Happy New Year!! Now is a time for new beginnings.
Today is the first working week of the New Year and a time for new beginnings. The Dalai Lama once said something which I want to share…”When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realise that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.
It is most certainly not an easy job you have. My minute work in associations leading various conflicting opinions tells me that leading this huge diverse nation of strange human beings is most certainly a herculean and thankless job. I may have strong difference of opinion from you but I do wish you success for the sake and love for my country.
I was born into the tourism industry. I grew up seeing my father and his colleagues of the time lay the foundation and grow Indian tourism to bring it to where it is today. I had many career paths in my youth, but I chose to follow his footsteps. This is a business where passion for our nation outranks the drive to make money. Those who work in tourism enjoy the adrenalin in seeing our travellers go back with happy stories to share.
Yet, Mr Modi, we are also a very sad and depressed industry. Standing all by ourselves lost. A rudderless boat adrift in the ocean hoping to see land one day.
In all my interactions over the past two decades with various sections of the national government, I have come to the conclusion that the power for tourism to develop India is widely misunderstood, ignored, belittled and outcast. The results of that are apparent in our ever-declining numbers, revenue and employment levels.
The fault lies in many hands – the government, the private sector, the global economy, and so on. No single person, or organisation can be blamed alone for the condition the Indian tourism industry is in today. We are a ‘sick’ industry and the numbers are there to back this claim.
Mr. Modi, when your government claims that they have done their job by tweaking taxes & visa rules and now the rest lies with the private sector, they oversimplify the challenges we have and the needs of the industry. They depreciate our work. But it is also a fact that the problems we have today have not been created by your government alone. They are decades of systematic apathy and ignorance across all governments that have piled up to create a mountain of challenges.
It is a fact that foreign inbound arrivals from profitable source markets are down and have been so for the past few years. Ask NCAER to do a simple analysis of the arrival numbers and you will see for yourself how grave the situation is. Our image as a tourism destination in the world is tarnished and will take years to rebuild. Our prices are uncompetitive on the world stage. Taxes, licensing rules, land costs and so much more make running a business in tourism very challenging. Our tourism related foreign exchange receipts are not growing the way they should. Almost all Indian inbound operators are making a negative return on their investments of money and time.
I also very firmly blame our own private sector for doing a horrible job at expressing our view point. My father was one of the founders of our national association IATO. When I go back and look at his notes from 30+ years ago, the conversations we are having today is still the same. We have not grown in our approach or vision. The fact that our tourism associations are political cesspools and that they themselves cannot get along, just portrays a very sad face before your administration. You probably look at us as a bunch of uncoordinated simpletons. And you would not be wrong.
Mr Prime Minister, India is an Incredible country. But we are not an incredible tourism destination. There is a big difference in the two. This is a fact that we in the industry (unfortunately, yet to be given an Industry Status) carry deep in our hearts every day and a pain that we wish to eradicate.
Our industry is not asking for major investments or infrastructure development. We do not need major budget allocations, nor do we need long-drawn research. All we need are a few sharp, well-crafted policy changes that would go a very long way in making things different. In fact, here are a simple things that you can do in 30 days and change the face of Indian tourism.
Number 1 – Create an empowered crisis management team that interfaces with the tourism industry private sector to help us respond to the external world quickly to issues like pollution, terror, law and order etc. Issues that the world talks about and needs to hear our voice. Unfortunately, your own Ministry of Tourism is gagged from doing any public statements about the country that could help the industry. We have never received a written communique from them that we can share with our customers about any adverse situation in India. So, we look very stupid in front of the world. We are one of the weakest countries in crisis management and in how we respond to situations that affect tourism. The consistent policy of the administration is to keep quiet and hope it goes away.
Number 2 – Challenge and ask the Ministry of Tourism to discard all old policies and systems and start afresh. Pretend they are a brand-new ministry and take best practises from all over the world and create something wonderful and dynamic. We have some brilliant men and women who work in the Ministry, who are choked by antiquated and irrelevant policies that don’t allow them to work. You have reformed so many areas of governance in this country. Yet our tourism administration is decades behind the world in how we operate. We need a new country brand, new industry support systems, new marketing activities, new overseas outreach, and so much more. We need to think out of the box and think afresh. Also create a forum for the national government to talk with the real players in the tourism industry. Get first hand input from people who actually have serious business interests. Right now, voices are filtered and suppressed through a handful of association heads. You are not getting the full story from anyone.
Number 3 – The Commerce Ministry needs to take more ownership of our affairs. Tourism accounts for almost 10% of the Indian GDP. We contribute a lot to India. Yet we are given step-motherly treatment. I can challenge anyone in the government to show us a part of the Indian economy that has greater potential to create employment at the lowest to the highest skill levels; that has a multiplier effect as far reaching as tourism; or that has the ability to go into the deepest parts of the country to create happiness. No foreign exchange earning industry retains as much forex as we do. No other industry can achieve the goals of skill development like we can. So, it’s time the Ministry of Commerce paid a bit more attention to us. Only then will we perhaps get the attention at the central level that we need.
Number 4 – Taxes. The saying is true – “Nothing is certain except for death and taxes”. I know most of our conversations with the government revolve only around taxes. This industry has never said no to paying taxes. We do want to bear our fair share of our responsibility. All we want is to be treated fairly. We are probably the only economic segment of the economy that not only pays taxes on taxes, but also is exporting taxes; both of which are not only against all principles of taxation, but also against the whole GST policy. You cannot imagine how much energy and time is spent by our industry on discussing taxes. Time that could be better spent on our businesses and growing the industry.
Number 5 – Let us help you on your mission to make India great. No other part of the Indian economy has so much power to help your missions like Clean India, Skilling, Communal Harmony and so much more. No other part of the Indian economy has so many foot soldiers on the ground like tourism does. We have only one agenda, to make India the most favoured travel destination in the world. We do our jobs because we love our nation. Use us wisely. Use us fairly. Its time to stop having a hierarchical relationship and to start working as true partners.
I wish I had the opportunity to spend 30 minutes with you and share the real picture of our industry. We contribute 10% of the Indian GDP. I think we deserve a lot better. If this piece ever reaches your desk, I hope it adds some value to your thought process.
We Indians don’t believe in looking back. As a nation fascinated by astrology, palmistry, numerology, palm leaf reading and what have you, we always look at the future for what it holds and for the opportunities it will bring. If there is something we don’t like, there is always a religious ceremony around to fix it. We are a nation of contrasts, of challenges, of organised chaos, of enormous beauty. We are a people who believe in the power of the self and the power of the Almighty. India is an unexplainable phenomenon and Indians can sometimes be odd, but we are a people who believe truly 2020 will be a better year for us all.
Have a wonderful 2020 Mr. Prime Minister from all of us in Indian tourism. Please think of us in your New Year resolutions.
(The Expert Opinion has been written exclusively for BOTT India by Mr. Rajeev Kohli, CIS, CITP, DMCP, Joint Managing Director, Creative Travel. He can be contacted at email@example.com )