How do you see the tourism sector in this country at the moment?
It is growing. And, foreign exchange earnings are growing even faster.
Given the state of tourism in India, what steps has the tourism ministry taken to improve it? Can you give specific instances?
We are looking into every aspect and nothing has been left unattended. The work of the tourism department is not limited to a single issue as things like visas, permits and other paper work are required. Look at the enormous progress we have made on the issue of visa this year. We removed the 60-day restriction on tourists returning to India on two consecutive visits. Moreover, the provision of visa-on-arrival has been extended. It is a huge success and the growth has been in double digits. We have seen a jump in inbound traffic from countries to which this facility has been extended. Countries like Japan have seen a growth of almost 20-25 percent. We intend to extend the scheme to five more airports — Trivandrum, Kochi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad by 15 August and Goa from October this year.
But despite the efforts, India only holds 0.6 percent of the tourism pie of the entire world. How do you plan to increase that?
Although I do not agree with the word pie, the 0.6 percent footfall translates to 1.8-2 percent of the global tourism revenue.
Are you regulating hotels or are you regulating tourist spots, tourist parks?
We have a voluntary scheme by which hotels that want to be regulated are regulated and hotels that don’t want to be regulated are not. This aspect of tourism is a state issue and local policing issue.
Tourism also offers a lot of jobs. How far has the ministry tried to capitalise on that?
It is the only thing we are working on at the moment. Today, tourism provides over 10 percent of direct and indirect employment in the country. Indirect, of course, means India’s best driver is counted. The ministry is trying to train the manpower at every level — it is the ministry’s biggest initiative. Starting with graduates at the Institutes of Hotel Management, diploma and certificate holders from similar institutes, we trained 58,000 individuals. The National Council for Hotel Management & Catering Technology is also on the verge of a tie-up with the Cornell University.
What kind of problem does the Ministry of Tourism face with regard to states, when it comes to initiatives launched by you? Is there friction between the Centre and the state governments, and is that the reason why we are not able to reach our potential?
Look, this is a very general question. There are 35 states and union territories. The Centre has never experienced friction with any of them. However, out of the 35, there are 5-6 states that will always be indifferent. One state that is always indifferent is the one that also receives the maximum number of tourists and is arrogant about it.