hat’s clear about the tourism scenario in India is that domestic tourism is picking up while foreign tourist arrivals are thinning down year after year except for marginal rises here and there. The Union tourism ministry has sent an SOS to Prime Minister Modi, urging him to help reverse the scenario. Considering the overall situation, it is safe to guess that India will progressively see a fall in international tourist arrivals.
Fact is that when the world changed fast in the past two decades, India largely stood in its place. For long years, India held great charm for foreign tourists for destinations that not only encompassed geographical locations and monuments like Agra with its Taj Mahal but also for its peace, yoga, spiritual gurus, history and most famously, its caring people. Today, all that has changed. Over the last two decades or so, and most noticeably after the spread of plague in Gujarat in 1994, foreign tourist inflow showed a downward trend. No efforts were made by the government nor by the industry heads to rectify the position. Mixed with that came regional natural disasters, ethnic problems, Left Wing Extremism, communal violence, violence against women in the form of bride burnings to public rapes, frequent elections and instability that impaired the previous image of calm that India had enjoyed globally.
Large number of tourists came to Goa, Jaipur, Puri, Kerala and many other places from Europe, Japan, the US and elsewhere. Streets of such places were full with foreigners till about the mid 1990s. Foreigners are a rare sight in metropolitan cities now, other than Delhi for its diplomatic crowd. Mumbai lost its attraction also due to its congestion and communication problems which were magnified by terror attacks. This, even as Kashmir was losing out due to militancy. In the past, Goa had built a big name in the international tourism circuit which it gradually is losing because of the flood of ill behaved domestic traveller. The current flock of budget and mid range tourists prefer to fly over India and go to Bali or Thailand. The sea and the sands, punctuated by nightlife, draw foreigners in. The major change that has taken place in India that upsets and drives away foreign travelers is the changing behavior of the average Indian. The local populace is not seen as caring but more threatening and dangerous. Stories of international tourists getting harassed, raped/molested and generally misbehaved with did great many rounds across the world tourism circuits. In many instances, international tourist companies refused to take groups to India because of the raw deals meted out to them by the privately owned tourism industry in India.
International tourists want calm natural environments to get a period of stress free holidaying. India is becoming more and more stressful. In this background, it will be a herculean task to rebuild normal tourism in this country. The industry or the government cannot sell lakes, palaces and monuments to the new young traveler. Both industry and the government have to understand that tourism related data cannot be kept ‘secret’ in this high technology world of today. Feedback, either negative or positive, from other travelers decides the plans of those to come. Bracing up for a new policy and change in attitude of the people will matter the most. Funding Bear Gryllis with millions of dollars and expecting that he, as a well known international naturalist/survivalist, will bolster tourism by show casing India’s jungles and other nature spots will definitely not bring back diminished tourist footfalls.