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The Ministry of Tourism hopes to up the ante for tourism growth in India by introducing a slew of initiatives to increase tourist footfall

From ancient times until the present, India has been the cynosure of interest, with foreign travellers being lured to the country because of its vast and rich tapestry of intrinsic beauty, architectural relics, heritage and culture sites. India’s natural assets have also lent themselves to the immense potential in adventure and cruise tourism, which could possibly classify it as an incredible round-the-year tourist destination. Cognizant of India’s enormous potential as a tourist destination, the Ministry of Tourism has gone the extra mile to introduce a slew of measures to enhance tourist footfall in the country. And, spearheading the success story and determined to take it to greater heights, is the accomplished Rashmi Verma, (IAS) Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India. Articulating at length with Today’s Traveller, Verma shares valuable insights into the challenges faced by the industry and the initiatives taken by the Ministry to expedite the pro-growth policies to promote tourism. With a redoubtable background in tourism, Verma’s mission is to bring world-class experience for travellers. Acknowledging that the Tourism Industry has emerged as one of the key drivers of growth in the country, Verma sums up the 2017 experience, stating, “This has been a remarkable year for tourism in terms of growth in foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs). India registered over 16 per cent growth till now which is higher in comparison to last year’s. We are optimistic that this growth will continue in the year 2018 as well.” Aggressive marketing and honing in a product specific campaign are Verma’s deliverables. The Ministry’s “Incredible India 2.0 Campaign,” will focus on a specific promotional plan, including thematic films on specific subjects. “We will be launching an aggressive marketing campaign in the overseas and domestic market. The whole campaign will be market and product specific,” explains the forward-thinking Secretary.

Road shows will be a prominent part of the promotional campaign, informs Verma enthusiastically, adding, “We are planning some thematic road shows for Buddhist circuits in markets, which can be a good source for getting travellers interested in the same.” With a burgeoning domestic market, road shows will also feature in Indian states, especially in the Northeast. Recognising the significance of technology, a new Incredible India website, which is interactive and personalised, has been launched. Chat facilities and an app will ensure speedy facilitation of all travel queries and related issues. The astute leader foresees a huge influx of tourists and is ready with a game plan which will comprise both B2C and B2B marketing. “We will restructure our overseas offices and create around 7-8 hubs which will help us initiate our marketing activities. These hubs will be serviced by ITMRs (India Tourism Marketing Representatives) and its objective will be to generate awareness about out tourism products and spread our reach in emerging markets,” reveals Verma. A more efficient physical and digital infrastructure will be effected by a selection of 10 iconic sites which will work towards world-class infrastructure. All resources will be collated with other ministries and state governments in order to provide top notch experiences to travellers. Moreover, MoUs have been signed with the National Highway Authority to establish five wayside amenities in Buddhists circuits, plus a possible partnership with the Ministry of Petroleum for selection of some petrol pumps that are setting up wayside amenities in key circuits. Working in concurrence with other ministries and state governments is a policy favoured by Verma, therefore Special Tourism Zones are in the offing in 2018. A nod from the Ministry of Finance will enable the Tourism Ministry to offer the stipulated zones to 5 states on a challenge mode, thus greatly enhancing tourist facilities. With regard to Heritage, Verma informs that the Ministry, in collaboration with ASI (Archaeological Survey of India), has launched a scheme, “Adopt a Heritage,” which has been well received. Verma aims to cater to several market types, such as Cruise Tourism, one of the fastest growing segments of leisure travel. This segment could increase domestic tourists who currently fly to other countries to experience the same. Apart from working with the Mumbai Port Trust and other port trusts, Verma adds, “We are also collaborating with some of the international cruise liners to bring in more cruises to domestic ports which will result in berthing of international tourists.” A yen for Adventure Tourism among millennials has prompted the Tourism Ministry to declare 2018 as the year for Adventure Tourism. The Northeastern states have come up with new products to attract potential tourists and Verma asserts that safety is an important aspect and a different set of guidelines for Adventure Tourism will be issued. Guidelines for home-stays will be introduced to ensure the licensing, safety and availability of basic amenities.

The Ministry’s visa policies and e-tourist visa facilities will be further streamlined, says Verma, while the Ministry is also working on providing quality guides who are proficient in various skills and who would be accredited after passing the online test. Acknowledging tourism’s enormous significance, Verma concludes, “The Ministry of Tourism has faced certain challenges and issues, and we are trying to build a successful platform in 2018 that will work towards bridging the gap in the demand and supply chain. We hope for a positive response to this campaign, which translates into a better footfall.”

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