India’s tourism prospects, by all counts, are incredible. With its diversity in culture, topography, flora, and fauna, India, perhaps, has no match. Then why is it in the 34th position in the world tourism map and a single digit growth rate?
Globetrotters know well where to search for wildlife or the peaceful surroundings of mountains and the seas. The National Geographic will guide you to Africa to enjoy the forests, discover their inhabitants, their migrations. Or maybe the Amazon (inspite of the depletions!) or Borneo. But why not India? Because we could not sell our strengths. Africa may have the highest number of animals in terms of volumes but India has the greatest variety. African forests have a uniformly dwarfed kind of vegetation, which is no match to the Indian variety of flora. But we could not adequately tell the world this. People will escape to the northern Alps of Switzerland or the Southern Alps of New Zealand. But wouldn’t knowing properly about the Himalayas or the Western Ghats. Why? It is not always inadequate infrastructure. It's bad planning, bad promotion strategies.
It is significant that Chandrayaan-2 is described as a failure because of its ‘communication’ hold-up. Unlike the western civilisation whose strength is articulation, our eastern ways are mostly associated with namelessness or silence. Communication is not our strength. Communication is not mindless propaganda (as the media did with Chandrayaan-2 ). If ISRO has failed, it is because it provided lesser importance to its communication technology in its total planning ofrocket science. Chandrayaan-2 is a success as long as it collects scientific information from the moon; but its communication failure at the last moment has evidently sent a wrong signal to the world.
Similarly, inspite of being so greatly endowed by nature for becoming a tourist haven of the world, we have failed in communicating it adequately to the world following the true Indian tradition of ‘silence’. We have failed to ‘market’ our tourist wealth. And marketing is more planning than mindless propaganda. We have to bring in our long tradition of history and culture – beginning at the micro level – to promote the wealth of our geography.
A small country like New Zealand has been so successful in promoting itself as a world tourist destination primarily because of its meticulously planned museums. A small town like Arrow town in Otago for example has a brilliant museum telling the tourists about the Gold Rush – the reason why people came to New Zealand. In India, we have such rich history scattered all over the country. We need to communicate to the world what we are, what we have been. All we need to do is centrally plan our strengths in terms of its diverse history and topography and allow the local bodies to promote the strengths through such small museums, hoardings, cultural programmes. Let each locality speak its strength. But the communication strategy has to break open from its traditional culture of namelessness and attempt to reach global standards in articulation. Even myths can be well told.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s strategy of the ‘golden quadrangle’ has changed road transportation of the country forever – even in the remote villages. It can only be improved now. The unnecessary restrictions to visit remote India have to go. The Olas and Ubers are no hindrance to the growth of Indian transportation. The more the merrier. All we have to do is think differently. Encourage more car rental companies – let the foreign tourists (as well as the domestic enthusiasts) hire a car or a caravan and travel freely throughout the country and return the car back when they are done with it. That is how tourism is promoted throughout the world. The roads have improved, the GPS is in place. Swachh Bharat could coordinate with the tourism department to give the tourist a good public toilet. India needs to aim at becoming number one in world tourism. It has the strength to do so.