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Interview of Ambika Soni

Tourism can be the biggest employment generator, says new minister Ambika Soni

india Updated: Feb 05, 2006 01:57 IST
Sushmita Bose
Sushmita Bose

Room No 501 in Shastri Bhavan’s C-Wing looks unruffled by the usual attendant ministerial trappings: it’s only been five days since Ambika Soni has debuted in the Council of Ministers with twin charges of Tourism and Culture. And she’s still getting used to being a minister, she says, as she took time out to talk to HT about her plans on tourism — at a time when the World Trade and Travel Council (WTTC) has declared India as one of the fastest-growing sector economies.

What can tourism expect of its new minister?

Holidaying is going to be made more affordable for Indians. Going on vacation should no longer be considered a high-end line, and the average Indian family must be given the chance to become tourists. Over the last 18 months, the UPA government has been opening up the sector: it’s been promoting concepts like medical and adventure tourism, there’s been the Incredible India campaign... But it is also committed to looking into the needs of ordinary citizens.

Also, alongside attracting foreign tourists, domestic tourism should also be given a further boost.

The roadblocks looming up ahead?

We are short on infrastructure – look at the state of the airports. We need to give infrastructure status to the sector. We are still more than 1,00,000 hotel rooms short. Land prices are going up. Who’s going to invest Rs 40 crore per yard in Delhi for building hotels? We need to iron all these out, and for that we need proper coordination. Other than that, we have to rationalise the tax structure; at times, it’s counter-productive to growth.

Tourism can be a great employment generator…

It can be the greatest employment generator. Tourism has the potential to generate employment many times over what the IT sector can do. As far as resource generation goes, you may talk in terms of billions in the IT sector — but you talk in terms of trillions in tourism. Concepts like rural tourism can a big contributor to this pool of generating employment in rural India.

The way ahead?

Look at what happened to Sydney after the Olympics, the kind of boost that tourism got. We have the Commonwealth Games coming up in 2010, so let’s aim for that kind of a boost in India. And by then, the infrastructure should be in place.

Why is there a lop-sided growth in terms of geography? Places like, say, the North East are not being realised to their fullest potential…

Interesting that you should say that. Take a look at the February edition of the tourism ministry’s magazine, Incredible India: it’s on the North East. I’ve been in charge of the North Eastern states and I have a personal relationship with the place. We are going to look into the region: there’s funds allocation now, and a special ministry to look into the affairs. And look how Kashmir is opening up; North East will follow suit.

A couple of weeks ago, HT did a story on India becoming a child sex tourism destination. We seem to be in the news for all the wrong reasons...

It’s an area of great concern. We have to work in tandem with the others — like say the Women and Child Development Ministry and the state governments —to ensure that people feel safe and secure. We all have to apply our minds. If we cannot take control the law and order situation, everything else that we achieve will be counterproductive.

What should be the tourism sector’s mantra?

Simple really: not to let a tourist go back from India with his pockets full, give him enough scope to spend his money well. Not just the foreign tourists, even if someone from Gujarat is visiting Orissa, the same rule should apply.

First Published: Feb 05, 2006 01:57 IST