India should target 20 million inbound tourists by 2020, said Union tourism minister KJ Alphons during The Indian Express Round Table Conference (RTC) in New Delhi on Thursday.
“Last year, we crossed the 10 million mark in inbound tourists but that’s really nothing. India needs to do so much better and reach the target of 20 million by 2020,” Alphons said. He added that “tourism is contributing over 6.8 per cent to India’s GDP and the sector employs 84 million people”. The theme of RTC was “20 Million inbound travellers by 2020”.
However, the minister admitted that there are some areas we need to work on to reach the ambitious target. “Our monuments need to be better maintained, so we came up with this idea of Adopt A Heritage.” He added that even though big protests happened, the ministry held their ground. “It’s all about all Indians feeling that this is my heritage, and not some babu sitting in some dusty office saying no one should touch the monument,” said Alphons, adding that he hopes the “protests are now behind us”.
As per the Adopt A Heritage scheme, while Delhi’s Purana Qila has undergone a facelift in collaboration with NBCC, the minister said that Red Fort complex is being redone along with the Dalmias. However, “the only thing I won’t give for adoption at the moment, till elections are over, is the Taj Mahal,” he said.
The minister also touched upon other problems hampering tourism such as cleanliness issues. “India fundamentally has a lot of problems. Swachh Bharat has dramatically changed things in the last four years. And that’s where tourism is going to benefit greatly. Cleanliness just got to get into our DNA otherwise tourism just won’t work.” Alphons also spoke about some of “our habits that need to change”. “Why can’t we leave people alone? When we see a white woman, people want to get closer. Why is this a national sickness?” he remarked. But he added that the number of such cases in India are few compared with many other countries. The minister also extolled the states to invest more in tourism.
“We have an incredible opportunity for adventure tourism since 70 per cent Himalayas are in India. Guidelines for adventure tourism have also been put in place but enforcement depends on states. But for the states, tourism not a priority at all. That’s hugely shocking because tourism has biggest multiplier effect,” he said.
Talking about his ministry’s focus areas in the coming days, Alphons said they are going to focus on getting tourists from China and also on cruise tourism. In that context, he said he has sought a five-year tax holiday for the nascent cruise tourism industry.
An hour-long insightful panel discussion on the subject followed the minister’s address. Moderated by Reema Lokesh, Editor, Express TravelWorld & Express Hospitality, the panel comprised Suman Billa, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism; EM Najeeb, Chairman & Managing Director, Airtravel Enterprises Group; Dipak Deva, MD, Travel Corporation of India; and Kamal Hingorani, Chief Customer Officer, SpiceJet.