September , 2019
Diversification and innovation in Indian tourism
15:16 pm

Ellora De and Kuntala Sarkar

Indian tourism has a huge unrealised potential. Twenty-first century tourism calls for tourism diversification and realisation of relevant specialisations through innovations. Some recent examples of tourism diversification include adventure tourism, wildlife tourism, religious tourism, medical tourism, wellness tourism, and weekend tourism.

Adventure tourism

Due to a diverse landscape, India is increasingly gaining momentum as an adventure tourism destination for domestic as well as international tourists. The Himalayan range in the north and east, numerous difficult-to-reach rivers and lakes and the more than 7,500 km of coastline offer a wide range of adventure activities in India. Summers are generally preferred for trekking in the high mountains apart from the Chadar trek in Ladakh which is done in winters. Additionally, biking expeditions in Ladakh are gaining popularity during the summer months. Travellers also prefer scuba diving in the non-rainy seasons in numerous beach locations like Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep and Goa among others.

With growing number of travel operators offering unique adventure experiences that are gaining traction among the youth, the market of adventure tourism is experiencing a growth. The market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 17.4% during 2017-23 and there has been a 42% increase in popularity of high altitude regions among adventure travellers over the past three years. The Indian tourism department observed 2018 as the ‘Year of Adventure Tourism’ to promote this segment.

Nanak Sharma, associated with Himalayan Trekkers, an adventure tourism operator, informed BE, “The most popular treks in the western Himalayas are the Ladakh-Markha trek, the Parng La trek from Kibber to Tso Moriri, the Darcha to Lamayuru trek, and the Darcha to Padum trek. The Poon Hill, the Annapurna Base Camp, Goecha La Trek, Nathula La Pass and the Living Root Bridge treks are popular choices in eastern India. However, global economic slowdown has negatively impacted our segment. We are receiving lesser number of foreign trekkers in recent times.”

A recent FICCI report titled ‘India Inbound Tourism’ states, “The global adventure tourism market was valued at $6.80 trillion in 2017 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 46% till 2022. According to the NITI Aayog, “India’s nature and adventure tourism is still at a budding stage with barely 3% of the 668 protected areas attracting any significant tourism activity.”

The Indian tourism department along with the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI) recently launched the ‘Indian Adventure Tourism Guidelines (Version 2.0)-2018’, which focuses on safety and quality norms for adventure tourism in India. The department also extends central financial assistance for infrastructural development at adventure tourism destinations. Adventure tourism has also been a key theme under the Swadesh Darshan scheme.

Wildlife tourism

India is home to a wide array of wildlife that attracts domestic and foreign tourists and many photography enthusiasts. In India, wildlife safaris are conducted around the year, barring the rainy season. Most of the protected forests remain closed during monsoons due to rain induced road damages.

Photographers are playing an important part in boosting wildlife tourism. Nirmalya Chakraborty, Founder President and Editor of Jungle Rhythms, a wildlife photography journal, told BE, “An image is worth a thousand words. As news spreads like wild fire about great sightings over various social networks, more and more tourists get inclined to visit the national parks and try their luck. This creates a positive impact on local community income through eco-tourism and in turn, the landscape is conserved through better protection efforts. Regulated wildlife tourism is good for both - the tourism sector and wildlife conservation.”

India has 868 protected areas, covering nearly 5% of India’s landmass. These include 104 national parks, 550 wildlife sanctuaries, 87 conservation reserves and 127 community reserves. The Ranthambore National Park, the Jhalana Reserve Forest and the Bera Forest in Rajasthan, the Sunderbans in West Bengal, the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, the Gir National Park in Gujarat, the Bannerghatta Biological Park in Karnataka, the Kaziranga National Park and the Manas National Park in Assam, the Periyar National Park in Kerala, the Bandhavgarh National Park and the Panna National Park in Madhya Pradesh, the Hemis National Park in Jammu and Kashmir, the Great Himalayan National Park in Himachal Pradesh and the Bhitarkanika National Park in Odisha are among the most popular wildlife destinations in India.

The central government presently runs projects such as ‘Project Tiger’ and ‘Project Elephant’ to protect the endangered animals. The successful implementation of these projects has translated well for the wildlife tourism sector in India. The Sunderbans in West Bengal, home to the famed Royal Bengal Tiger, has benefited widely from the implementation of the ‘Project Tiger’ and has emerged as a popular wildlife tourism destination. The current fiscal budget received an allocation of `350 crore for the ‘Project Tiger’ and `30 crore for the ‘Project Elephant’. It can be expected that these budgetary allocations will translate positively for the wildlife tourism segment in India.

A major concern raised by many environmentalists is regarding the tourism induced pollution in protected forests. The Indian government has acknowledged this issue and has started taking measures that include banning of plastic products and other contaminating items in protected forests. Additional emphasis is being given on eco-tourism.

Religious tourism

Religious tourism can be interpreted as travelling with a religious motive and includes pilgrimages. One segment of Indian religious tourism consists of domestic tourists who travel out of faith. The other segment consists of foreign tourists, who travel out of the curiosity to experience different spiritual practices.

In the present context, cultural tourism often gets mingled with religious tourism. Many other innovative approaches are being undertaken to promote religious tourism. However, there is still need for focused intervention to convert religious tourism destinations into alternative tourism destinations.

The Indian government has recently launched the Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive (PRASAD) to harness the untapped potential of religious tourism in India. The scheme has been implemented in 12 cities in India namely Amritsar in Punjab, Kedarnath in Uttarakhand, Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, Ajmer in Rajasthan, Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Gaya in Bihar, Kamakhya in Assam, Dwaraka in Gujarat, Puri in Odisha, Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh, Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu and Vellankanni in Tamil Nadu.

Saurav Agarwal, Director, Diamond Tours & Travels, Kolkata, stated that religious tours comprise of about 20% of their yearly activities. He also told BE, “Till now, tour operators are not finding any benefit from government policies like PRASAD.”

Agarwal added, “The most popular religious tourism destinations for Indian tourists are Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Gangotri, Vaishno Devi, Tirupati, Puri, Varanasi Vrindavan and Mathura, Haridwar and Rishikesh, Gaya and Bodh Gaya, Tirumala, Guruvayur, Rameswaram, Somnath and Dwarka, Gangasagar, Ujjain and Omkareshwar, Shirdi, Amritsar, Amarnath and the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati.”

Additionally, the Ministry of External Affairs, India organises the Kailash Yatra during June to September each year through two different routes - the Lipulekh Pass (Uttarakhand) and the Nathu La Pass (Sikkim). Kailash Manasarovar Yatra (KMY) is known for its religious value and cultural significance and is undertaken by the Indian government with active participation from the Chinese government.

Kumbh Mela is the biggest religious gathering on the banks of the river Ganges in India. The fair is rotationally held in Haridwar, Allahabad - Prayagraj, Trimbak – Nashik and Ujjain. It has a significant impact on Indian tourism. For the 2019 Ardh Kumbh at Prayagraj, the preparations reportedly included a sum of `42,000 million. The Uttar Pradesh government had practically constructed temporary city spread over 2,500 hectares with 122,000 temporary toilets and a range of accommodation from simple dormitory tents to 5-star tents for the recent Kumbh Mela. Additionally, 800 special trains were operated by the Indian Railways.

Medical tourism

Medical tourism is gaining popularity in India. The Indian medical tourism industry is facing a phenomenal growth of 18% CAGR every year.

Traditionally, this sort of tourism featured patients from less developed countries travelling to more developed countries to seek advanced medical services. However, in recent years, due to escalating medical expenses in many developed nations, many nationals from developed nations are travelling to developing nations to seek cheaper medical services. India is increasingly seen as the favoured destinations of medical tourists for its affordable yet advanced medical facilities.

According to a 2019 report of India Brand Equity Foundation, the number of Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India on medical visa grew by 15.9% year-on-year to reach an estimated count of 495,056 in 2017 from 427,014 in 2016. Medical tourism not only boosts the medical industry but also indirectly supports allied industries.

Various urban centres in India have developed as prominent medical tourism destinations. New Delhi, the national capital, is a popular medical tourism destination and caters largely to patients from Afghanistan, Iraq, Maldives, Oman, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania. Chennai is another popular destination of medical tourism in India, offering affordable state-of-the-art medical facilities to medical tourists. The eastern Indian city of Kolkata has also emerged as a popular destination of medical tourism, catering largely to patients from Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.

Yogesh Joshi, Head International and External Hospitals-Marketing, Medica Superspecialty Hospital, Kolkata, said to BE “We get on an average 900 to 1,100 patients every month from countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar and also from a few African countries among others.” 

Peerless Hospitex Hospital and Research Centre, Kolkata also has a good footfall of patients from neighbouring countries. The hospital has a special travel desk for foreign patients and a special counter for Bangladeshi patients. According to a hospital source, the hospital gets around 1500-2000 foreign patients admitted every year.

Dr. Sudipta Bhattacharya, Medical Superintendent, Peerless Hospitex Hospital and Research Centre who oversees the medical tourism segment, told BE, “The NABH accreditation and a team of UK trained consultant doctors have built confidence about Peerless Hospital among foreign patients. Language compatibility is another positive factor for Bangladeshi patients. Our marketing team and support staff coordinate with foreign patients and their families to support them not only in treatment procedures but also in other necessary requirements like accommodation. We also offer a special diet menu for foreign patients. As far as European patients are concerned, there are flight connectivity issues from the Kolkata airport to European destinations. Better seamless flight connectivity with European destinations will enhance the medical tourism sector in Kolkata.” Dhiman Banerjee, Senior Technical Advisor, Peerless Hospitex, told BE, “We do not charge anything extra from foreign patients.”

Sivasis Sarkar, Chief Financial Officer, Peerless Hospitex, informed, “Peerless is now into a tie-up with the Bhutan government for referral patients and the medical costs of such patients will be entirely borne by the Bhutan government.”

Wellness tourism

Wellness tourism has grown significantly in recent years in India. India provides competitive cost advantage as compared to other countries in the wellness segment and the segment has been successful in attracting foreign tourists. Rising disposable incomes and increased health awareness have strengthened this sector. With a natural wealth of over 6,600 medicinal plants, India is the second largest exporter of alternative medicines. Additionally, the wellness tourism sector is unaffected by seasonal variations and remain operational throughout the year.

AyurvedaGram in Karnataka, Sarovaram Ayurvedic Health Center in Ashtamudi, Kerala, Indus Valley Ayurvedic Centre in Mysore, Karnataka, Shreyas Yoga Retreat in Bengaluru, The Leela Raviz Kovalam at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala and the Vana Wellness Retreat in Dehradun are the among the most popular wellness resorts that attract maximum tourists.  South India has seen an immense growth in the wellness tourism arena.

Apart from regular treatments for routine ailments and for chronic diseases, AyurvedaGram also offers a host of specialised therapeutic treatments. A spokesperson of AyurvedaGram informed BE, “We welcome around 800 to 900 tourists yearly. Some of our popular services include ayurveda, yoga and spa therapies.”

The Indian government has recently introduced the e-Medical Visa facility to simplify the procedure for obtaining visa for medical tourists coming to India for wellness and medical purposes. The policy is likely to improve the medical and wellness tourism markets in India. Additionally, a National Medical and Wellness Tourism Board has been created to promote medical and wellness tourism in India.

Weekend tourism

Many of the twenty first century tourists prefer weekend trips over longer vacations. Getting small vacations is easier. It works better with stringent work schedules. Additionally, smaller tours over the weekend are easier on the pocket.

Nandini Sharma, Vice President, Revenue, 9x Media is a regular weekend traveller. She informed BE, “Long vacations need time adjustment from all family members but a short weekend trip can be organised with relatively less hassles. I prefer weekend gateways as it can be done multiple times in a year, does not need long planning and an elaborate booking process. Last but not the least, weekend trips are affordable.”

Weekend tours are great for relieving stress and bonding with family and friends. A host of weekend destinations have developed around cities. The following info-graphic shows some of those weekend destinations.


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