SPEECH BY HER EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF INDIA SHRIMATI PRATIBHA DEVISINGH PATIL AT THE PRESENTATION OF THE NATIONAL TOURISM AWARDS
New Delhi , 29th February, 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to be here at this function, for the presentation of the National Tourism Awards, which have been conferred for achievements in various areas of the tourism sector. I congratulate the award winners, and I am confident that all of you will continue with your efforts to make this industry more attractive and tourist friendly. I am happy that the Ministry of Tourism has been introducing additional awards every year as a measure to promote excellence in newer categories of tourism. This year also, new categories of awards have been introduced, including for "Effective Initiatives for Cleanliness and Hygiene", "Best Heritage City" and "Best Heritage Walk".
Over the years, the worldwide volume of tourism has increased phenomenally. In 1950, international tourism was 25 million, and by 2010 it had grown to 940 million, generating over US$ 900 billion in export earnings. There are countries like France and Spain, where annual foreign tourist arrivals are higher than their local populations. There are other countries which are largely dependent on tourism for revenue generation. It is a sector which contributes significantly to their Gross Domestic Product. Tourism can be the driver of economic growth and development of a country. The great advantage of the tourism sector lies in its capacity to generate employment, for not only specialized managerial and hospitality skills, but it also provides livelihood opportunities for other skilled and semi-skilled personnel. Tourism generates many more jobs for relatively less investment, unlike in several other sectors.
What are the factors that attract tourists? Principally, it is the desire to see something different and unique to the place being visited. On this criteria, India's tourism potential is immense. It is a country with many exquisite locations, a diverse culture with many colourful festivals, and a rich variety of traditional arts and crafts, foods and customs. Being an ancient civilization, the country is endowed with heritage sites of great historical value and aesthetic beauty. In addition, being a vast country, the range of landscapes - deserts and rivers, forests and mountains, plateaus and plains - gives it yet another major advantage as a tourist destination. More recently, Indian tourism has seen the introduction of many new areas, such as golf tourism, cruise tourism, adventure tourism, and medical tourism, among others. People are getting more and more conscious about their health, and there is growing interest in the Indian system of Ayurveda treatment and yoga. There is also interest in visiting spiritual sites. For example, the Buddhist Circuit is very popular with visitors. Again, rural tourism evokes interest, as it gives a glimpse of Indian rural life - its activities, traditions, handicrafts and food. Development of such areas will contribute to the growth of the tourism sector in India.
The World Travel and Tourism Council has ranked India as a tourism "hot-spot", with a very high growth possibility in the coming years. At the same time, it is good that efforts are underway in India, to increase its share of world tourist arrivals to 1 percent by the end of the Twelfth Five Year Plan, from the present level of 0.6 percent. The targeted arrival figure of foreign tourists is expected to increase from 5.78 million in 2010, to over 11 million by 2016 and also the attempt is to take the number of domestic tourists to 1.49 billion, from the present level of 740 million. This means a doubling in both foreign and domestic travelers. This combined figure of foreign and domestic travelers, makes India to be counted amongst the countries with a large tourist movement. To achieve the targets, naturally a multi-pronged approach would be necessary, to ensure that the experience of the tourist is pleasant, hassle-free and an enriching one. I am, therefore, glad that there are efforts to forge a co-ordinated approach for this sector, and an Inter-Ministerial Co-ordination Committee for the sector has been set up, to bring about the much needed convergence of programmes at the implementation level.
Tourism is driven by both the prospect of seeing something new, as well as by the standard of services offered at the destination. Tourism thrives where there is a culture of hospitality, which essentially involves a visitor-friendly tradition. In India this is ingrained in our culture, in the sentiment contained in "Atithi Devo Bhava", which has been used in our tourist campaign. However, to make tourists welcome, also means having an adequate infrastructure that ensures sustained growth in the tourism sector. Proper connectivity through railways, air and highways is as essential as accommodation facilities, which cater to various budgets. Five Star Hotels are preferred by the high end tourist, but there is a growing middle class that is now traveling. They look for good and clean accommodation at affordable rates. The hotel industry must look at the needs and requirements of different types of visitors and ensure quality services. Standard for services should be fixed, and existing service providers should be certified on a regular basis. Our expanding tourist sector needs more trained manpower and certified training institutions, for imparting quality training. This aspect needs attention.
Tourism, however, needs to be responsible tourism, which means that the foot prints of tourists has to be handled in a manner that respects cultural traditions, and protects fragile eco-systems. Tourism also entails regular conservation efforts, so that heritage sites are well preserved and maintained.
Tourism has greatly benefited from new technologies. E-tickets and e-bookings have made it more convenient for international travelers. Visitors are now sharing their experiences on new social media platforms, creating perceptions about the place that they have visited. The tourism industry needs to further explore, how new technologies can be used to generate great interests amongst people, to encourage them to travel, and to do so more conveniently.
Tourism is an important element of promoting understanding between peoples and about different cultures. It promotes people-to-people contacts. Tourism is in fact, one of the windows of the country to the outside world. Our efforts, therefore, must be not only to give travelers an idea of what the country is, but also what it is capable of. Tourist interest in the country could translate itself into greater interaction in other fields, leading to greater business opportunities, collaborations and cultural exchanges.
I conclude by once again congratulating all those who have won the awards, and also urge the industry to look at the growth of this sector in a manner that is sustainable and holistic.