Union Budget 2015-16: Incredible India tries to become hospitable India

Visa on arrival facilities for 150 countries may boost tourism but do we have the infrastructure to cope?

twitter-logo Chitra Narayanan        Last Updated: March 2, 2015  | 10:40 IST
FM Arun Jaitley
FM Arun Jaitley

Chitra Narayanan
Tiny Thailand gets around 23 million tourists a year. India got barely 7.4 million tourists by contrast in 2014. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's Budget 2015/16 promises to extend visa on arrival facilities to 150 countries in a phased manner - up from 43 countries currently.

On paper, it is a great move, because tourism is one of the biggest contributors to a country's GDP. A 2014 report by the World Travel and Tourism* Council (WTTC) says that every $1 million in travel and tourism spending in India generates $1.3 million in GDP.

And, certainly our record in attracting tourists has been woeful. We have consistently missed the target of 10 million tourist arrivals announced with much fanfare years ago. According to UNWTO, India ranks 41st in international tourism arrivals, and 16th in world tourism receipts.

India has in the last couple of years been progressively opening its doors for visa on arrival to more countries - from just 11 two years ago, we went to 42 and now comes the new announcement of 150 countries. Jaitley said in his speech that last year's move to open visa on arrival facilities to 43 countries had a positive impact and resulted in an increased tourism inflow into the country.

The figures do seem to bear it out. Foreign tourist arrivals in 2014 did show an accelerated growth of 7.1 per cent and rose to 7.4 million compared with 2013 when growth was 5.9 per cent with 6.9 million foreign tourist arrivals.

The foreign exchange earned from tourism in 2014 was $19.6 billion as compared to $18.4 billion in 2013. But a concern that is being voiced by most people is:  do Indian airports have the wherewithal and infrastructure to cope with clearing visa on arrival formalities? 

Imagine visitors to India having to cope with snaking queues and frayed tempers. Also, while the gateway cities may be equipped, our air connectivity to tier 2 and 3 cities is pretty woeful still.

Last year, the Narendra Modi government did announce plans to develop 200 low-cost airports in Tier 2 and 3 cities. And the Airports Authority of India drew up a low-cost model to create these. But building airports is not enough.

Already, cities like Jaipur, Bhopal and Khajuraho have got good airports, but airlines are not really interested in operating flights to some of these towns. No low-cost airline flies to Bhopal, for instance.

Look up the log book of complaints and you will find plenty of cancellation of flights to some of these towns. Or, the passenger ends up paying a ridiculous fare to these towns. In sum, before we start inviting guests, we should get the arrangements for the stay and movement to historical hot spots sorted out. Only then can India offer an 'Incredible' experience.

*An earlier version of the article carried the organisation's name wrongly as World Travel and Trade Council. The correction has been made.

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