From Beauty to Attraction

If we go about systematically improving the quality of our lives, that will automatically make India more attractive to tourists.
Ashok V. Desai   New Delhi     Print Edition: January 28, 2018

Indians know how much India has to offer a tourist; a lifetime is not enough to see it all. But the world does not see it that way. In 2016, India's rank in World Economic Forum's travel and tourism competitive index was 55. Last year, it went up to 40. But still, it has far to go. What does it lack? There is not much point in comparing ourselves with Spain and France, the most attractive countries in the world, whose concentration of leisure activities and infrastructure India cannot match. The only country with India's size and diversity is China; its rank is 15. Where does it score over India?

Its biggest lead (87-25) is in what the World Economic Forum calls human resources and global market. It depends partly on workers' education and training, and partly on the flexibility of the labour market - ease of hiring and firing, of employing foreigners and women's labour participation. It is reflected in the quality of service, especially its reliability.

Next comes prioritisation of travel and tourism (104-50). This vague concept is based on the priority the government gives to travel and tourism, its expenditure on it and on publicity.

Then comes ICT readiness. It is odd that India, which has built up such a reputation for its skills in information and communications technology and has made so much money out of it should score below China; what pulls it down is lower domestic ICT, less developed mobile communications and lousy power supply.

The next factor that holds India back is health and hygiene. The indicators are obvious ones such as sanitation, drinking water, hospital beds, physician density and incidence of malaria and HIV. India's poor sanitation and scarcity of drinking water are well documented.

India also falls behind in safety and security, and tourist service infrastructure. The poor performance of the police and the ubiquity of watchmen in offices are relevant; tourist service infrastructure is assessed from the availability of accommodation, car rentals and ATMs.

These indicators may matter to tourists; but what struck me was that they matter just as much to us indigenes, especially our middle class. National Sample Survey recently put out a report on domestic tourism. What I found remarkable about it is how much we Indians travel - in particular, our villagers. And how poor the facilities for them are - there are few cheap and clean places for them to stay in cities; so they mostly land up in the homes of their relatives. It must be pretty trying for a villager who moves to a small residence in a town to entertain his visiting relatives.

If we go about systematically improving the quality of our lives, that will automatically make India more attractive to tourists. Tourist facilities may not be equally important to them and us. But by and large, the better we live, the more comfortable tourists will be. So we should get down to making India the bourgeois paradise; then the world's bourgeoisie will flock to India. If we want to improve, we should look for lessons, not at China, but at the world's best destinations. And we should concentrate on improving in those areas where we do poorly. They are mostly related to government activity - prioritisation of tourism, tourist service infrastructure, health and hygiene, and environmental sustainability. Surely, it is not beyond us to have cleaner hotel rooms, more automatic teller machines, more and better car rental companies. Nor would it be difficult to employ more women in tourism infrastructure; they are better at making tourists welcome. And why just them? Local males would welcome it too.

 

The writer is a senior economist and was chief consultant in the finance ministry from 1991 to 1993

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