Human beings are curious and inquisitive by nature. They like to explore things (Tourism) and places around them. During the entire evolutionary journey of humankind, people loved to travel, to explore and seek adventure. People still love to travel, explore and seek adventure, but not out of some compulsion to ensure their survival rather for leisure and fun.
This distinct nature of human being has paved the way for the development of a full-fledged service industry in the form of tourism around the globe and India is no exception to this. Rather, India has for ages captivated and ruled the very imagination and thoughts of travellers, adventure-seekers, philosophers, traders, etc. So much so that it was no exaggeration when our beautiful country was quoted as follows: ‘India is the cradle of human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most artistic materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only. ”
In the background of the greater prospects that lie within the Indian domain for development of tourism, the question can be answered by understanding the fabric of Indian tourism itself and how it can be further pushed towards seizing growing global needs in tandem with various other development needs.
In terms of tourism potential, India is the epitome of the world. No single country in the world has been endowed with such diversity and as varied geographical and climatic conditions as is India. This variety in geography and climate has made each part of India— the deserts of Thar, coastal beaches of South India, the Himalayas of the North, Rainforests and Wetlands in the North East— beaming with scenic beauty favourable for a tourist destination. Throughout the year and across the country, the mild temperature of South India, pleasant summer and cold freezing winters at hill stations in North India, monsoonal rhythms of rainfall provide better and favourable conditions for tourism.
Apart from the geography of India; the entire course of Indian history from Harappan civilisation to the India of today played a significant role to promote and nurture Indian tourism. The history has left its indelible mark in the form of various—statues, shrines, tombs, minarets, forts, palaces, monuments, buildings—every piece of art or architecture gives us a glimpse into the Indian past.
The performing arts—(music, drama and dance), traditions and customs, costumes, cuisine, languages, social norms and practices, religious rites and festivals—are an expression of the rich Indian culture and heritage. This distinct culture of India has helped to flourish of a variety of festivals, lively markets, vibrant lifestyle and traditional Indian hospitality—all of which act as sources which attract foreign tourists to India.
In a world based on the knowledge economy, and growing health consciousness, there can be seen a pragmatic shift towards the conventional Indian wisdom based on—Yoga and Ayurveda. Nowadays, Yoga, Ayurveda and natural health resorts are contributing greatly to the growth of ‘Medical Tourism’ in India. Also, significant is the urge of ‘Spiritual Tourism’ in India; people visiting the Ghats of Ganga, seeking peace and self-realization towards the exploration of inner-self.
Given such a shining profile and prospects of tourism, India has not fully leveraged the advantage hitherto, as others have such as the South East Asian economies of Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, etc. The tourism sector is largely seen as a mere contributor towards foreign exchange reserves and employment generation. But if we want tourism to be the sunrise sector for India, this perspective must be shunned.
Tourism goes far beyond these too alone. Its development has a wider and deeper rationale. Tourism can be greatly helpful in the social development process also. The objectives of poverty alleviation and sustainable human development can be met incoherence along with tourism development.
The local community stakeholders must be made aware of the prospects and benefits of tourism development in their area. If they are engaged in promoting tourism, it will boost their quality of life with the additional income they will receive from this engagement. This engagement can be nurtured and developed by the government as a part of its many poverty-alleviating programmes; the difference here being that instead of being only recipients of allowances, the locals can be provided with a platform whereby they can sell articles of handicrafts, such as jewellery, carpets, antiquities—wooden and metallic, etc. directly to customers without being harassed by middlemen and brokers.
At community levels, tourism offers opportunities for direct, indirect and induced employment and income, spurring regional and local economic development. The local people of a community know best about the resources in their community. Therefore, they can play a greater role in conservation and sustainable development of their region. Thus, the development of community or community development programmes facilitates sustainable development as well as tourism development.
Tourism can also be seen as a way forward to promote pluralism and multiculturalism, which can further help to build and spread the feeling of secularism and communal harmony among diverse communities of India. India is often projected as a Hindu nation by the Hindu fundamentalist groups and because of this highly flawed and narrow outlook tensions are created and spread in the society. Here lies the importance and need for a reinterpretation of our history and culture. The very name of our country Hindustan has no religious importance. The term ‘Hindu nation’ has nothing to do with religion or rituals. The nation can have a number of groups professing different religions, faiths or beliefs. ‘Hindu’ does not connote a religion. It connotes culture, certain value system. And the most salient feature of our Indian culture or value system is the respect for plurality, diversity and inclusivity. We are a population of over 1.2 billion people making a diverse, multicultural or plural society with different beliefs, faiths, languages, dress codes, food habits and what not.
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All the religious places are visited by tourists, even local nationals, only as a part of either ‘Char Dhaam Yaatra’ or as ‘Holiday trip’. If the attitude of Indian people is to be changed about this that these places having a religious connotation, or places of historical importance, i.e. historical monuments must be seen beyond exclusively in the sense of being mere tourist places. They rather provide deeper insights into the evolution of our great tradition, culture and history over the ages. They will not only help in creating integration and harmony but also broaden our understanding of history and culture which will further help in promoting the ethos of brotherhood and secularism in the country.
The right way to strive towards it would be to create awareness among the people. And it can be achieved via education. For this, there must be a change in the school curriculum and subjects. History, culture and sociology must be taught with a new and broader perspective. However, to achieve this in true spirit, the attitude of teachers also must change. In schools, students dread subjects like History and Culture because of the way in which they are being taught. As a result, the future of India remains in darkness, underinformed or highly misinformed about the history and culture of the country.
To develop the tourism sector in India in a prudent manner—local, domestic as well as international tourism—must be focused on holistic effect. Also, it can greatly help to increase India’s share in world tourism. The Government of India too, realising India’s potential, took this issue seriously, dealing it with due importance in Five-Year Plans, setting up committees, departments and above all, a separate Ministry of Tourism, but failed in achieving any great success.
With India having so much to offer for global tourism, it is still plagued by serious problems. One of them is a lack of infrastructure, including lack of connectivity which debars us from places offering vistas of scenic beauty in its pristine form. The more serious issues are that of security such as the problem of insurgency, Naxalism and terrorism, which have marred the morale of tourists to visit areas affected by terrorist and Naxalite activities. Then there are also problems of frauds, misbehaviour and harassment, even heinous crimes like rape and murder against foreign tourists are committed which seriously harm the ethos of Indian hospitality.
One of the factors that act as a negative impediment for tourism in India is a lack of professionals who can cater to the needs of the tourists. In many instances, the tourist guides give misleading explanations and conclusions about a particular tourist place or monument. Moreover, they are not able to give an overall pleasant experience to the tourists visiting our country. Therefore, it is high time we promoted tourism studies in schools and colleges or centres of higher education for bringing professionals to the tourism industry. This will, in addition to increasing awareness about the rich heritage and culture of the country, increase efficiency and hence employability of people (youth) in the tourism sector.
Further, as a part of policy-making, we must incorporate the success stories and experiences of other countries like Switzerland, China, and Singapore etc. while retaining our strengths in initiating development in this sector. Infrastructure development then becomes a necessary pre-condition. Though Smart Cities and Bullet Trains are sought to become a reality for India; we have to really work a lot for it. We still lack all-weather roads, so firstly roads have to become commutable throughout the year. There is a need to
upgrade the quality and capacity of our railways and air transport, providing faster and safer access to tourist places. Hotels and resorts should be developed as per needs of tourists, based on international norms and standards. Sanitation and hygiene must be given due importance. For this, ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan’ needs to be taken more seriously.
While defining the growth trajectory of the country with the help of tourism, it should be kept in mind that the infrastructure development policy and urban development policies must be such which cater to preserving the cultural and natural heritage of our country. Tourism is a multidimensional, actively and basically service industry, so it would be necessary that all wings of Central and State governments, the private sector and voluntary organisations become active partners in the endeavour to attain sustainable growth in tourism if India is to become a world player in the tourism industry.
To make tourism crucial to economy’s growth, the role of the common citizenry cannot be minimised. If we are conscious enough about our basic fundamental rights, we must be aware of our fundamental duties too, and one of them clearly states, ‘to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture’ and ‘to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife’.
We must pledge to honestly abide by our duties and also make others do the same. We must understand that these are a part of our glorious past commonly shared by us. By pilfering waste and causing degeneration of these historical and geographical assets of the country, we not only are setting hurdles to growth and development of tourism in the country but also become culprits in the eyes of future generations, as we deprive them of the mesmerising beauty and pleasure offered by these tourist spots.
Most importantly, the haphazard approach that we apply to the development of tourism should be discarded and replaced with a planned and long-term vision abiding by famous Japanese proverb which says, ‘Vision without Action is a daydream, hut Action without Vision is a nightmare”.
Let’s be serious enough in our approach then surely tourism can become the sunrise sector for India.
Note: This article caters to the portion of General Studies-Paper III and also to the Essay Paper in the UPSC Main Examination.