All stakeholders must come together to increase travel & tourism sector's contribution to GDP: ITDC chief
Thesynergyonline Tourism Bureau
NEW DELHI, FEBRUARY 15 : The Ministry of Culture is in talks with Ministry of Finance (FinMin) to incentivise India's tourism industry, union minister, Dr Mahesh Sharma said at an ASSOCHAM event held in New Delhi on Thursday.
"There is a need to incentivise and encourage the tourism industry which is a key driver of economic growth and is a major contributor to employment generation, foreign exchange earnings and India's overall development," said Dr Sharma while inaugurating an ASSOCHAM Tourism and Hospitality Conference.
"I have also spoken to the Finance Minister that we need to support the tourism industry to help India realise its potential, more so as fruits of this industry reach the common man," said the Union culture minister.
"Besides it will help us realise social, economic and environmental benefits thus we need to take the advantage of this sector," he added.
Dr Sharma also congratulated the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister for initiatives taken in the Union Budget with regards to tourism and hospitality sector promotion.
He also said that government will achieve its target of raising infrastructure facilities as per international level at 100 ideal tourist destinations across India within one year. "Our target is December 2018 and we believe we would be able to take care of it."
On the government's decision of disinvestment in 17 ITDC (India Tourism Development Corporation) hotels, the minister said, "We have already disinvested about 8 hotels and in another six months to a year we will be able to disinvest all hotels of the ITDC."
Talking about the 'lapka culture' (culture of touts), the minister said, "We need to safeguard ourselves from such things as it is a blot on the entire tourism sector."
He further said that government was determined to end this 'menace,' and that his ministry was in talks with the chief minister of states and also discussing the matter with the home minister of the country. "We will soon declare it as a cognisable offence." He informed that touts would firstly be identified through installation of CCTV cameras, initially they would be warned and thereafter would be penalised.
"We have taken similar initiatives for other tourist destinations like - Red Fort, Old Fort, Fatehpur Sikri and others and we are also working under the public-private partnership (PPP) model to upgrade the infrastructure at these places," said Dr Sharma.
He also said that measures like limiting ticket validity to three hours at Taj Mahal and hiking the ticket prices was aimed at better crowd management and to preserve the monument and ensure that only 'serious visitors' gain entry into the main mausoleum and the tomb in the basement.
"In Taj we have taken certain initiatives in consultation with tourism industry and as per research-based guidance of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI)," the minister added.
In her address at the ASSOCHAM conference, Ms Ravneet Kaur, chairperson and managing director, ITDC said, "We need to develop infrastructure whereby we can attract tourists and we can hold onto tourists i.e. we need to have activities built around it so that people are encouraged to have extended stays."
She called for collaboration between all stakeholders - union government, state governments and private sector in order to ensure that experience of tourists be it domestic or foreign becomes memorable.
Highlighting the numerous opportunities for infrastructure sector in tourism and hospitality industry, she said that government is planning to ultimately increase the total number of hotel rooms in the country from 1.2 lakh to 1.8 lakh.
"International firms are coming very rapidly in this area, we find that percentage of international hotel chains has gone up from 44 per cent and we expect it to touch 50 per cent in another two years time i.e. by 2020," said the ITDC chief.
Terming that the industry can grow very rapidly, Ms Kaur said, "There is complete support from government, there are numerous opportunities which are being created by market forces therefore we all need to get together and work in this area so that we can fulfil the dream to take our GDP (gross domestic product) contribution of travel and tourism taken together from $137 billion in 2015 to more than double i.e. $275 billion."