Despite a high-voltage official ‘Incredible India’ campaign to sell the country as an attractive destination, the tourist footfalls are rather modest. For a continent-sized country that has been aggressively marketed for its diversity — ‘where spiritualism breathes in and out’; ‘where forts and palaces still echo the bugle of victory’ — there were only five million tourist arrivals in 2007. This record appears dismal when the comparisons are made with the city-state of Singapore that drew in 10.3 million tourists. Viewed in perspective, a billion-strong nation attracted only five million, while a five million-strong nation got double that number. The upshot is that India still remains only a marginal global player, accounting for only 0.56 per cent of world tourism.
What accounts for this dismal record? To be sure, recent widely publicised incidents like the mysterious death of the British teenager in Goa certainly do take the sheen off campaigns like ‘Incredible India’. But the fact is that these travails don’t as yet represent an alarming trend to affect the annual level of tourist inflows. Similarly, it is tempting to infer that visitors are shying away due to the poor law and order situation in several states of the country. But are they flocking to states where there is law and order? Not quite. The absolute numbers are abysmally low, whichever way one looks at it.
No explanation will be complete without taking into account the serious infrastructure deficiencies that prevent tourist inflows from taking off. For starters, consider the number of hotel rooms that remain way below what is required. A couple of years ago, 1.5 lakh hotel rooms were put out as the number required to be built. Such numbers are seriously outdated as domestic tourism is also booming of late. The requirement is not only for five-star hotels but budget accommodation as well. Then take the pathetic state of our airports, delayed flight schedules and inadequate road connectivity. If these are far from adequate, how can more and more visitors then be expected to check out our golden beaches, misty mountains and desert sands?