By Raghav Bansal:
Now what I am going to say hereon is perhaps going to be pretty tough for most of us to digest, probably because our attention never ventured in that direction or maybe due to our severely misplaced confidence in our historically esteemed culture, heritage, tradition and past glories.
Inviting tourists, traders from as far as Venice, Spain, Northern China, Mongolia in the days of foot travel, all of whom just wanted a tiny piece of the biggest pie in the world, India was the richest economy on the globe handling 24.5% of the International Trade in the early 1700s. Come the 21st century she is no-doubt still an economic powerhouse but according to World Tourism Organization we are currently 46th on the list of visitor arrivals list with 25 Lac tourists, despite inviting people with open arms for about two and a half millennia. Even countries like China which only slackened their norms about a decade ago receive about twenty five times that number. Much smaller countries like Thailand and Myanmar receive in excess of 11 million visitors each year.
Considering a nation that is hailed as a sub-continent, the facts do not seem to acquiesce.
Now why should a person sun-bathing on a beach in San-Francisco or Florida come over to India? Well probably to learn more about the immensely rich history and background of our great nation, or to imbibe/have a look at our values, ethics, traditions, family values that are so rare in modern scenario etc. Looking at the first option I admit we arguably host the most famous pieces of royal architecture in the world in form of The Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, Red Fort, Agra Fort, the Rajasthan Palaces and Forts, The Jama Masjid, The Char Minar, The Awadh Imambaras, The Legendary temples of the Cholas, Chalukyas, Pandyas in the South and so many that cannot be named owing to lack of white space.Â The Ajanta, Ellora, Elephanta caves so famous for their excuisite paintings and intricate sculptures draw the envy of the greatest artists ever. Our archives hold the Mahabharata and Ramayana and several artefacts of unimaginable value in literary and cultural terms, money being worthless in comparison. A large collection of treasure troves like us still fails to attract visitors? An irony of overwhelming magnitude.
We have tremendous potential to host the maximum number of visitors in the world, but we are way too short of our target now. So what are the thorns impeding our tread on the way ahead? First and foremost, lack of proper infrastructure puts off every 2nd tourist out of 5. The sheer lack of proper transport and housing/lodging facilities in and around several of the prime heritage spots in India poses a big problem. Places like Khajuraho Temple, Sikkim Buddhist Shrines, Central Indian forts that house immense treasures barely attract foreign tourists owing to a very poor lodge to person ratio. In India there is an estimate of sixty thousand available rooms compared to 15 Lacs in China. Lack of proper road transport and inefficient railway systems and connectivity deter most foreign travellers who can’t afford to travel by air. The almost complete lack of good restaurants and hotels at places other than the metropolitan cities in India is a major issue as the foreigners find it very hard to relate to the so-proclaimed “safe overnight stoppages”.
Another issue is the absence of awareness and initiative among the general masses about the value of the tourism industry in India. The general public often undoes the effort put in by the government by harassing the tourists and by misleading them economically. The public is often guilty of publically defacing, littering historical buildings and parks. Several cases of foreigners being severely exploited economically and sexually are reported each year. Thus it is becoming very difficult to instil confidence in their hearts regarding their safety in India. People need to seriously take the initiative to ensure that our guests have a memorable stay and leave with pleasant memories only. They should be more helping and hospitable and live up to the image of “Atithi-Devo-Bhavah”.
The complete irreverence to the historical architecture and monuments in many cases is another factor which disgusts our distant shore visitors. Seeing the sorry plight of the temples and forts of Bundelkhand, Central India, and the desolate image of the tombs of Sher Shah Suri, Itmad-Ud-Udaula, and The Gol-Gumbaz with no care being taken for their restoration and upkeep they have been left to the mercy of creepers and spiders. The Taj Mahal is losing its spotless white gleam, but the efforts to prevent the same do not seem to pick up steam. Those buildings that are run by private institutions and foundations are the few saved from the state of ruins facing most of the ancient heritage sites.
The growing capitalistic nature of the public has further tensed the situation. Foreigners too will go those places that attract the general mass. But if the locals start holing themselves up in the small pigeon-houses, the so called Malls that have sprung up in almost every tourist destination, then the entire incentive is lost. We Indians are ourselves not showing enough interest in promoting our culture and traditions. Adopting the western lifestyle, imitating their attire and habits we have adversely affected the interests of the innumerable Indian artisans and hand craftsmen forcing them out of jobs. What we don’t realize is that way we lose business worth millions and potential buyers of intricate Indian handicrafts all over the world. These are the very things that foreigners do come to our shores for. The local visitor attendance for instance the Red Fort was found to drop year-by-year in past decade.
Foreign tourists don’t come here to see the latest malls and state-of-the -art stadia and complexes. They come here for the real India that has stayed to its roots. No doubt having the latter does impress them.
India has fast become the nerve centre of several unprecedented terrorist attacks on tourist places in the recent past. The sky high flames of the Hotel Taj Mumbai, is a bone chilling sight for outsiders. Our poor record against miscreants and infiltrators has not helped the cause any further.
Lack of counter active safety measures refuse to put the visitors’ mind at peace while planning a trip to India. Also we all need to drastically reform ourselves to sell our heritage out to the world. We must do so in the way the modern world wants it. In today’s modern era with everything available at a buttons touch we should market India’s brand image intelligently and smartly. Care should be taken to ensure massive audience viewership and promos covering all the good facets of India that entice the world all around.
This initiative is already being taken by the ITDC and steps should be taken to involve the private sector as well. The small scale market approach of the private sector will be invaluable in attracting the low and semi-low budget foreign tourists. A large chunk of the visitors coming to our land constitutes the average class of the USA, UK, France etc. Thus we need to individually cater to their needs specifically by making the tourism industry more and more personalized. Overall a overhauling of the human resource department of the tourism sector is of essence.
The development of infrastructure is definitely going to help India cement its place as a top tourist destination. Similar events like the Commonwealth Games and Cricket World Cup do bring along a lot of tourists and they take back with them their views which they pass on to their friends who I turn make up their minds for an Indian winter on that basis. Massive Corruption and scams are pasting a sordid picture in their minds and this adversely affectsÂ the popularity ratings. If we for once place India before our own pockets and think of the good that does to our global image then we can start thinking of really promoting India as good Indians.
So its time we sit back and give it a nice thought for I am sure you would by now have a pretty tough time swallowing the bombardment of harsh but true facts stated above.
The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz and also a student of BITS Pilani, Goa.