It was meant as a “preparatory visit” for Prime Minister Narendra’s Modi trip in May. But external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s maiden visit to China has looked at a few other interesting issues of mutual interest like tourism. On Monday, Ms Swaraj launched the ‘Visit India Year’ that aims at attracting Chinese tourists to India. In 2014, about 100 million Chinese tourists visited foreign countries and of that only a minuscule — 174,000 — came to India despite the fact that the two countries have very old cultural, trade and religious links. The idea of the ‘Visit India Year’ was endorsed by the two governments during the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping to Delhi last September. It was agreed that 2015 will be ‘Visit India Year’ in China and 2016 will be ‘Visit China Year’ in India. According to 2013 government data, 6.97 million tourists visited India and the annual growth rate of the sector is 5.3%, with the maximum number of tourists coming to India from the United States.
While the agreement with China will hopefully give the tourism industry in India a much-needed boost (travel and tourism is the largest service industry in India), there will be no real windfall unless and until some changes take place on the ground. The first part of the makeover process would be to accept the fact that while India is truly ‘incredible’ in terms of the diversity it offers to tourists — foreign and domestic — it is not a tourist magnet because it does not meet certain basic requirements: Security, especially for women, is a huge issue, so is affordable and dependable connectivity and hotel rooms. Then is the issue of all around cleanliness and skill development of tourism professionals. Add to this is the issue of separate entry rates for Indian and foreign tourists to monuments, a rule which puts off many foreigners.
Tourism is one of the Modi government’s 5Ts along with talent, tradition, trade and technology, which the government wants to focus on. This is good news but just putting out the welcome mat alone will not do. It has to be the first step to Incredible India, something it is not at present.