Tourism is one of the world’s most important economic sectors, It employs one in every ten people on Earth and provides livelihoods to hundreds of millions more as per WTO.
In India as well, up until the onset of the Covid pandemic, the Indian tourism and travel industry had been one of the major drivers of generating 87.5 million jobs (directly and indirectly). Worldwide hotel networks were expanding their presence in the nation accounting for 47 per cent of the total travel and tourism business in 2020 which was believed to reach 50 per cent by 2022.
Despite pandemic-induced global restrictions and weak tourism revenues, India’s service exports which includes tourism crossed the USD250-billion mark in 2021-22, registering a 20 per cent growth and exceeding the target level of USD240 billion.
Tourism was one of the sectors hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, however with the development and distribution & administration of vaccines in India & world over, a light of recovery is visible at the end of the tunnel.
By 2028, Indian tourism and hospitality is expected to earn USD 50.9 billion as visitor exports compared with USD 28.9 billion in 2018. International tourist arrivals are expected to reach 30.5 million by 2028. In 2020, the travel and tourism industry’s contribution to the GDP was USD 121.9 billion; this is expected to reach USD 512 billion by 2028.
Medical value tourism also contributes to the tourism sector. Healthcare is also one of the fastest-growing industries in India. The government is ambitiously aiming to tap into the global USD80-billion medical tourism Market & and take the Indian medical tourism market, worth USD6 billion in 2020, to USD15 billion over the next four years. India is 4th largest destination for healthcare services with medical value tourism, services and has been ranked 10th in the Medical Tourism Index (MTI) for 2020-21 out of 46 destinations by the Medical Tourism Association based on factors like tourist popularity, medical facility quality, hospital accreditation, healthcare costs, economic stability, and the overall environment of the destination.
India’s tourism sector is growing steadily but there are a few challenges that it is currently navigating. A few of these challenges are –
- Inadequate Infrastructure: India suffers from insufficient tourism infrastructure, encompassing airports, highways, and public transportation. While the mainstream tourist destinations boast good infrastructure, many other cities lack fundamental amenities. besides this connectivity between different cities including roadways also suffers from poor infrastructure issues. The absence of visitor-friendly infrastructure, information centers etc further complicates this problem.
- Sustainability Imperatives: A global shift towards sustainable and responsible tourism practices necessitates a critical reassessment of existing models. The delicate task at hand is to balance economic growth with environmental and cultural preservation. This challenge demands concerted efforts from both the public and private sectors.
- Digital Divide: The tourism sector also suffers from a digital divide where larger enterprises seamlessly adopt digital platforms, leaving smaller businesses struggling to keep pace. While efforts are in place to address this disparity for holistic growth, the digital divide currently hinders seamless functioning across the country.
- Lack of Skilled Manpower: The dearth of skilled manpower in India’s tourism sector presents a multifaceted challenge. In domains like tour guiding, hospitality, and travel management, there is a noticeable shortage of trained professionals. This scarcity not only hampers the sector’s growth potential but also adversely affects the quality of services extended to tourists. Furthermore, the prevalent language barrier increases this issue, limiting effective communication and diminishing the overall experience for both visitors and service providers.
Addressing these shortfalls is key to ensuring the sector’s proficiency. As a growing sector, it offers numerous opportunities despite the challenges :
- Domestic and Diverse Tourism: The emphasis on domestic tourism unfolds a unique opportunity for the sector’s growth. With international travel restrictions, a renewed focus on exploring local destinations can help keep the industry healthy. Besides this, capitalizing on the diverse landscapes, historical sites, and cultural richness within the country can serve as a stimulus for economic activity. Spiritual and wellness tourism including yoga and Ayurveda are proving to be a great attraction for overseas tourists. Wildlife and eco-tourism offer a unique draw for nature enthusiasts. Besides this, leveraging India’s vibrant festivals for cultural tourism can account for a visitor influx during these events. Besides this, rural tourism and culinary tourism also have a lot of potential and offer a unique narrative and community empowerment.
- Technological Integration for Enhanced Experiences: Embracing technology provides avenues for enhanced customer experiences. Virtual reality tours, contactless services, and personalized travel apps align with evolving consumer preferences while concurrently addressing safety concerns prevalent in a post-pandemic era.
- Government Support and Policy Reforms: A supportive policy framework and strategic government interventions have become pivotal for the sector’s rejuvenation. Incentivizing sustainable practices, providing financial support, and streamlining regulatory processes can collectively enhance the industry’s resilience, making it more attractive to investors.
- Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs): PPPs can be instrumental in addressing the sector’s challenges. By providing funding and expertise, PPPs can contribute to the development and maintenance of tourism infrastructure. Moreover, these partnerships can enhance coordination between stakeholders, fostering innovation in tourism products and services.
India’s tourism industry, while bursting with potential, faces some challenges that necessitate a holistic approach. A collaborative effort involving the government, industry stakeholders, and the public is crucial to overcome these challenges and cultivate a resilient sector.
The author is the Chairman of Service Export Promotion Council (SEPC).