold with growing civic amenities, good digital connectivity, good hotels and hospitals, no trace of filth, and excellent infrastructure.

The Prime Minister also mentioned the Kankaria lake project in Ahmedabad, Gujarat and informed that skill development for those working in the food stalls was carried out apart from the redevelopment of the lake. He emphasized on cleanliness along with modern infrastructure and informed that about 10,000 people visit the place every day despite the applicable entry fees. “Every tourist destination can also develop its own revenue model”, the Prime Minister said.

“Our villages are also becoming centers of tourism,” the Prime Minister remarked as he underlined that remote villages are now coming up on the tourism map due to their improved infrastructure. He informed that the Central Government has started the Vibrant Village Scheme for the villages situated along the border and emphasized the need to support businesses such as homestays, small hotels, and restaurants.

Throwing the spotlight on the increasing number of foreign tourists in India, PM Modi noted the growing attraction towards India and informed that 8 lakh foreign tourists have come to India in January this year compared to only 2 lakhs in January last year.

The top ten source countries for foreign tourists to India were Bangladesh, the United States, the United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Germany, China, and France according to the Ministry of Tourism.

The PM thus insisted on developing 50 such destinations that every tourist from around the globe is bound to visit on his trip to India and mentioned developing apps in all languages listed in the United Nations.

Way forward to increase domestic tourism

Domestic tourism is a significant contributor to the country’s travel sector. According to a report by the Ministry of Tourism, domestic tourist visits in India grew at a compound annual growth rate of 11.6% between 2009 and 2018. In 2018, there were over 1.8 billion domestic tourist visits in India, generating over Rs 16.9 trillion in revenue.

A digital initiative, Utsav Portal has been launched with an aim to showcase festivals, events and live darshans across India to promote different regions of the country as popular tourist destinations worldwide. While using data, digital platforms, and infrastructure development, the government is working to attract more visitors to India and provide them with a better tourist experience.

Recognizing medical and wellness tourism as important sectors having the potential of accelerating the country’s development, several steps have been launched to promote India as a medical and wellness tourism destination. Towards this objective, a National Strategy and Roadmap for Medical and Wellness Tourism has been formulated. On similar lines, a National Strategy for Adventure Tourism has been formulated in order to position India as a preferred destination for adventure tourism globally.

While the travel sector in India has faced significant challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is reason to be optimistic about its growth prospects in the coming years. Several factors are expected to drive growth in the travel industry in India, including government initiatives to promote tourism, increasing disposable income, growing middle class, and rising interest in travel. Promoting domestic tourism through campaigns like “Dekho Apna Desh” are expected to boost the travel sector.

**** The author is a Mumbai-based journalist; views expressed are her own