India has been an important tourism destination for the variety it offers. With multicultural diversity, beautifully built and natural attractions, India has opened up as a ‘spiritual’ destination as well as a destination for ‘pleasure and relaxation’ and ‘business’. In recent times, medical tourism is on the rise in India because of the availability of modern day facilities and good doctors at a much cheaper price compared to many countries in the west. From 4.45 million in 2006 to more than 7 million in 2014, the influx of tourists is on the rise showcasing the growth of the Indian tourism sector.
The National Policy on tourism in 1982 aimed at the development of the tourism sector which was in tune with the economic policies and the concurrent trends in tourism development. An important aspect of this policy was that it attempted to recognize the roles of central and state government’s development of the tourism sector. With multiple amendments, the national policy of tourism strengthened and addressed the infrastructural requirements of the tourism sector i.e. hospitality institutes, communication and connectivity through roads and Information technology, government and private lodges, guesthouses etc. In the recent national policy on tourism draft, the Narendra Modi Government has made their plans for strengthening and further developing the tourism sector with the National Tourism Policy 2015.
According to the policy, tourism which currently is a State subject will be transferred to the concurrent list to help the Centre play a more significant role, instead of being a mere auditor releasing funds. The recommendations of the policy are also to put the National Tourism Advisory Board under Union Tourism Minister, inter-ministerial coordination committee under PMO, empower Regional Councils in different regions, establishing tourism offices overseas, more Indian attractions in the UNESCO list and, developing Special Tourism Zones just like the SEZs. This reflects the willingness of the government to be actively involved for maximizing the growth of the sector. Another aspect of the policy is to increase the global tourist arrivals from 0.68% to 1% by 2020 and 2% by 2025.
The government is aiming at developing a niche tourism market where different areas/regions will be promoted on the basis of their regional specialties, further developing them into ‘tourism products’. Another approach of the government is to maximize the tourism sector through innovative ideas such as using vintage cars for sightseeing in princely states which will give the tourists a royal feel. Schemes like PRASAD i.e. National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive and Swadesh Darshan i.e. Integrated Development of Theme Based Tourist Circuits will cater to the augmentation of domestic and international tourists. The government also plans for restructuring the existing facilities in the archeological sites to make it more marketable and attractive.
Tourism has evolved from the first policy of 1982 to the latest of 2015. Tourism has been mainly successful because of the liberalization policies of the ‘90s and the IT boom of 2000. The new government has tried to bring in innovation in the tourism sector. There are multiple challenges that continue to hamper the potential of the tourism sector. Water and waste management is one of the main problems which has been hampering the tourism sector. Cleanliness is an equally important attribute to a tourist destination which still has only been mentioned in policies but rarely in practice. For instance, the group called Mountain Cleaners which consists of UK-born Jodie Underhill, along with her group of volunteers, have been cleaning up some of the most visited pilgrimage trails of India in the Himalayan belt. The government should work on a framework based on such organizations for ensuring cleanliness and hygiene in tourist destinations. Similarly, another Achilles heel of the Indian tourism industry is that it still is an unorganized sector. The accountability of the local communities must be taken into consideration by the government and more schemes should be introduced for strengthening their livelihood opportunities through tourism. Another issue is that the new policy has only touched the domain of eco-tourism which is surprising provided India is one of the top destinations with multiple ecological destinations. Hence, there is a need to explore and promote eco-tourism to make tourism industry more sustainable. The relationship of climate change and tourism should be reflected on the policy-making process of the government as there is an urgent need for climate proofing the delicate eco-systems of the country, one primary example would be the Nandadevi Biosphere Reserve which already has been ravaged by erosion and flash floods. Though the changes in the tourism policy are encouraging but the priority should be put in to make tourism in India more sustainable, economically and environmentally viable.